Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great,” says leaders who have the greatest impact share two qualities: humility and fierce resolve. They have a kind of tenacity and strength of character to hang in when others give up. You just can’t wear them down. I want to be that kind of person. Don’t you?
If you were to rate yourself on a scale with “fierce resolve” on one end and “being easily discouraged” on the other, where would you place yourself? I have lost the same two pounds forty times overnight and so I give up. You try to instill a certain character or talent in your child, but they keep pushing back or worse, simply do nothing. Do you let it slide just for this one night because you are so tired and it’s just easier? Once upon a time you decided you were going to be generous with your finances toward God, but now it’s painful, so you forget about it. You made a commitment to honor God by showing up to work ready to do your absolute best as though working for God, but the pace, the race, the chatter, the gossip and others “just getting by” wore you down.
In more than two decades of full-time blood, sweat and tears ministry, I’ve learned the great prizes of life do not go to the more talented, more gifted or even more intelligent or attractive among us. The prize goes to those who finish – to those men and women and young people and children who are faithful to God in all seasons and not just when it is popular or garners praise.
God gives us a vision of what faithfulness looks like. It looks like Nehemiah in 464 B.C. What was being asked of him was a lot harder than what he thought he signed up for. Nehemiah knew God wanted to do something great through his people. So, at great personal risk, he approached the king, sacrificed his own career and went to Jerusalem to build. Was he welcomed with cheers and applause? Hardly. What Nehemiah found was opposition. John Ortberg writes, “Generally, when you seek to do something good for God, it’s not easy.”
When we face opposition or something is harder than we thought, one of the first thoughts that comes to mind is to quit. But Nehemiah decides that even though it is a much harder task than he thought he was signing up for, it was not time to quit. It was time to build. Nehemiah says, “The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start…” Nehemiah does not defend. He does not attack. He simply rolls up his sleeves and states, “We’re trusting God, so we’re not going to stop. I will not give up.”
In chapter 3 of the book of the Bible that bears his name, Nehemiah is a part of “this incredible story where people of every category and every profession and every walk of life” in all kinds of conditions all take their place. They all pitch in and all say, “I will help.” To live out our vision to lead entire families into a transforming life with Jesus in authentic community, it is going to take every single one of us.
If you follow Jesus, you are a part of our community. It is easy for people to think, “I don’t have a lot of money,” or “What I do or don’t do won’t matter.” Everybody matters. You matter. What you do today matters more than you will ever know this side of heaven. Something beautiful happens to a community when a people unite and all serve and work and live together. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. There is also something tragic about choosing to stay on the sidelines and never being able to grasp the joy of the team who does something great together.
We all have negative people that pop up in our lives at the worst possible moments. John Ortberg writes, “The capacity of just negativity to sap will and energy is amazing.” Then Ortberg gives some of the best spiritual advice I have ever received. He writes, “One of the really important questions to ask in life is, ‘Which voices do I want to listen to? … Do I listen to the loudest voices, or do I listen to the wisest voices?”
What makes Nehemiah able to do what others can’t or won’t is frequent prayer. Nehemiah talks with God. Nehemiah walks with God. Nehemiah chooses to be dependent on God for what happens next.
This is a critical moment for Acts 2 United Methodist Church. This is our vulnerable halfway point. We are no longer a new church. We have a daughter church already, so we aren’t little anymore. We make an impact on the schools and families around us from Guthrie, Cashion, Deer Creek, Edmond and Oklahoma City. We change lives across the globe in numerous ways. But, we are far from being old with accumulated wealth and we are far from being done with what God has for us to share with the world.
So, I want to thank our leadership team for getting us to a new day with more money committed to our future building than any other time in our church’s history with Advance Commitments of $1,542,055.64. This represents roughly 50 of our church families. We have another 150 families who can now prayerfully participate and trust God with the results. I want to thank each and every child, youth and adult who has turned in a commitment “4 the Kids.” It is a remarkable and powerful and humbling experience to see people voluntarily giving up financial gain.
I know it is a big commitment to pray over and respond to what God is calling you to do over the next 36 months of your lives. It certainly required more of Chantelle and me than I thought at first. Prayer is not glamorous. Budgeting is not sexy. Planning and giving go against our “narcissistic me first now” culture, for sure. There is nothing flashy about perseverance, but it is powerful beyond your imagination.
God promises to do “immeasurably more” than all we can ask or imagine. We live with a great God who loves us and says, “Keep going!” “Don’t give up.”
John Ortberg writes, “When do you quit doing a work for God? When it’s finished. Not when it’s hard. Not when it’s painful. Not when it’s costly. Not when somebody resists. Not when you’re tired. When it’s finished.”
We live in a world that worships on the couch of easy and pain-free. The highest good shown to us by our Lord Jesus is to know and do the will of God. The best life is when we become the kind of persons God wants us to be and made us to be from the beginning, beautifully and wonderfully made in the very image of the God who creates.
PS: Quotations are from a sermon by John Ortberg given at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church. John, Richard Foster and Dallas Willard serve as mentors in my spiritual development. I recommend them to you.