A Mind to Work

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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 (Neh. 4:6).

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The reconstruction of the wall surrounding Jerusalem in the days of Nehemiah is one of the rare success stories of the Old Testament. Using unskilled labor, working under adverse conditions, and facing constant threats from their adversaries, the Jews managed to complete this daunting project in under two months. Their achievement guaranteed the security of the city for years to come. 

This verse highlights the key ingredient that made their success possible: "the people had a mind to work." Moffatt renders this sentence, "the heart of the people was in their work." Motivation experts have been telling us for years that success is 99% attitude; this story is a classic example of that principle. 

But how is that attitude kindled? Dig deeper into this story and we find clues.

First, the people had competent leadership. This achievement would not have happened without the visionary guidance of their governor, Nehemiah. Nehemiah knew how to encourage compliance without being a bully. When distractions interfered, he quickly moved to deal with them and keep the people on task. More importantly, he led by example; his own personal sacrifices in the project inspired his people to work harder themselves.  

Second, the people had a clearly defined goal. There were so many issues that plagued the struggling young nation trying to re-establish itself in the land. But trying to take on all the problems at once would have disheartened a people who were ill-prepared to tackle them. Nehemiah prioritized the problems and put the wall reconstruction at the top of the list. The other items could be dealt with later; this was job Number One, and nothing else would be allowed to interfere with completing it. 

Finally, the people had a personal stake in the outcome. Nehemiah shrewdly assigned work teams based on proximity to their own homes (see phrases like "in front of his house" several times in chapter 3). The people were not drones toiling for some faceless executive at headquarters. They were laboring for the welfare of their own families. The harder they worked, the more likely their loved ones would be safe from harm. Whatever the enterprise, people are inspired to work when they can see a connection between the work they are doing and their own self interest. 

Human nature has not changed in the twenty-five centuries since Nehemiah's day, so the formula for success remains the same. Competent leadership, well-defined goals, and a personal interest in the end product motivate people to work harder, smarter, and more effectually. Whatever the organization--a business, a church, or a family--people are far more likely to be successful when they have a mind to work.

Is your heart in your work?