Perfectionists amuse and frustrate me. They want to get everything right and insist on everyone around them doing the same. Everything must be in its right place before planning what to do next. They insist on process, sequence, and purity. They love to plan, down to the infinitesimal detail. They refuse to step out and act without every conceivable scenario played out multiple times. How I wish the world was like that, but it’s not, so they frustrate me because sometime the best laid plans simply unravel in ways one can’t imagine in the chaos of the world in which we live.
The tragedy is that the church is often plagued by similar approaches. We can’t do this or that until we drill down to the minute nuances of our theological understandings. We want to make sure that every conceivable theological dot or cross is covered before we act. I suspect that’s why the church is 20-30 years behind the rest of the world in so many ways. Of course, the opposite is unwise, that is, acting without thinking it through. That’s just as bad as not acting because we think we haven’t thought it through enough. Somewhere we need a balance.
Nehemiah’s story is one of balance. The pivot point for him is always God. Everything else is measured and acted upon in relation to the centrality of God. From his opening prayer to the completion of the wall, it is all about God at work. The reforms Ezra and he instigate in ch.8-13 all come out of this centrality of being. The reinstating of the law, the corporate confession of sins, the reaffirmation of the covenant all occur with God at the centre. The leadership, the priests, the temple and the list of other reforms are all done to place God back into the heart of Israel. Nehemiah’s story is not one of perfectionist procrastination, but of action and faith as he follows God’s lead.
We as church have much to learn from Nehemiah. Too often we get bogged down in the bureaucratic machinations of the organisational church. Too often we get lost in theological ruminations that disempower us and prevent us from acting as church in the world. Nehemiah put God central to all his tasks and plans, and God did amazing things. Only when the people saw what God did with a cup-bearer was Nehemiah and Ezra then able to remind them of where they had gone astray and the path to ensure God returns to the heart of Israel.
Jesus calls us from our complacency, our fabricated ruminations, our perfectionism, into the world as his people. He wants the world to see in us what he has done. He wants to show the world what a redeemed people looks like, and the hope we carry despite the struggles we endure. We don’t have to have everything right to be used by God in amazing ways. We don’t have to be a Pastor or church leader to make an amazing impact on the lives of those around us. We simply need to place Jesus central to everything we do, and allow his transformational love shine through us to the people around us.