By Alan Ahlgrim
By now everyone should know their names: Jose Azevedo, Manuel Beltran, George Hincapie, Benjamin Noval, Pavel Padrnos, Yaroslav Popovych, Jose Luis Rubiera, and Paolo Savoldelli. Each of these men is a world-class athlete, a world-class cyclist, and a member of the 2005 Discovery Channel Tour de France Roster. Each is a reason for Lance Armstrong’s unprecedented seventh consecutive Tour de France victory.
Nothing like this has ever happened before. The most grueling race, covering 2,241 miles in 21 days, has now been won seven times in a row by the same man.
However, as good as he is, he couldn’t have lived his dream and achieved his success apart from a gifted group of athletes who rode to victory with him. The Tour de France is a team race, a picture of what life is to be like for us all.
Linking with Others
No one can ever accomplish anything of consequence without the help of other people. That’s true for Lance Armstrong, you, me, and a man named Nehemiah. He led a courageous team of people rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem despite enormous opposition.
It’s inevitable that anyone who sets out to do anything of significance will face opposition. That was certainly the case for Nehemiah. He accepted the challenge of rebuilding the walls of the entire city of Jerusalem within just 52 days. And all the time he and his men were working, the enemy was threatening. But that didn’t stop them; that just served to inspire them. They had a dream, and they were filled with determination to see it to completion no matter what.
Most of us are dreamers. Some dream of getting a great education, having a great family, building a great business, or being part of a great church. Virtually no one grows up with the dream of being a world class hermit and living alone in a wilderness somewhere.
That’s because we were designed to desire community, to be part of something bigger than ourselves. No matter how much we may enjoy our times of privacy and a few occasions of individual labor, that sense of solitary satisfaction doesn’t last for long. Sooner rather than later we find ourselves once again desiring to be linked up with others who share our values and vision and our passion to have a high impact life. All we are waiting for is for another person to declare a challenge that makes sense to us and that helps us believe we can make a difference.
That’s exactly what Nehemiah did. After he learned that the walls of the sacred city of Jerusalem were in ruin, that the city of the Lord was in shambles, and that the Lord’s people were dispirited and disheartened, he determined he was to do something about it.
Working with Passion
Nehemiah was on a God-given mission. He had a God-given sense of passion and a phenomenal ability to recruit and manage people. Great projects always require the great cooperation that Nehemiah inspired. That’s true in building a great family, a great cycling team, a successful business, or a great ministry. It makes me think of our annual programs like Rocky Mountain Christmas or Vacation Bible School. They mobilize hundreds of people with a clear assignment for each one. When everyone does his or her part, the results are amazing.
Now, in any great project everyone doesn’t work with the same level of intensity. For example, while Nehemiah doesn’t shrink from naming names of those who helped to lead the effort, he also doesn’t hesitate to criticize some and affirm another.
Look at Nehemiah 3:5: “The next section was repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors.” Some people just don’t do their fair share, or if they do, they do it slowly and grudgingly like little kids cleaning their rooms under duress.
By contrast, others don’t drain energy from the team; they actually add energy. That was the way with a man named Baruch that we read about in 3:20 who “zealously repaired another section.” We don’t know whether he worked overtime without pay or just got more done on his shift than anybody else. We only know that his work was noted. Fine work done with a fine attitude is always noted!
It’s been said that while you can pay people to put in their time, you can’t pay people to put in their heart. Those who think they would work better if they were only paid more, are sadly mistaken. Monetary compensation alone has been proven a poor motivator. No matter what their pay level, people first need to see their labor as important. They need to sense they are part of something bigger than themselves.
They need to understand that what they do really matters. They need to believe in the cause and the people working by their sides, because these are the ones who help the dream to become reality. Their fellow team members will make up for their deficiencies, whether cycling or building walls, just as they must make up for others. No one is flawless.
From time to time we all get weary and need others to encourage us to get our head in the game again. Nehemiah was obviously a master encourager. In Nehemiah 3 alone, he mentions 75 people by name, often recognizing their specific accomplishments. He also mentions more than a dozen groups of people such as the priests, Levites, goldsmiths, perfumers, and the temple servants.
Nehemiah was definitely a people person. He noticed what others did. He knew that management requires attentiveness and appreciation and at times pointed affirmation.
As Goethe once said: “Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you’ll help them to become what they are capable of being.”
Last month in our small group one of the guys was sharing his latest management challenge at work. Things weren’t going well with a certain project so he called a special meeting with three of his key team leaders at 6 pm. The first thing he said was, “Tell me everything that is going bad. Don’t hold anything back.” They didn’t. Some of the problems were even bigger than he had imagined.
But then he did a brilliant thing. He said, “OK, now that we’ve covered all the problems, I don’t want any more rehashing of that. From this point on we’re moving forward. What can we do to turn this thing around, and when are we going to do it?”
Even though this was at the close of a long business day, everyone started to get energized as they began to focus on the solution side of things. Before long, the meeting ended with all of them feeling really encouraged.
Leaders infuse others with courage. Sincere and honest encouragement is easy, inexpensive, and empowering—and often mentioned in Scripture, especially in the book of Proverbs.
Here are some favorite examples (all from the New American Standard Bible):
“Anxiety in the heart of a man weighs it down, but a good word makes it glad” (12:25).
“Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” (16:24).
“Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances” (25:11).
The best leaders I know are the best encouragers. The same can be said for managers, teachers, parents, and friends.
The Bible says, “If anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8). Have you ever noticed how our words affect our mood? Words are powerful. Our words have the power to change us and others for the better!
Nehemiah used his words to both rebuke and inspire. He wasn’t always saying sweet things. Sometimes he said some very strong things. However the great majority of what he said were words that inspired and encouraged those he worked with.
Sharing the Dream
Nehemiah understood that his purpose in God’s grand plan was to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and he obviously knew he couldn’t do it all by himself. Therefore, he understood he had to clearly share his vision and boldly inspire others to join him in the fulfillment of that vision. Any dream worth having is a dream worth sharing!
It’s been said that nothing of significance is ever accomplished in life without the cooperation of others. Lance Armstrong would certainly echo those words. The Tour de France is a team sport. It’s not possible to win the race with a solo effort—in fact, even Lance won only a single stage of the 21-day event.
Certainly, God has given you a purpose, a mission, a calling, a dream. Therefore, you have a destiny my friend. It’s time you seized your dream and dared to live and share it!
Alan Ahlgrim is the lead pastor with Rocky Mountain Christian Church in Longmont, Colorado, and a member of Standard Publishing’s Publishing Committee. This is the first of his two “Reflections” columns based on the book of Nehemiah. Next week: “Dealing with Distractions.”