Publication: One-to-One, Autumn 2008
How To “Get It Right” like Daniel and Nehemiah
History reveals which perspectives were accurate-and which were not. Was it Neville Chamberlain or Winston Churchill? The flat-earth thinkers or Christopher Columbus? However, the ones who we remember-the ones who “got it right” – didn’t have the luxury of knowing the outcome when tough choices had to be made. They led with a perspective yet to be proven in the midst of high stakes.
Perspectives are like contact lenses we put on each morning before work. They are our angle of vision; our perception of reality and what to do about it. They shape our attitude, actions, and priorities. Our perspectives are critical in our decision-making process and are largely shaped by our beliefs and experience. All too often, we become so comfortable with them that we forget they are there.
Perspectives can get us fired or promoted. They can influence other perspectives, be influenced, or go it alone. Because life and death for individuals and businesses are often determined by their perspective, it is important to ask the questions “Am I seeing this correctly? Is there a bigger picture? Am I asking the right questions? What is the foundation for my perspective?”
Remember the Coca-Cola “New Coke” crisis in the mid-1980s that literally had America rioting in the streets? New Coke was of course one of the most notable marketing blunders in all of history. It would be a mistake, however, to think that there was not a lot of strategy and research that went into the Coca-Cola Company’s decision to introduce the new formula. Coca-Cola had performed thousands of blind taste tests showing New Coke as the overwhelming favorite to the original. It wasn’t until after the roll out of New Coke and the subsequent public outcry that Coca-Cola realized an important perspective was neglected. They failed to ask consumers: “How would you feel if we changed Coke?” But, at least, New Coke is still a hit in Micronesia.
By 1911, Morton Salt Company was confronted with a serious challenge. With a growing number of competitors, why would consumers choose their product over another? Their product, salt, was a commodity. Salt is salt. What could they do to compete? Competing by price lowering would be a race to the bottom.
Morton Salt broadened their perspective. They found a new angle for beating the competition with a salt that flowed freely, even in humid weather. By adding in an anti-caking agent, and repackaging the salt into the familiar cylindrical canister you know today with an easy pour spout, they were ready for their new logo and tagline: “when it rains, it pours.” Their perspective for distinguishing themselves without lowering their price proved right. Today, nearly 100 years later, Morton Salt continues its market domination at a premium price.
Daniel and Nehemiah are two heroes of the Old Testament who never met, but were allied like bookends through the history of Jewish captivity by Babylon and subsequent freedom by Persia. These two men allowed themselves to be God’s instruments during historical turning points for the Jews. With God’s help, Nehemiah and Daniel were right when it counted most. The order of events in the lives of Daniel and Nehemiah almost seem reversed from one another. Daniel was forced out of his homeland, Israel, into captivity and into the service of the king. Nehemiah was allowed to leave his king’s service in order to go to Israel, his rightful homeland, and lead its rebuilding.
Each day, we are confronted with decisions in our work; some are, of course, more critical than others. Then, there comes the decisions and challenges that are turning points. Like Daniel and Nehemiah, we too can get it right by God’s grace and a proper perspective. Using Daniel and Nehemiah to coach us on perspective, here are some fundamental perspective-builders their stories offer:
1. A Settled Foundation of Absolutes
The Scripture says: “But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine” (Daniel 1:8, emphasis added). After he was captured, Daniel did not abandon his beliefs and adopt those of Babylon. When we are settled and obedient to foundational issues for our lives, our perspectives are less subject to the constant change around us. Moreover, abiding in foundational absolutes helps us recognize and overrule emotion that would otherwise lead us to lower standards.
Nehemiah, being the cupbearer to the king, could have told his brother he would send someone else to help rebuild because he was too important to leave. Instead, Nehemiah left a comfortable job to do what he knew was right. He knew where his priorities lay. Seasons of change are never the time to abandon principles.
2. Our Perspective is Limited
When we begin to think that our perspective is all inclusive, we’ve lost perspective on God. Like us, Daniel and Nehemiah had a limited perspective. First Corinthians 13:9 says: “We only know in part.” As their stories open, neither Daniel nor Nehemiah could have known what was waiting for them. When their turning points came, they did not jump to conclusions regarding their course of action. They sought the Lord, and consequently, their perspectives were enlarged. For Daniel, God gave him revelation to interpret the king’s dream. For Nehemiah, God opened the door to go to Israel with resources.
3. Trust, Not Fear
Fear is unhealthy and paralyzing, and not from the Lord. (We are not talking here about the fear of the Lord, which is actually best understood to mean “awe” or “reverence.”) Nehemiah and Daniel were not motivated out of fear. Had they been, there would be two less books in the Bible. Daniel would not have influenced kings. God’s power and presence would not have been demonstrated in the lion’s den or the fiery furnace. Nehemiah would have never gotten the wall built had fear from the enemy invaded his perspective.
When we trust God’s plan and keep the mission in front of us, we can leave our comfort zones and go forward. We can embrace change and challenges head on, recognizing that therein lies opportunity from God.
Daniel 6:23 says: “Then the king was very pleased and gave orders for Daniel to be taken up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den and ‘no injury whatever was found on him, because he had trusted in his God” (emphasis added). Proverbs 29:25 says: “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe” (emphasis added).
4. It’s Not About Me
When Nehemiah led in the rebuilding of the wall, he was able to take a group of men and women who had been there before he arrived-who seemingly could not get the job done-and he made them productive. He knew how to organize a team. He was helping others find their place. Again, when his people were exacting heavy interest rate loans against one another, Nehemiah intervened to cause them to remember their mission.
Keep this in mind: Nehemiah was not a superhero who could fly with a big “N” on his chest. Daniel is not a cute feel-good fairy tale. They were men who built and kept a proper perspective by God’s grace. May the Lord bless you in your endeavors at work-your mission.
Scripture Reference: Daniel 1:8; 1 Corinthians 13:9; Daniel 6:23; Proverbs 29:25