Has Your Wall Become a Fence?

by Scott Hagan

God is the Good Potter. I am often the not-so-good clay. My job is to spin and stay put. The Potter’s job is to design — to bring contour and purpose. At times I hate the speed of spinning or how tightly His skillful hands forge change.

Fitting into Bethlehem’s manger was one thing, squeezing His image into me is quite another. But my job as a leader is to remain willing — to embrace the passionate transfer. But if there is to be an emergence of my leadership shape, I must stay moist and in motion. Dry idleness in leadership is a death spiral. A leader must develop and maintain a lifestyle that is both fresh and growing. There is no exit strategy; formation has no graduation.

I find an eerie parallel between the potter’s wheel and the process inside Nehemiah as he sought to rebuild Jerusalem’s wall (see Nehemiah 2:1–6:15). Like Ezekiel’s bones, soon Nehemiah’s “stones” would be rattling and reorganizing themselves into something new.

“Then I arose in the night … and viewed the walls of Jerusalem which were broken down and its gates which were burned with fire” (Nehemiah 2:12,13, NKJV1).

All he could do was weep for the lost dignity of Israel. He pleaded for the cause of rebirth. The once glorious walls that surrounded the city of Jerusalem were both the fortress and the splendor of Israel. Now they lay like lost ruins, the result of Nebuchadnezzar’s militias and their systematic destruction approximately 162 years earlier. With great pleasure Nebuchadnezzar had pillaged the instruments of Israel’s praise, signaling the start of a 70-year captivity.

Now that the captivity was over, King Cyrus granted Israel the freedom to return and rebuild, beginning around 536 B.C. After the rebuilding of the temple in 516 B.C., no discernable improvements followed. By the time Nehemiah arrived in 445 B.C., the people looked more like squatters than conquerors. After approximately 90 years following the return of the first exiles, the best that could be said was that they had rearranged the rubble.

As Nehemiah rallied his people and began to make progress, it became apparent to Nehemiah’s enemies that this was more than wishful thinking. Threatened and angered, Sanballat and Tobiah attacked the Jews emotionally, financially, and physically.

“So we built the wall, and the entire wall was joined together up to half its height, for the people had a mind to work. Now it happened, when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites heard that the walls of Jerusalem were being restored and the gaps were beginning to be closed, that they became very angry” (Nehemiah 4:6,7, emphasis mine).

When Sanballat saw what Nehemiah was doing, he said, “ ‘What are these feeble Jews doing?’ ” (Nehemiah 4:2).

Tobiah chimed in, “ ‘Whatever they build, if even a fox goes up on it, he will break down their stone wall’ ” (Nehemiah 4:3).

Nehemiah and the many who joined him now faced an all-too-common crucifix.

“Then Judah said, ‘The strength of the laborers is failing, and there is so much rubbish that we are not able to build the wall’ ” (Nehemiah 4:10). In other words, the halfway point was the end of the line. It was time to renegotiate the dream of a wall back down to the reality of a fence. Zerubbabel and Ezra, Nehemiah’s predecessors, were both dynamic in their own right. But, at the end of the day, Nehemiah was nothing more than a partial victor like them.

It is frightening to wake up one day and feel as if you have spent your whole heart but arrived only halfway. We will all face at some point the “half-finished wall” and realize we have nothing more to give — when the hard truth of gaps and deficits presents its brutal reality, when we see more openings in our life story than completions, and more partial closures than finished promises.

When these gaps of unfinished ideas and promises combine with a demoralized state of mind, they create an overwhelming sense of defeat in leadership. For Nehemiah, a leadership renewal came in the form of a four-part equation: shovels, swords, trumpets, and family. God honored the restlessness of Nehemiah and unveiled a fresh new way to get things moving again. Let’s look at God’s formula for Nehemiah and his people.

They found renewal through the shovel. “Those who built on the wall … loaded themselves so that with one hand they worked at construction, and with the other held a weapon” (Nehemiah 4:17).

Nehemiah called the people back to work. Serving is at the heart of meaning and spiritual progress. The “shovel in one hand” and “sword in the other hand” concept represents the proper balance between faith and works. Many try to shovel with both hands, but real progress requires balance.

They found renewal through the sword. “Therefore I positioned men behind the lower parts of the wall, at the openings … with their swords, their spears, and their bows” (Nehemiah 4:13).

You and I must never forget we are at war over the maturity of our souls. The greater the progress, the greater the attack.

The enemies of Nehemiah did not fight fair. They used conspiracy. This meant a combination of several stealth-like attacks that tore at their dignity, finances, composure, and unity.

But Nehemiah understood the necessity for battle readiness. He told each worker to stay engaged with readied sword in hand.

For us today this means being prepared to engage in spiritual warfare. Servanthood alone will not get your wall going again. If you want the kind of progress that presses beyond the normal fatigues of leadership, it will take prayer and spiritual mindedness that stays revolutionary in its intensity.

They found renewal through the trumpet. “‘Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us’” (Nehemiah 4:20).

As difficult as it may seem, when you feel like abandoning God’s promises at the halfway point, you must rediscover your passion for personal worship. Worship is about relationship, and relationship is about discovering refuge and refreshing from life’s fires — spiritual and otherwise.

The idea of “worship” comes from two Greek words, pros and kuneo. The word pros means “to move forward.” The word kuneo means “to kiss with a sense of awe.” Earnest worship involves both a physical action and a loving intent, both a leaning forward with the body and a reaching out with the soul to touch with both life and lyric the divine magnificence of the Father.

Nehemiah knew the people needed this collective experience of worship as a rallying point. Collective worship is essential for getting past the halfway points in life.

They found renewal through family. “And I looked, and arose and said to the nobles, to the leaders, and to the rest of the people, ‘Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, great and awesome, and fight for your brethren, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your houses’ ” (Nehemiah 4:14).

In one of the more stunning yet revelatory moves in Scripture, Nehemiah positions families in the open breaches of the wall. Common sense rejects such a move. Yet Nehemiah understood the power, strength, and courage that come when families grasp their covenant bonds and stand as one.

When the people were at their lowest, feeling too weak and under-resourced to move forward and finish their wall, they found in relationship with one another the inspiration to fight. When the body of Christ chooses to lose its empires and instead find its brotherhood, something miraculous happens. We become like a brick wall before our enemies.

Something wonderful happened to Nehemiah at the halfway point. Maybe something wonderful needs to happen to your leadership and mine as well. Gaps and deficits at the halfway point can look ugly and intimidating. This is why so many leaders lose heart and quit. This is the most vulnerable point of the journey. But it is also the place where men and women find God in new and precious ways.

If you are struggling, first admit the struggle. Nehemiah cried out before one stone was reorganized and then had to cry out again when the wall was only half done.

The fact is, we need God for the entire journey. Remember what I wrote at the beginning of this article?Formation has no graduation. God is not after our perfect and complete walls. He is looking for something else — progress.


1. Scripture quotations marked NKJV are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.