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Whenever you hear a sermon about Ezra and/or Nehemiah preached – what’s usually the context?

Generally, the sermons I hear based on these two books are in the context of some sort of strategy/leadership/church renewal graph presenting/planning session.

After a brief reflection on one of these books, the conversation tends to quickly move listeners to notice the planning steps these men took and then apply those steps to whatever personal or group pursuits are on the table for discussion.

I am not surprised or even, frankly, excited any longer when at the beginning of a leader’s tenure or the start of annual meetings, someone whips out Ezra and Nehemiah and says, “Let’s glean from their take on strategy to help grow or fix our ministry/church/denomination”.

Actually, I tend to role my eyes.

So I was pleasantly amazed today as I was reading Ezra (not a book I normally hit, but it’s in the lineup for my current read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year initiative). This book that, along with his contemporary Nehemiah, we often hold up as practical guidebooks, given by God as to how to plan & grow x-y-z mentions over eight times “the good (or gracious) hand of God”.

These are not long books. These references are significant.

I get a lot of email and read a lot of blogs about personal productivity and planning. I’m always trying to learn how to use my time and energy wisely and more efficiently. One of my sessions with my personal coach was about improving my work habits. I’ve got goals I want to accomplish.

But amid all of this – the blogs about better time management in order to be more successful and complicated charts showing us how to plan a phenomenal ministry, I wonder if we miss what Ezra & Nehemiah apparently thought was the most important takeaway from their stories.

The gracious, good hand of their God was upon them.

I can read every book ever written about good leadership, personal productivity or proper ministry planning strategies – and if I don’t have God’s gracious hand behind me, it doesn’t matter a single drop.

The question is: have I spent more time seeking that Hand, or better human strategies?