Yesterday we concluded at Western Oaks our series on Breakout—where we looked at how Nehemiah led a city and a people to be rebuilt and renewed. In other words, he initiated and led a city and a people to breakout—to advance to a new level. Interestingly, there were a couple of parallelisms in Nehemiah to the overarching story of God.
A parallelism in Nehemiah to the overarching narrative of God’s story has to do with God’s mission to renew and restore cities, communities, and people. Nehemiah is told that the wall in Jerusalem lay in ruin and that the people are in great distress and shame. Prompted by the news and the reality of God’s truth regarding the renewal of his people, Nehemiah prays that God will send him to rebuild the walls and renew the people. God, through a series of divine interventions, sends Nehemiah fully funded and fully loaded with passion and energy to complete the work. Fifty-two days after his arrival, Nehemiah leads the the people to rebuild the wall and to be spiritually renewed and reconciled in their relationship with God. This reminds me of the entire world’s condition; our walls are broken down and lay in ruin, and people are broken in great distress and shame. Jesus saw man’s brokenness and condition—in man’s cities, communities, and individual lives—and was sent to renew and reconcile them to God and rebuild their cities and communities. While we will not see this full restoration of our cities, communities, and lives this side of his second return (although we will see signposts or glimmers), when he does return (a second time) he will fully restore all things to himself.
The second parallelism in Nehemiah to the overarching story of God has to do with the process of discipleship. One of the things we learn about Nehemiah and rebuilding the wall in Jerusalem and renewing the people is that it is a process. Breakout—moving to a new level; going from “here” to “there”—is a process. From hearing the news to completing the wall, it took Nehemiah somewhere between 9-12 months to see the wall completed and the people renewed. This is very much like discipleship. Once we repent of our sin and place our faith and trust in Jesus as our great God, King, Savior, and Lord we enter into the process of discipleship, or sanctification. Discipleship (or sanctification) is the process of being conformed into the image of Jesus. In other words, it is the continual process of breakout. As we grow and mature in Jesus we are continually molded and crafted in his image and thus we continually move from “here” to “there.”
Here’s the importance of the process: if we do not cultivate a life of breakout—continually being formed into who Jesus wants us to be and to do the things Jesus wants us to do—we will find ourselves relapsing into who we used to be. To support this, just look at the history of Israel in the Old Testament. Nehemiah actually gives a short synopsis in Chapter 9. One minute Israel is following after God enjoying the blessings of God, the next minute they are acting presumptuously, stiffening their necks, and refusing to obey God—forgetting that God had ever delivered them. And this pattern repeated itself throughout Israel’s history. In addition, Peter writes in his second letter,
For this very reason (partaking of God’s divine nature), make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins (2 Peter 1:5-9).
Cultivating a life of breakout requires great discipline, persistency, and patience as we participate in God’s work, through the Spirit, in our life and in this world. This cultivation includes (but not limited to) prayer, reading God’s word, participating in gospel community (a Christ-centered/mission-oriented church), confession, contemplation, denying our self, loving our neighbor, and looking for ways to tangible demonstrate the gospel as well as share the gospel.
The goal in cultivating a life of breakout is getting to the point where the process becomes habitual. We are creatures of habit. For instance, we all have a morning routine that we do even if we are half asleep. My routine is that I get up, take a shower, get dressed, do my hair, go down stairs, make my coffee, read my Bible, and brush my teeth. I do this every morning. I have other actions that have formed into habits—but I will spare you those. Here’s the truth about habits, we can have good habits and then bad habits. For all humans, we have formed many bad habits because we are sinners who have fallen short of God’s glory. As a result, we have naturally formed bad sinful habits. What the process of discipleship (of breakout) does is shave off our sinful habits and rough spots replacing them with the thoughts, attitudes, behaviors, and actions of Jesus in every area of our life. Over time, if cultivated, our sinful habits are replaced with Jesus’ habits. However, if we ever stop cultivating, maturing, or growing we will relapse into the same sinful habits that Christ died for and has forgiven us. Let us be challenged to have a life that continually cultivates the breakout life Jesus has so graciously worked (through his life, death, burial, and resurrection) to give us.