As football season arrives, many thoughts pass through my mind. I think of the endless hours millions will spend glued to their television sets on Saturday, Sunday and Monday night. Commentators will spew out incredible amounts of information and statistics throughout the game. I am amazed by the details that are kept over what is just a game.
But the most useless statistic that is kept is the half-time score. In reality, it means nothing. Winners are not declared, trophies are not given out at half-time. My mind goes back to the greatest comeback of college football in the Alamo Bowl in 2015 when TCU came from a 31-0 deficit with a second-string quarterback and beat Oregon 47-41. I am sure that Oregon wished the game had ended at half-time.
With the football illustration set aside, I want to think of more lofty, eternal situations of life that we face. It has been said “Enthusiasm and ignorance can get you halfway through any project.” Most projects, events, and relationships begin with great enthusiasm and anticipation, but about halfway through, feelings can turn to discouragement, weariness and near defeat.
The well-known story of Nehemiah leading the project of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem comes to my mind. Countless messages have been preached on the brilliance of Nehemiah’s leadership. Without a doubt, he displayed textbook skills in leading a defeated people to complete a long overlooked critical task.
I sense the people began the rebuilding with great enthusiasm. The new leader has come to town. He has not only identified the “elephant in town”, but has come up with a plan. So, the project begins. Work, strategy and sacrifice have gone into the rebuilding. The scene is clearly marked at the halfway point in chapter 4 of Nehemiah. “So we built the wall. And all the wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work. “Nehemiah 4:6.
As we keep reading we discover their status in Nehemiah 4:10-12 which reads,
‘In Judah it was said, “The strength of those who bear the burdens is failing. There is too much rubble. By ourselves we will not be able to rebuild the wall. And our enemies said, ‘They will not know or see till we come among them and kill them and stop the work.’” At that time the Jews who lived near them came from all directions and said to us ten times, ‘You must return to us.’”
Physical exhaustion, enemies, obstacles, fear have all set in. This is their new reality. Enthusiasm and ignorance have gotten them to this point. They are on the edge of defeat and failure. Now commentators on the story start to bring out the amazing leadership of Nehemiah. Agreed, he does display some outstanding qualities for modern day leaders. However, we have to slow down and not rush to the points of human leadership. What really took place? What enabled Nehemiah to lead this defeated people to completion?
We must go back to chapter one to find the answer to the second half of this unsurmountable project.
“As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. And I said, “O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants.” Neh. 1:4-6
What the people did not understand in the midst of the challenge to rebuild the wall, was the key motivation, strength, and vision that began the project back in the palace where Nehemiah served as a cupbearer. Nehemiah became aware of the condition of Jerusalem, the city of his heritage and the city of his God. Verse 4 records Nehemiah’s response. “As soon as I heard”. His reaction was that he prayed, mourned and fasted for four months.”
Prayer was his first response, not his last resort. I propose that the brilliance of Nehemiah’s leadership could be put in management books. However, the foundation of his leadership was prayer. Note what needs to be emphasized was the months of prayer where God was shaping him, preparing him for the biggest battle of his life. When the strength of the people had failed and fear, frustration and near defeat was on the second half the project, Nehemiah had what they lacked. He had the preparation of prayer and a God dependent heart for the second half.
Nehemiah’s reorganizing the people and management skills to the work of the wall should not be the focus for our thoughts. We have to tie chapter one into the words of chapter four where upon discovery of proposed coming battle it states in verse 9 “And we prayed to our God.”
There it is. The first response for the second-half challenge. We prayed. Nehemiah began to give directions and we see again his secret to finish the second half in 4:14b “Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome.” We all know the ending. The wall is completed. God’s city and people have protection and we hail Nehemiah as a great leader. He would be the guy you want in the second-half when circumstances get humanly impossible. He is your second-string quarterback coming in to lead you to victory.
Ministry, marriage, vocation, raising kids, all begin with excitement and many times ignorance. Then, the second-half reality arrives. Second-halves will certainly come in every situation of life. If we began the project as Nehemiah did, in prayer, then we can fall back to the foundation of our beginning. We do not always have the early stage set in our pursuits like Nehemiah did. Ignorance of godly planning and prayerful consideration of a worthwhile project, can be absent in the beginning. Nevertheless, there is hope for the second half of our lives, ministry and marriages. Our great and awesome God, waits for us to rely on the Nehemiah way that is often over looked in the management and leadership books on this same man. We too quickly look at his strategy, placement of people, and magnificent plans. We need to look behind the obvious and the earthly and see that Nehemiah led by months of prayer in preparation and daily reminder that God is great.
I do not know where you might be today in your journey with Jesus. I can testify that many projects in my life became the second-half challenges. I have tried it both ways. Determination, strategy, working harder in frustration to complete the project. The alternative was surrender, confession of self-dependence, and crying out to a God who was always there, always powerful, always my rescuer. I can wholeheartedly recommend a study and return to what is overlooked many times in Nehemiah’s story. Emulate his brokenness, his prayer, his fasting and seeking God and the second half is possible to complete with confidence of the work that He has begun and he will complete through you.
Dennis Henderson is the pastor of Fusion Bible Church in Durant, Oklahoma. He has been in full-time pastorate for 51 years. He and his wife, Billie, have been married 52 years and have 4 adult children, 9 grandchildren, a mixed black lab and a pedigree bloodhound. He loves the outdoors and bow hunting is his favorite pastime when not with Billie.