Simple, humble people emboldened with great faith and strong conviction give each of us a hint about what we could accomplish. They demonstrate the power of one to make the world a better place. And they have four traits in common.
• A young man starts a shoe company. For every pair purchased, a second pair is given to a child in need. The idea explodes into a global phenomenon.
• A mother of four puts her young children to bed and spends the evening on her laptop as an “online” missionary to another mother living in a resistant field.
• A youth minister in North Carolina realizes many immigrants living in an under-resourced housing complex across the street from the church are dealing with significant issues. He mobilizes a caring network that involves hundreds and serves hundreds more.
• A Denver, Colorado, woman decides to take on the foster care needs in her community. Today, there are more families waiting to provide foster care than there are children who need it.
• A Chicago high school student mobilizes an effort to reach out to an apartment complex in one of the poorest areas in his city. His efforts generate tens of thousands of dollars and volunteer man-hours to provide friendship and a helping hand to 1,000 family units. This from a teen who struggles in English class.
You are familiar with stories like these. Maybe you’ve witnessed their amazing impact firsthand. Lives and communities transformed, huge networks of talents and resources assembled, great ideas and movements that found their genesis in a single visionary. These are simple, humble people who have been emboldened with great faith and a conviction that the world can be made a better place. They demonstrate the power of one.
Stories like this give flame to the belief that “just one” person can make a difference. Amid the sea of voices that cry, “Someone should do something about that,” arises the conviction of the individual who rises up. These people make real and lasting change and are blessed to watch the Holy Spirit take a prompting and transform it into a mighty movement. This is often done with little more than a willing heart.
This is great news for an overwhelming number of us who care deeply for our world. We can make a difference. Still, there are others who stay on the sidelines because they don’t think they have the financial or personal resources to make an impact. As Vice President Joe Biden would say, “Malarkey!”
God does not lack resources or capacity. God needs only individuals who determine they care enough to rise up in faith to step out. That person, guided by a clarifying sense of mission, discovers what others have come to realize: what God originates, he also will orchestrate. God will supply the visions he provides.
Nehemiah is an example, and his “power of one” story is worth revisiting. Almost five centuries before Jesus’ birth, Nehemiah was a “food tester” for the king. (It was an important job, one would assume, but akin to being a lab monkey.) Nehemiah’s brother reported that his beloved hometown, Jerusalem, was in ruins. He said the walls were broken down and the gates destroyed. Nehemiah, the king’s cupbearer, moved into action, securing the necessary funding and resources to rebuild the walls. Despite severe opposition, he restored Jerusalem’s reputation as the city of God.
As we look closely at this story, a consistent pattern emerges that serves as a template for just about every “one” who has ever considered taking on a God-sized vision. People who make a successful impact for the kingdom usually share four traits.
1. They experience a broken heart.
Every great endeavor begins with tears cried first by God and then by the one he is calling to respond. These are people whose hearts are broken by the very things that break God’s heart. Nehemiah knew God was grieved over the condition of Jerusalem. It was a shameful situation that never should have happened. Nehemiah fell to the ground and wept for poor Jerusalem.
Are you in tune with what makes God cry? Do you mourn over injustices, lost people, suffering? The evangelistic inequalities that exist in the world? You will not be moved to do anything until God first moves your heart. God wants your heart to break!
And, if the view from your chair doesn’t show you a heartbreaking situation, move your chair! Get outside of your environment and look around. It won’t take long to find something that will convict you. Every great move of God begins with tears.
2. They fall to their knees in prayer.
Nehemiah’s first response was essentially his only option. Where else could he go but to God? Prayer is a nonnegotiable for anyone who wants to make lasting kingdom impact. Prayer aligns our hearts with God. It gives us a chance to examine our motives and remove our egos. (You’d be amazed at how many endeavors are rooted in self-exaltation. But, then again, maybe you are well aware of this.)
Prayer invites the architect of the universe into the plan and gives him critical access to the design. God promises to give wisdom to those who ask and to do so generously and without fault. (Read James 1). Prayer doesn’t force God’s hand, but it does keep our eyes sharp for his intervention and makes us sensitive to the subtle changes to our circumstances. Prayer ensures we won’t miss opportunities God brings our way.
3. They wait and plan.
For many “doers,” this part of the process seems counterintuitive. The usual first response to a crisis is to do something. The problem is that jumping into the fray without benefit of proper preparation almost always leads to poor outcomes. It results in plans executed by our flesh and not by the Spirit of God.
For four months, Nehemiah prepared and waited on God’s perfect timing. God orchestrated a plan that provided the necessary resources for the rebuilding. God supplied all the needed lumber. And during the wait, God cultivated Nehemiah’s heart so he could become a world-class leader.
God is not bound by time like we are. He sent Moses to the wilderness for 40 years to mold his leadership. He put the Israelites in the desert an additional 40 years to move them from being slaves to a mighty nation. Jesus went into the wilderness for 40 days to prepare for ministry. Paul spent an extended time in the desert to prepare for his God assignment. And so it goes. This theme is not foreign to God’s great leaders. God uses seasons of preparation for intentional heart cultivating.
It is intentional because this sort of waiting isn’t a passive exercise. The project’s foundation, and the leader’s foundation, are being established. Waiting time is not wasted time in God’s economy.
4. Finally, they move.
Only after having his heart broken, seeking God, and waiting on God, did Nehemiah launch out. He left his comfortable surroundings and risked ridicule and failure to embrace a mission from God. Believe me, if he fell, all eyes would have been on “that cupbearer from Persia.” But he wasn’t going to fail. The assignment, borne in tears, prayer, and thoughtful preparation, was clearly a God assignment.
This one person, under the power of the Holy One, would raise Jerusalem up from the ashes.
This model is consistent with how God has determined to use his people to impact the world. He eagerly waits to place the mustard seed of vision, faith, and courage into the life of the one courageous enough to step out and say, “Here am I, use me.” It was and still is his primary operating paradigm.
So . . . what dream has God placed in you?
Todd Bussey is senior associate pastor at Crossroads Christian Church in Newburgh, Indiana. He is a founding member of Community One, a nonprofit committed to creating sustainable communities, and regional coordinator for the Nehemiah Network, a resourcing ministry for building congregations in southwest Indiana, western Kentucky, and southern Illinois.