“The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. It came to pass in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the citadel, that Hanani one of my brethren came with men from Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped, who had survived the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said to me, ‘The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire’” (Nehemiah 1:1–3).
Honest Evaluation, the best policy
Nehemiah opened his memoirs with the news of a report he received from distant Jerusalem. Hearing of someone who had recently returned from a visit, Nehemiah inquired about the status of the Jewish people and the condition of the Holy City itself. The report was not what he had hoped to hear: “The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire” (Nehemiah 1:3).
If Nehemiah was to get started right in his task of rebuilding, his first step was to make an honest evaluation of the condition of Jerusalem. Although a remnant of the Jews had returned to their homeland and the temple was in place, there was only a semblance of normalcy. The wall of the city was still broken down from the destruction years earlier when the Babylonians had devastated the city. The gates were still unhinged, burned with fire. Those who had returned had dishonored God with their lifestyles and neglect of the temple, and they found themselves mired in deep “distress.”
It was time to face the facts. First, the broken wall was in need of being rebuilt to provide safety and security for the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And second, as long as the gates were burned, the enemy would have easy access to the city.
Why some fail to make an honest evaluation
Many of us falter and fail in the rebuilding process at this very point — we don’t take the time to make a thorough and careful enough evaluation of our circumstances and situation. For some, it is hard to get to the place of admitting our need, of admitting that some of our own walls are broken and some of our own gates are burned. I know men and women who have met premature death because they wouldn’t face warning signs of pain in their bodies. We all know those who waited too long to go to a physician to get an honest evaluation of their situation. The same can often be said regarding relationships, or, for that matter, anything else that needs to be rebuilt. If we are going to rebuild, we must first get started right. And we will never get started right until we make our own honest evaluation of the situation.
There are at least three approaches people take when seeking to rebuild something that is broken in their lives. One is the way of “superficial optimist.” The emphasis here is on the word superficial. This is a cosmetic approach that deals only with surface issues. These are people who are constantly in the process of trying to put a positive spin on difficult situations, often pretending a problem does not even exist. The superficial optimist will resist making any semblance of an honest evaluation, wishfully thinking that if he or she just waits long enough or hunkers down deep enough then everything will eventually be made right. The ancient prophet Jeremiah had this person in mind when he said there were some who say, “Peace, peace! When there is no peace” (Jeremiah 8:11).
Then, there are others who approach the process of rebuilding as “busy optimists.” That is, they admit there is a problem, but they attack it by trying to get everyone around them to be as busy as they can be. These people set up new structures and new organizational charts. They acquire new personnel. They develop new slogans and motivate the troops with all types of positive-thinking techniques. But they never get around to honestly evaluating and addressing the situation. And all the new policies, new people, new plans, and new procedures in the world can’t keep a ship afloat if it has holes in the hull.
Finally, there are those like Nehemiah who make an honest evaluation of the situation right from the beginning. They have the courage to face the root problems and deal with them directly. WE might refer to them as “honest optimists.” They have the strength and patience, as well as the wisdom and understanding, to address the systematic issues and actually work to correct them. Those who make such honest evaluations are not afraid of offending others or making enemies. They are not intimated by threats, and they cannot be formed and fashioned into someone else’s mold. Such a person is our man, Nehemiah. He got started right by making an honest evaluation of his situation.
There may be many reading these words who are in need of rebuilding—perhaps it’s a relationship, self-confidence or even a life—but they have never arrived at the place of admitting it. Perhaps you take the superficial optimists’ approach, simply dealing with surface issues and ever saying, “’Peace, peace!’ where there is no peace.” Or it may be that you more closely identify with the busy optimist. Instead of honestly evaluating your situation, you busily cover up the problems by moving on to new people and new projects. Learn from Nehemiah, the “honest optimist.” Look at him. Listen to him. He made an honest evaluation. He inquired. He learned. Then he admitted that, not only was the wall broken down and the gates burned off their hinges, but the people were in distress. And, as if that were not bad enough, they had become a reproach to their God.
Is there any unfinished business in your life? Are there any walls that need rebuilding? Those who win at the game of life always finish what they start. But before that can happen, they get a good start by making an honest evaluation of the problem. Rebuilders who go through the painful process of accurately assessing their situations are soon on the road to the realization that it’s never too late for a new beginning.
Taken from The Nehemiah Code by O.S. Hawkins. Copyright © 2018 by Dr. O.S. Hawkins. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson.
O.S. Hawkins has served pastorates, including the First Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, for more than 25 years. A native of Fort Worth, Texas, he has a BBA from Texas Christian University and his MDiv and Ph.D. from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. For almost a quarter of a century, he served as president of GuideStone Financial Resources, with assets under management of $20 billion, serving 250,000 pastors, church staff members, missionaries, doctors, university professors, and other workers in various Christian organizations with their investment, retirement and benefit service needs. He is the author of more than 40 books, and regularly speaks to business groups and churches all across the nation. All of the author’s royalties and proceeds from the entire Code series go to support Mission:Dignity. You can learn more about Mission:Dignity by visiting MissionDignity.org.
Read more articles by Dr. O.S. Hawkins at: https://www.goodnewsfl.org/author/o-s-hawkins/