I try to use exclamation marks sparingly. So listen up.
I’m not sure when I first heard or read the Nehemiah 6 passage but I do remember being struck by it. Struck, not in a, “Yeah, that’s right, Nehemiah, I’m doing a great thing, too!” kind of way but in a, “Wow. I want to be that certain of what I’m doing” kind of way.
There’s something about certainty, about confidence, the sort that not even a group of people with a good or threatening idea can turn you away from. And, there’s something about being so sure of your task that you know when others are trying to trap you into something that goes completely against the good you’re engaged in.
Nehemiah had work to do and I like how the NKJ puts it: I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down.
The inclusion of the word “down” makes it seem as if Nehemiah is literally on the wall. It creates a mental picture of a man on some scaffolding, hard hat firmly in place, yelling back with conviction to a messenger below. And he does this four times. The fifth time, after the messenger returns with a pretty dramatic threat, Nehemiah says, “There is no truth in any part of your story. You are making up the whole thing” (NLT). And he continues his work with even more strength in his hands.
I could now move into a personal application mode that asks you consider what you’ve been asked to build and whether or not you’re holding true to what you’ve been given. But that’s not the direction I’d like to move in. That direction would help strengthen your resolve and I’m certain that a little Googling will yield such a thing for you to feast on. So go forth and find that nugget.
In this space, I’d actually like to make a different personal application, one that shines light on what others have been asked to build and whether or not you’re helping them succeed. Look around you (figuratively or literally). Who are the people you know who are doing a great thing and are you setting them up to fail or are you supporting them, letting them know that they cannot come down?
There are a thousand plus great things that folks do every day. When I look around me, here is some of what I see:
- Developing healthy relationships (good boundaries; willingness to work through conflict)
- Getting married & staying married (commitment trumps weddings any day)
- A new dormitory taking shape in the hot Tennessee sun and allergen-filled air (we got bumped down to #2 in the country this year…how sad)
- Orientation student leaders excited to help new students and their parents navigate the campus
- A campus minister, effortlessly connecting with an incoming freshman, sharing his faith journey one-on-one
- A local church pastor investing so intentionally in her young adult community that it’s booming
- A man refuses to believe that generosity is dead and gives up his seat to a young woman
- Parenting (as opposed to best-friending which could also be known as breast-feeding your teenager/20-something)
- A seasoned administrator simply sharing life (free of a condescending tone) with a younger admin
- A teacher putting uncertainty and fear aside and applying for (and getting) a new teaching position
- A student refusing to give up after not getting into a program he wants
- Another student working hard to finish her program well
Setting Up Failure
We don’t always mean to, but we often send the people who are doing the great things a negative message, one that essentially says, “Come down! Come to this other place, a place you weren’t called to, a place that will actually go completely against who you’re supposed to be.” We set them up for failure in a number of ways. Here are a few I’ve witnessed and some I’ve unfortunately acted out:
- Suggest they may want to consider something a little simpler instead of helping them unpack the complex reality they’re currently facing
- Overshadow their accomplishment by doing something bigger and better at the same time
- Downplay the importance of their work by refusing to encourage, compliment, or even constructively critique and bolster
- Intentionally or unintentionally leave no room for them to work in the spotlight so that they remain “background singers”
- Refuse to believe that they actually have something useful to say; refuse to listen to what they’re not saying
- Only talk about the surface issues instead of boldly addressing core problems that are hindering their greatness
- Make greatness look like a shallow, self-serving enterprise
- Don’t pay attention to the little voice in your head that prompts you to pause; slowing down yields the clarity you need to help others more effectively
Setting Up Success
It’s what I call a “harder road.” There are many of those in life. (Another is loving people.) When we set people up to succeed, we journey with them in such a way that they not only feel support and care but challenged to push through, to not come down. Here are some of the ways I see the harder road being travelled:
- Accountability partners (who are honest with you; please, no warm fuzzy mess)
- Help others work through interpersonal conflict instead of ignoring it or downplaying it
- Get in touch with people right away when they come to mind at seemingly random times (you just never know the encouragement they need that you can provide)
- Set up clear, attainable goals, and timely follow-up (when you’re the boss/supervisor)
- Get on board and support your organization’s vision wholeheartedly (even if you’re the employee/”jr” contributor)
- Celebrate the good, privately or publicly (whichever makes the most sense and is timely)
- Leave people alone. Ever thought that your existence in someone’s life is actually damaging? Some relationships aren’t unhealthy because you have conflict (which can be overcome) but are unhealthy because you’ve gone somewhere you don’t belong! Yes, indeed.
- Be an example of greatness, an example of not coming down
Bottom line is this: when you see that someone is doing a great thing, only enter into their journey to help them achieve their goal. If their goal is a long and beautiful marriage, your attentiveness to them isn’t their primary need unless you’re their spouse. If their goal is finishing up a dorm by August, hand them bottles of cold water when temps are in the 80s and 90s. If their goal is graduating from college, don’t distract them with escapist tactics. And whatever the goal, remind them of the goal. If it is a great thing, they cannot & must not come down. If they do, we’ve all lost and we’ve already lost too much.