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.