You Probably Won’t Change the World

After a long exile in Babylon, the Israelites finally received long awaited news: they could return to Jerusalem. They sang songs on their way, longing for God’s glorious city. Instead they found a unwalled, ruined desolation. The book of Nehemiah chronicles how they rebuilt the wall and protected the city.

Today Christian leadership books/sermons often use this book as source material. We see Nehemiah as the premier Biblical CEO, the visionary hero who organizes an efficient, effective labor force.
Perhaps that’s there, but British pastor Andrew Weber (in a great sermon) concludes that this is an ego-centric, individualistic interpretation that could develops when we worships the mantra, “You can change the world.”Nehemiah, Weber says, is not about being the unique hero who changes history. Nehemiah is about how God uses normal people, doing every day jobs to build his kingdom.

Weber zooms in on one guy, Malchijah, who had the undesirable task of building the “dung gate.” This is the sewage job. Think human refuse. Weber points out that a partial wall is useless, every part must be built or the city’s vulnerable.

Malchijah’s role was indispensable, for the city’s protection. Yet, it was hardly glorious or heroic or visionary. All of this to say,  many of us (young and old) live under the delusion that somehow God made us to be uniquely spectacular. That our role in church, or in business, or in school, or at Bible study, or amongst our friends is to be the special one. Few of us like to think, “I’m probably the dung gate guy.” Few of us dream, “My calling is to be normal.” But perhaps normal is actually God’s plan for us.

In Zach Eswine’s book, Sensing Jesus, he points out that God’s plan for mankind before the fall was earthy. He commissioned Adam to garden, love his wife, love God, and resist temptation. Revelation describes heaven as a return to Eden. So Jesus came, it seems, to restore us to normal lives with God. This is why Paul tells Timothy to pray for a quiet life (1 Tim 2:2), and the Thessalonians to participate in normal every day work (1 Thes. 4:11).

All thus mundane normality is God glorifying. That’s the romantic piece. Not the job, or the place, or the person, but doing all for his glory. When we live normal lives for his glory everything is infused with divine grandeur. Even the dung gate shines with significance, when we consider how God used it for his glory: a well-protected city creates a well-protected people from whom the Messiah arises.

Eswine calls this “Romantic Realism” and it’s godly way to live. We are romantics about God’s presence, power, and glory. But we are also realists about participating in the mundane call on our lives.

You probably won’t change the world. But that’s okay because God is calling you to a locality. This is your little piece here. It might look like a dung gate, but it’s God’s. Eswine gives three core truths to arrange our lives around, that help us to live here as romantic realists:

1) God has given you himself to surrender to and love. This means that to daily orient your life toward a moment-by-moment relationship with God is a great thing that brings glory to him. You needn’t be anywhere else than where you are, because Jesus is there too. 

2) God has given you a handful of persons that you are meant to love. This means that you are meant for relationships wit people. To enter this way of love for neighbor is to do a great thing that glorifies God. You needn’t become somebody else or overlook those people who are right in front of you. The Lord is at work here doing great things. 

3) God will give you a place to inhabit, whic means that you get to become attentive to what is there where you are. This means to dwell knowledgeably and hospitably in and toward the place God gives you is to glorify him. God will give you a few things that he intends for you to do in your inhabited place and with those people. To do what God gives you to do is to strengthen the common good and to glorify him.

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