Tag Archive for Ezra

See It From God’s Perspective

Throughout the Old Testament it is apparent that God has a sovereign plan and purpose – largely connected to the restoration of his house and of his people – and He works to carry out that plan. However, we usually spend our time acting completely unaware of that truth in our own lives today. We know that it is true, in a nebulous, spiritual truth kind of way, and we can see it clearly in retrospect (both in the stories in the Bible and in reflection of our own past experiences) but in the actual current day-to-day experiences of our lives, we behave as if we don’t realize it.

The events of Ezra provide a wonderful backdrop for us for seeing God’s perspective, for spotting His sovereignty at work in apparently random circumstances. The general story involves the fulfillment of the prophecy found in Jeremiah 29, when God foretold the return of the people of Israel to Jerusalem. The first half of Ezra, then, describes the return and the rebuilding of the temple, while the second half of the book describes Ezra’s return with spiritual leaders a number of years later. Although God’s sovereignty is evident all through the book, interspersed throughout are a number of references that specifically point out His intentional involvement. Among these verses are the following:

  • Ezra 1:1, “the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom”
  • Ezra 1:5, “all those whose spirits God had moved, arose to go up and build the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem”
  • Ezra 5:5, “the eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews, so that they could not make them cease till a report could go to Darius”
  • Ezra 6:22, “for the Lord made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king of Assyria toward them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God”

These verses reveal that God’s sovereignty is evident from start to finish, throughout all of the events and activities that were taking place. They also reveal that God’s sovereignty occurs both externally – directing outside circumstances, people, and activity – and internally – moving in the hearts of people, including me.

It is against this backdrop that we learn from Ezra how to see the big picture from God’s perspective, and how that affects motivation and purpose. The lesson emerges in chapter 7, a pivotal chapter in understanding Ezra’s leadership (I touched briefly on this in a previous post, Ezra’s Model of Team Leadership). The chapter details how Ezra had been granted permission by King Artaxerxes to return to Jerusalem (with another reminder of God’s hand in that circumstance in 7:6 – “and the king granted him all that he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was on him”). But then the king went beyond granting permission, and wrote a letter that provided authority, protection, and significant resources for Ezra (7:11-26). After the proclamation of the letter, Ezra’s initial response is recorded in verse 27: “Blessed be the Lord God of our fathers, who has put such a thing as this in the king’s heart.” His response clearly reveals that Ezra saw God’s hand in all that had happened. He was able to look beyond his own finite, human scope of vision and see the events from God’s perspective. He recognized that God’s purpose was over and through the circumstances.

As a result, he understood the real importance of what was happening, which in turn shaped his purpose and drive, and his communication to his team, which we see in 8:28: “And I said to them, ‘You are holy to the Lord; the articles are holy also; and the silver and the gold are a freewill offering to the Lord God of your fathers.” Ezra helped his team to understand that God had a sovereign purpose, and therefore the tasks that they were carrying out were being used by God to fulfill that purpose; therefore also, their work was holy. Ultimately, an understanding of the holiness of their task (and of themselves) impacted their drive, their commitment, and their performance.

This story from the life of Ezra provides a great lesson for our leadership: while it is important – and even necessary – for a leader to be able to see the big picture, the Christian leader must take it a step further and see the big picture from God’s perspective. Then, when our understanding and determination of purpose are filtered through the  recognition of God’s purpose, it affects how we answer two important questions: Where are we going, and why are we going there?

It is always important for a leader to determine and define the necessary and intended direction – where we are going – but part of understanding this comes from seeing the bigger picture of context from God’s perspective. When you are able to do that – to see the big picture from God’s perspective – you have an understanding of destination that goes beyond the visible and immediate future. You recognize a purpose that is bigger than you, that is bigger than your big picture, and which has an eternal impact.

What follows is an impact on motivation, or why we are going in that direction. For people to respond, there must be a clearly established and communicated purpose and motive, one that makes sense to and resonates with people, and helps them to understand and believe in why they are doing what they are doing. When they can see that they are fulfilling a role in God’s plan, then the work they are doing is elevated to a new level of importance; more than that, it is elevated to an act of holiness. For the follower of Jesus, this provides true motivation.

So, seeing the big picture is important, but seeing it from God’s perspective is more important. The challenge for you and me is to learn to open our eyes to God’s presence and intentional involvement, not just in the history recorded in Scripture, but in our lives today. It is to see the events and circumstances that are taking place in our daily experiences from His perspective. And when our eyes have been opened, and we recognize His sovereign purpose, then our responses, our purpose, our motives, and our motivation rise to whole new level.

Before You Can Do It, You Have to Know It

Before you can teach and lead others, you have to live it. In order to live it, you have to know it. I experienced this (or better put, failed at this) in my first experience as the top leader in an organization. To be honest, as I walked in the door I was questioning my own preparedness, unsure of whether I knew enough to be able to lead well. But I had been given the opportunity, so I quelled my fears and jumped.

I arrived at a place that had longstanding, competent employees, and my relative youth probably didn’t help. In my enthusiasm, I started to run without first taking the time to learn. I began making changes (some of them drastic) and implementing new policies and procedures, but failed to take the time to study the history, culture, and people involved. As a result, my actions stemmed from ignorance rather than knowledge, and the result was conflict and disruption. It wasn’t until I took the time to learn that my actions of leadership could represent the right knowledge and therefore win followers and become effective.

But for Christian leaders, this truth goes much deeper: to be effective in your actions of leadership, you must first and foremost have a personal and in-depth knowledge of God and His Word. Your knowledge of His truth is more important than anything else in your preparation. Ezra, as a leader, provides a great example of this. In the description of his preparation for leadership – and more pointedly, his preparation for a specific task – Ezra 7:10 states, “For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel.” Clearly he had prepared himself for what he was about to undertake, but notice the order of the steps, because the order is important! The first step in the process was “to seek the law of the Lord,” which led him to living out what he knew, and in turn enabled him to teach and to lead. People followed him because his life gave him the credibility to lead, but first having the knowledge gave him the capability to lead.

What does it mean, then, that he had sought the law of the Lord? It means that he had spent time with God. He had studied the Scriptures intensely and diligently, learning who God is and what He says. And that took time and intentional practice. At the core, this is a basic and fundamental part of the Christian walk, and so it shows up nearly everywhere that someone talks about steps of growth. Gordon MacDonald, in Ordering Your Private World, discusses the importance of first having the private world of the inner man in order, and says that this must come from developing intimacy with God through regular time with Him and in His Word. Tim Challies, in The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment, explains that the ability to discern is directly related to knowledge of God and of His Word. J. P. Moreland, in Love Your God with All Your Mind, communicates that faith is also an act of reason, based on truth – specifically the truth of Scripture – and therefore Scripture must be studied for faith to grow. Kevin DeYoung, in Taking God at His Word, explores the doctrine of Scripture, and in the process argues for the importance and necessity of reading and studying the Bible. And the list could go on and on. The clear understanding is that every Christian (not just leaders) needs to regularly spend time with God, studying Scripture and building that personal relationship.

Scripture itself supports this truth, as is seen in the examples of men and women of God (like Ezra), but as is also specifically stated. Psalm 1 describes the person who will be blessed because of his moral choices, and states in verse 2 that this is someone “whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.” In the book of Joshua, chapter 1,verse 8, as Joshua is preparing to lead the people of Israel into the Promised Land, God challenges and encourages him with this statement: “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” The bottom line is, our thought processes, choices, and outcomes are directly impacted by our time spent in the Word of God.

As a crucial byproduct of studying Scripture, Ezra developed an intimate, personal relationship with God. Because of that personal and deep relationship, he didn’t simply learn to know who God was and is; he also came to understand God’s nature and heart. He had developed a relationship that enabled him to trust in God even in uncertainty and difficulty. It was from this relationship that he was therefore able to move and act with confidence in God’s sovereign plan, and that he was able to see God’s hand and His purpose in the events that occurred.

This is a critical lesson for you and me. Leaders must be learners; but Christian leaders must also be learners of God’s Word. Therefore, in our leadership development, we absolutely must study Scripture, growing in intimacy with God. We need regular time with God, in prayer and in His Word. This must be central and foundational to what we do, how we live, and to our call or purpose from Him. Doing this first is what makes us knowledgeable and gives us the capability to lead, because we will learn to see people and circumstances from God’s perspective, shaping how we think and act. It is from this growth of knowledge and relationship with God that we are able to “walk the talk,” modeling and practicing what we know, and living authentic, genuine lives that inspire trust and result in effective leadership.

See It From God’s Perspective

Throughout the Old Testament it is apparent that God has a sovereign plan and purpose – largely connected to the restoration of his house and of his people – and He works to carry out that plan. However, we usually spend our time acting completely unaware of that truth in our own lives today. We know that it is true, in a nebulous, spiritual truth kind of way, and we can see it clearly in retrospect (both in the stories in the Bible and in reflection of our own past experiences) but in the actual current day-to-day experiences of our lives, we behave as if we don’t realize it.

The events of Ezra provide a wonderful backdrop for seeing God’s perspective, for spotting His sovereignty at work in apparently random circumstances. The general story involves the fulfillment of the prophecy found in Jeremiah 29, when God foretold the return of the people of Israel to Jerusalem. The first half of Ezra, then, describes the return and the rebuilding of the temple, while the second half of the book describes Ezra’s return with spiritual leaders a number of years later. Although God’s sovereignty is evident all through the book, interspersed throughout are a number of references that specifically point out His intentional involvement. Among these verses are the following:

  • Ezra 1:1, “the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom”
  • Ezra 1:5, “all those whose spirits God had moved, arose to go up and build the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem”
  • Ezra 5:5, “the eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews, so that they could not make them cease till a report could go to Darius”
  • Ezra 6:22, “for the Lord made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king of Assyria toward them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God”

These verses reveal that God’s sovereignty is evident from start to finish, throughout all of the events and activities that were taking place. They also reveal that God’s sovereignty occurs both externally – directing outside circumstances, people, and activity – and internally – moving in the hearts of people, including me.

It is against this backdrop that we learn from Ezra how to see the big picture from God’s perspective, and how that affects motivation and purpose. The lesson emerges in chapter 7, a pivotal chapter in understanding Ezra’s leadership (I touched briefly on this in a previous post, Ezra’s Model of Team Leadership). The chapter details how Ezra had been granted permission by King Artaxerxes to return to Jerusalem (with another reminder of God’s hand in that circumstance in 7:6 – “and the king granted him all that he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was on him”). But then the king went beyond granting permission, and wrote a letter that provided authority, protection, and significant resources for Ezra (7:11-26). After the proclamation of the letter, Ezra’s initial response is recorded in verse 27: “Blessed be the Lord God of our fathers, who has put such a thing as this in the king’s heart.” His response clearly reveals that Ezra saw God’s hand in all that had happened. He was able to look beyond his own finite, human scope of vision and see the events from God’s perspective. He recognized that God’s purpose was over and through the circumstances.

As a result, he understood the real importance of what was happening, which in turn shaped his purpose and drive, and his communication to his team, which we see in 8:28: “And I said to them, ‘You are holy to the Lord; the articles are holy also; and the silver and the gold are a freewill offering to the Lord God of your fathers.” Ezra helped his team to understand that God had a sovereign purpose, and that the tasks that they were carrying out were being used by God to fulfill that purpose; therefore, their work was holy. Ultimately, an understanding of the holiness of their task (and of themselves) impacted their drive, their commitment, and their performance.

This story from the life of Ezra provides a great lesson for our leadership: while it is important – and even necessary – for a leader to be able to see the big picture, the Christian leader must take it a step further and see the big picture from God’s perspective. Then, when our understanding and determination of purpose are filtered through recognition of God’s purpose, it affects how we answer two important questions: Where are we going, and why are we going there?

It is always important for a leader to determine and define the necessary and intended direction, but part of understanding this comes from seeing the bigger picture of context from God’s perspective. When you are able to do that – to see the big picture from God’s perspective – you have an understanding of destination that goes beyond the visible and immediate future. You recognize a purpose that is bigger than you, that is bigger than your big picture, and which has an eternal impact.

What follows is an impact on motivation. For people to respond, there must be a clearly established and communicated purpose and motive, one that makes sense to and resonates with people, and helps them to understand and believe in why they are doing what they are doing. When they can see that they are fulfilling a role in God’s plan, then the work they are doing is elevated to a new level of importance; more than that, it is elevated to an act of holiness. For the follower of Jesus, this provides true motivation.

So, seeing the big picture is important, but seeing it from God’s perspective is more important. The challenge for you and me is to learn to open our eyes to God’s presence and intentional involvement, not just in the history recorded in Scripture, but in our lives today; it is to see the events and circumstances that are taking place in our daily experiences from His perspective. And when our eyes have been opened, and we recognize His sovereign purpose, then our responses, our purpose, our motives, and our motivation rise to whole new level.

Let the People Speak

I have discovered that the book of Ezra is chock full of lessons and illustrations on leadership. Back in June of this year, I posted a lesson on team leadership (Ezra’s Model of Team Leadership) from chapters 7 and 8. In my study of the book, I have also found application to many other leadership principles and concepts, like strategic planning, overcoming obstacles, building motivation, and more. One particular lesson, which is illustrated in the events that take place in chapter 10, verses 7 through the end of the chapter, specifically speaks to a leadership principle that I blogged about last week, called Give People a Voice.

If we walk through the passage verse by verse, what we see is a great picture of the importance and value of leaders giving people a voice in the process. Verses 7 and 8 set the stage, describing how Ezra gathers everyone together. A proclamation is sent throughout the area instructing people to come to a central location for what will be an important meeting. They are given three days to arrive and gather, and the proclamation includes a rather severe ultimatum to ensure that people come. The important components that are immediately evident for our understanding of leadership are these: 1) make sure to include those who will be affected, so that the ones who will be impacted have an opportunity to have a voice; 2) provide a time and place for the dialogue to take place, making sure that the availability of those invited is taken into consideration; and 3) provide a motivation that underscores the importance of the meeting, increasing the likelihood of the right people being there.

Once gathered together (v. 9) – and notice that the attendees recognized the importance of this discussion – Ezra stood in front of everyone present and briefly explained the basic issue and the needed outcome (vv. 10-11). In their case, it was the sin of unfaithfulness to God, requiring confession, repentance, obedience, and separation. The example it provides helps us to see that people need to have a clear and understandable idea of what the issue is and what the outcome needs to be. Before people can give input, it is the responsibility of the leader to communicate and summarize so that everyone involved can understand and engage. And clearly, Ezra did this well, because the response of the people (v. 12) was a resounding “Yes! We are on board and we will do it!”

At this point, the people are given the opportunity to speak into the situation (vv. 13), and the discussion that ensues is a wonderful representation of the importance of giving people a voice. They have heard the issue and the needed outcome, they have expressed absolute support, but they also recognized that there are some factors that need to be considered in the process, because those factors will affect their ability to accomplish the goal. In their stituation, they identified the problem of volume – how many and how much (“there are many people,” and “there are many of us who have transgressed”) – and the problem of physical circumstances (“it is the season for heavy rain”). Very often, it is those who are on the ground floor and in the trenches who are best able to understand what is being faced and how it will impact those involved. The leader may be the one who is best able to “zoom out” and see the big picture, but once you “zoom in,” the people who are carrying out the work of the tasks may be best able to see the details and provide input. They will see things that you miss, and so if they are not given the opportunity to speak, you may be creating obstacles that can greatly hinder the likelihood of accomplishing the goals.

But it didn’t end there. The people knew the obstacles that were causing a challenge, so they were able to offer ideas to solve those issues (v. 14). They proposed a solution that addressed the problem of volume and allowed for the disruption caused by the physical circumstances. Because they were empowered to speak, they got behind the leadership and took ownership of the issue and the solution. Their solution, based on their first-hand knowledge of the circumstances, included identifying representative leaders, arranging a schedule and time frame, establishing a process, and clearly communicating the purpose. This provides a great example of the result and benefit of giving people a voice. When they have the opportunity to participate and contribute, they buy in and take ownership. When that happens, you will have their support and involvement and have a much higher probability of accomplishing the tasks. And keep in mind, because they may have the best picture of the details, they can provide valuable input into a workable solution.

Verses 16 through the end of the chapter reveal that the leaders listened to the people and took their input into consideration when determining the action steps. They then followed that established process, completed the plan, and achieved the goals. But before that happened, verse 15 points out an interesting side note: the proposed solution did not have unanimous support. Several leaders of the people opposed the idea, including at least one spiritual leader. One of them, Meshullam, is also mentioned in Nehemiah 3:4 as someone who was helping to repair the wall in Jerusalem, so I don’t think these individuals were opposed to the goal, just to the process that was proposed. This gives us a good picture of how the process operates in organizations (and how the body of Christ operates): there will likely never be full agreement on anything, but giving the people a voice will bring the best ideas, and it is then the responsibility of the leadership to filter the responses, seek God, and determine the direction. As Seth Godin says in Tribes, “Listen, really listen. Then decide and move on” (2008, p. 128).

Ezra’s leadership shows us the value of giving people a voice. If we don’t do the same, we only make our job more difficult. So I say, “Let the people speak.”