I often heard my father say, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” This quote is attributed to, among others, Samuel Johnson and Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. In part it refers to those that see problems that they would like to fix, and are filled with intentions to do good, but never quite see their intentions materialize and come to fruition.
But how do you turn good intentions into actions? Nehemiah gives us a good example.
Step 1 – See the Problem
When Nehemiah was appointed the temporary governor over Jerusalem, the walls surrounding Jerusalem were still broken down from invaders that had decimated the Jewish homeland 140 years earlier. The problem was evident – “The remnant (of the Jews) that are left of the captivity there in the province are in great affliction and reproach: the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire” (see Nehemiah 1:3).
Step 2 – Have a Vision
Nehemiah had a vision. He said to the King, “Send me unto Judah, unto the city of my fathers’ sepulchres, that I may build it” (see Nehemiah 2:5).
This is where most people end up. They see a problem, and perhaps even have a bit of vision, but cannot seem to translate their good intentions into action.
Step 3 – Make a Plan to Fulfill Your Vision
Nehemiah knew that the walls were broken down. He even knew that he wanted to rebuild the walls. But something that set Nehemiah apart was that he made a plan. The fact that he had a plan is made clear in his conversation with the King. The King asks, “For how long shall thy journey be? and when wilt thou return?” And Nehemiah sees that “it pleased the king to send me; and I set him a time” (see Nehemiah 2:6, emphasis added).
To be able to set a time, Nehemiah had to know some specifics. He had to know what materials he’d need, and where he’d get them. He’d need to know something about the manpower required and available. He’d need to know hundreds of details to be able to set the King a specific time of when he’d be able to get the walls done.
Step 4 – Don’t Do it Alone
Nehemiah must have felt overwhelmed, or at the very least that he had a monumental project in front of him. But he didn’t try to take it all on himself. He “tapped” the King’s resources, so to speak. He asked to the King for letters that would allow him safe passage to Judah. He asked for permission to procure timber from the King’s forests. He even asked that the King send portions of his army to accompany him. With all of these resources, Nehemiah was able to complete the building of the walls in just 52 days.
This story has helped give me the strength to do good in my life. There are times when the responsibilities that I have seem too heavy to bear, that the good that I’ve been asked to do is too overwhelming. Of course I want to be like the Savior, and of course I want to serve others like he did, but that task often appears, perhaps like rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, like more than I can handle. I see the good that can be done, I have a vision of the good I could do, but moving beyond that is difficult.
But I can make a plan, and come up with ideas that will allow me to accomplish those things I’ve set out to do. What’s even more important, I can importune the King and “tap” into his resource s- and not just any earthly king, but the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, who’s resources are infinite, and who’s ultimate purpose is to “bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (see Moses 1:39).
During His ministry in Jerusalem, the Savior said, “For one is your Master, even Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant” (see Matthew 23:10-11). He, the greatest of all, gave us that example of what each of us should aspire to be. If we move past just seeing a problem and having a vision, to making a plan and getting help from the King, we can truly turn our good intentions to actions. We can follow the example of the Savior and be servants like he was. And we can do good and rebuild walls that will last not only for generations, but centuries.