By David Faust
Hellen Keller observed, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” On one occasion the Lord promised the Israelites who went to battle, “Five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand” (Leviticus 26:8). That’s favorable math!
The principle of synergy (from the Greek synergos, “working together”) means that by combining the right elements, you can produce effects greater than the sum of their individual parts. A pitch-in dinner illustrates synergy. So does a marching band, a football team, a beehive, a factory assembly line, and an Amish barn-raising. The body of Christ grows “as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4:16). According to Stephen Covey, “Synergy is better than my way or your way. It’s our way.”
A Compelling Vision
Great achievements often arise from the ashes of terrible brokenness. Nehemiah, the cupbearer to Persia’s King Artaxerxes, wept upon hearing the news that Jerusalem’s walls and gates still lay in ruins decades after being reduced to rubble by Nebuchadnezzar’s army. After days of fasting and prayer, Nehemiah received permission to return to Jerusalem. There he privately surveyed the situation, riding on horseback through the deserted streets by night. Then he called the people together and said, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem” (Nehemiah 2:17).
Nehemiah’s vision called the people to action. If a wall contains even one gap, it’s useless. So Nehemiah 3 tells how everyone joined forces to rebuild Jerusalem’s wall:
• It was a God-honoring effort. The priests who rebuilt the Sheep Gate “dedicated it” (v. 1), for their ultimate goal wasn’t just to build a wall but to glorify God.
• It was a team effort. The phrase “next to them” or “beside him” occurs 24 times in Nehemiah 3. Individuals from all walks of life labored side by side. Goldsmiths and perfume-makers, accustomed to more delicate crafts, plunged into the clumsy, cumbersome task of stacking stones (v. 8). Although a few individuals refused to get their hands dirty. “Their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors” (v. 5). For every go-getter there always seems to be a goof-off.
• For some participants, the project was a cross-generational effort. A fellow named Shallum repaired a section of the wall “with the help of his daughters” (v. 12).
• It was a multifaceted effort. Some workers wielded spades and shovels, while others built wooden gates or cleared away rubble and piled up stones. Some worked on lovely-sounding sections like the Fountain Gate (v. 15) and the House of the Heroes (v. 16), while others got stuck repairing the unglamorous area known as the Dung Gate (v. 14). Because of enemy threats, half of the workers served as armed guards to protect the ones doing the building (Nehemiah 4:16-23).
• Nevertheless, the project was a successful effort, “for the people worked with all their heart” (4:6). Despite threats and criticism from the outside and fear and discouragement on the inside, the Jews persevered and “the wall was completed . . . in fifty-two days” (6:15).
Challenges for Us
Nehemiah’s building project raises important questions: What is broken that God wants to fix? Are we willing to get our hands dirty? What can we accomplish by working together on a common goal?
Serving in unity—that’s synergy. Dividing Christ’s body—that’s just sin.
1. What goals are you pursuing for the glory of God?
2. How are you working alongside others to achieve those goals?
David Faust serves as the Associate Minister at East 91st Street Christian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.
The Lookout’s Bible Reading Plan for August 9, 2015
Use this guide to read through the Bible in 12 months. Follow David Faust’s comments on the highlighted text in every issue of The Lookout.
1 Timothy 3:11-16
1 Timothy 4
1 Timothy 5:1-15
1 Timothy 5:16-25
1 Timothy 6:1-10
Nehemiah 1, 2
1 Timothy 6:11-21