circle of concernOne of my brothers, Hanani, came with certain men from Judah; and I asked them about the Jews that survived, those who had escaped the captivity, and about Jerusalem.  They replied, ‘The survivors there in the province who escaped captivity are in great trouble and shame; the wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been destroyed byfire. When I heard these words I sat down and wept, and mourned for days, fasting and praying before the God of heaven.  I said, “O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments; let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for your servants the people of Israel, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Both I and my family have sinned. We have offended you deeply.”
Nehemiah 1:4-7


I have agonized in recent weeks over the dark tragedy and suffering that rocks our world.  During this time I have thought frequently of the difference between my “Circle of Influence” and my “Circle of Concern”.  I learned of these two circles from Stephen Covey in his book The Habits of Highly Effective People.  Covey writes about effective, proactive people focusing their energies on those things they can do something about, or, their “Circle of Influence”.  They waste no time or energy on things beyond their control.  On the other hand, ineffective reactive people focus their energies on their “Circle of Concern”, those things over which they have no control.  Their lives are caught up with “concern” about the Ebola virus, the national debt, terrorists’ plots, Iran getting nuclear weapons, and earthquakes.

Thinking about my own Circles of Influence and Concern made me think of today’s text from Nehemiah 1.  It makes me think differently about the troubling news that seems beyond my control or ability to influence.

Today’s text opens as Nehemiah is serving in the one of the many palaces of the Persian King Artaxerxes.  Nehemiah’s world is shattered by news from hundreds of miles away beyond his Circle of Influence.   He is told that his ancestral city of Jerusalem, and a city he had never seen, is “in great trouble and shame”.    Repeated attempts to rebuild the city after its destruction in 586 B. C. have been defeated as “the wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates have been destroyed by fire”.  Nehemiah, who was born in exile, might have asked what difference he might make beyond his Circle of Concern.  He might have wondered how he as a stranger in a strange land, could have any possible influence over geopolitics rocking the world.

But, Nehemiah is one effective and proactive leader!  He focuses on his Circle of Influence and that which he can do!   So we see Nehemiah weeping and mourning for what is happening!  And we see him fasting and praying, confessing his sins, and also the sins of his people.  And wondrously, mysteriously, Nehemiah’s praying and confessing pushes the circumference of his Circle of Influence far out into God’s Circle of Control.   Nehemiah will see Jerusalem rebuilt with its walls and gates secure!

I read Nehemiah in one hand this past week, and today’s news in the other hand; I was struck by the fact that we are seeing our own nation’s “walls” destroyed, morally, spiritually, and economically.  Two days ago our nation’s Secretary of Defense soberly warned that we face something “beyond anything that we’ve seen.  So we must prepare for everything”.

How are we as followers of Jesus going to respond to what is going on in the world?  Will we shrug and say, “There’s nothing we can do!”  “It’s bigger than us!”  “It’s sad, but it’s beyond our Circle of Influence!”   Or, will we get down to doing the work of mourning the evil, fasting, praying, and confessing our sins?

Consider what theologian A. Phillips Brown has to say about Nehemiah’s mourning, fasting, and praying in his treatise, “The Theology of Nehemiah”:

Hand in hand with Nehemiah’s focus on divine sovereignty is the corollary truth in human responsibility [emphasis added].  This is seen primarily in the frequent prayers scattered through the book (1:5-11; 2:4; 4:4, 9; 5:19; 6:9, 14; 9:5-38; 13:14, 22, 31).  Some are long (ch. 9); others are short, but they teach a powerful message.  God is in charge of the world.  He turns the heart of the king whenever He desires; nevertheless, He has ordained prayer as the instrumental means by which many of His purposes will be accomplished in the world [emphasis added].  So it is in response to prayer that the accomplishments of this book are made…Nehemiah begins and ends with prayer…It is noteworthy that every major event in the book is preceded by prayer.

Nehemiah was a layman serving in the sumptuous court of a pagan king.  But he allowed his heart to break at the things that broke God’s heart, and he prayed, and confessed his sin and the sins of his people.

That’s a great place for us to begin this week!  That’s what we can do, and make a difference!   Let’s push our Circle of Influence out into God’s Circle of Control!

Grace and peace,


Dear Friends,

In place of my weekly eVotional in which I reflect on Scripture and life, I am linking you to our conversation last week in The Living Room: Exploring the Mystery We Call God.  Each week Henry Rojas, Art Brooks and I talk on this Internet radio program about Christian [...]

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On August 11, 2014 By

So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.   For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure,  because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot [...]

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On August 4, 2014 By

Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.
Hebrews 13:1-3

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On July 28, 2014 By

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to [...]

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Have you seen the news this past week! Like countless others through the millennia, the horror and heartbreak of world events has driven me to the Book of Psalms. A world running off the rails compels me to cast anchor in the prayerful ponderings of the ancient psalmists. When the world is on [...]

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Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want.
Galatians 5:16-17


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My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are [...]

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But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard – things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that [...]

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On June 23, 2014 By

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth.  So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy [...]

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