At Work

How Nehemiah Modeled “Seeking God First”

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Editor’s Note: Russell Gehrlein was a guest on the radio program, Community Bridge, a Family Radio Network program and podcast on January 4, 2021. Below is a partial transcript of that conversation, which you can listen to in its entirety here. We encourage you to subscribe to the show on whichever platform you get your podcasts! You can also find part one of this conversation here.

JENNY BURKHISER (host): Russ Gehrlein is here to talk with us about seeking God first when navigating through career decisions. What are some other guiding questions we should ask ourselves when we’re trying to navigate making a career decision? What are some other steps we can take to assess where to best look for God’s will?

Knowing Your Skills

RUSSELL GEHRLEIN: It’s good to take an inventory of our skill sets. I think about a video that I’ve seen about a young man who is a motorcycle mechanic. This guy found his purpose. He understands God’s presence in his work as a motorcycle mechanic.

He has always liked to fix bikes and he gets a lot of satisfaction from fixing and repairing things. He likes the smell of the grease and how it feels on his hands, and he literally likes the results when a bike was brought in broken and he fixed it.

He thinks about how God brings restoration in our own lives. He sees how God has developed those interests and skills along the way. He loves his job and he meets people’s needs. And this brings flourishing in his life, as well as points to God and glorifies him.

So I think this understanding motivates him to get up each morning to go to work, knowing that he will get to experience that joy of being a coworker with God to bring restoration to these motorcycles and to the people that own them. They find joy when they go on the road and travel safely as a direct result of the work that he has done.

The Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics has a great tool that I want to mention. They have an ebook available free of charge called Discover Your Story by Hugh Welchel. That’s a very helpful tool.

How Nehemiah Modeled “Seeking God First”

BURKHISER: Russ, you know, there’s so much richness and depth to God’s Word, the Bible, in shaping not only our faith but helping us along that path in our career decision. Do you have a favorite Bible story or scripture related to seeking God first in our career that you’d like to share with us? 

GEHRLEIN: I do. I think about Nehemiah. Nehemiah is one of many examples in scripture of what I call “Immanuel labor,” which is kind of a pun on the words “manual labor.” Immanuel labor is the divine connection between God’s presence and human work, which I find in Nehemiah and Joseph and Moses and Paul, and many many others in scripture, which became the title of my book, Immanuel Labor—God’s Presence in Our Profession. Nehemiah really describes that. 

He was not out there looking for work necessarily. He was the cupbearer of the king. I don’t know if it was a high-ranking job, but it was secure. It was a critical position because a cupbearer has to taste the wine before the king does in case someone is trying to poison him.

He’s moved by the heart of God when he hears about the wall in Jerusalem. The Israelites are in captivity at this time in Babylon, and now they’re beginning to have the folks in captivity to go back to Israel—but they have no wall. And a city without a wall is pretty hard to defend. 

So God moves in the heart of Nehemiah. That illustrates his walk with God and how God worked in his heart, as it records here in the very first chapter of Nehemiah. Then the next chapter talks about how he grabbed a few others, went at night, and took a look at the wall to see what needed to be done.

And he didn’t tell a soul the vision that God had given him and what he had worked in his heart. It uses the word “heart” in the first two chapters and then later on in Nehemiah 4, he gathered his team and they’re beginning to work on the wall. And it reports that the people worked with all their hearts, which reminds me of what Paul has taught in the scriptures. In Colossians it talks about “working with all your heart, working as unto the Lord.”

The whole story is just a great testament to the connection between God’s presence and work because they set up guards. They had a spear in one hand and a shovel in the other. The people were working but they were trusting in God. And God gave them success as the enemies came in to bother, distract, and discourage them. But God prevailed and they got their wall built.

And it was all because Nehemiah was open to what God had for him. And he was a man walking closely with God, and not seeking a career change. It doesn’t tell us that he went back to being the cupbearer to the king, but at least for this particular chapter in his life God gave him a calling and vocation, a very important one, and it all started with that “seeking God first.” 

Editor’s Note: A limited number of Russell’s book, Immanuel Labor—God’s Presence in Our Professionare available in our bookstore. Save $5 off the regular price, while supplies last!

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