It starts with me!

Instead, I devoted myself to the work on this wall. All my men were assembled there for the work; we did not acquire any land.
Nehemiah 5:16

Have you ever been bothered by the negativity of your work culture, circle of friends or family? As we continue our journey through the book of Nehemiah, we come to chapter five and discover that Nehemiah is not struggling against an external enemy, but his fellow citizens of Jerusalem. A scandal is brought to light that stopped him in his tracks and forced him to rebuke his fellow leaders. The citizens have lodged a complaint. The local rulers and nobles are taking advantage of the famine and work on the wall by charging exorbitant interest on loans, foreclosing on property and selling people who cannot repay into slavery. The very slavery that Nehemiah and others are working so hard to get them out of. Nehemiah’s redevelopment program in Jerusalem was to rebuild lives, restore families and reignite passion, yet it doesn’t seem to be taking root. Why?

I believe that it was an extreme case of “monkey see, monkey do”. The nobles of Jerusalem are following the old examples of leadership. Check out what Nehemiah says in Nehemiah 5:15 “But the earlier governors—those preceding me—placed a heavy burden on the people and took forty shekels of silver from them in addition to food and wine. Their assistants also lorded it over the people. But out of reverence for God I did not act like that.” The leadership which doomed Judah to exile and caused the destruction of Jerusalem was now once again being imitated. This mirroring of former examples was something that Nehemiah could not stand for, so, he started with himself and made a change.

In order to establish new norms, Nehemiah had to address the root issue. He had to confront the nobles and hold them accountable for their way of living. Listen as he addresses the conflict directly, “What you are doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies?” (Nehemiah 4:9) In essence, Nehemiah is asking them and us, “do you want to go back to living with broken walls, abject poverty, divided families, and no purpose?” If you don’t, then you must have a change of heart. The new life you want has to start within you by the power of Christ. Nehemiah reminds us that the prosperity we now have (due to Christ’s indwelling power) will not last if we return to the old ways of living! We must address the heart issue within us and chart a new course for our lives.   

What will we exemplify? Nehemiah was not content to just correct them and play the blame game. He did not shout the old adage, “do as I say and not as I do.” No, he demonstrates the new direction. Take a listen, “Instead, I devoted myself to the work on this wall. All my men were assembled there for the work; we did not acquire any land” (Nehemiah 5:16). Paul would echo this statement later saying, “follow me as I follow Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).  If you want to see a change in your family dynamics, your work environment or your circle of friends, then you must let it start in you! Take the first steps today. What has been bothering you making you feel uneasy or causing you to dread your environment? Now, how can you creatively invest new life into your environment by living the change you desire? The task is not easy, but transformation is possible if you remember that “it starts with me”.