How To Eat An Elephant

How To Eat An Elephant

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.
–2 Timothy 3:16

Kingman Brewster, the one-time president of Yale University, said, “There’s a tremendous satisfaction in losing your own identity in something that is much more important than you are.” Do you have that kind of purpose in your life, a purpose that goes beyond your peace, pleasure, or prosperity? Nehemiah had that kind of purpose–to give God glory, to further God’s kingdom in the world. And Nehemiah knew that for himself the way to do that was to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. The book of Nehemiah is a journal of how he accomplished that dream.

As we saw last week, it is one thing to have a dream, but you have to turn that dream into a reality. Beginning in chapter 2, Nehemiah shared his five steps for getting things done in life. Step number one is investigation–that is, plan it. Nehemiah spent three nights examining the rubble of the wall before he ever announced his plans. Step number two is motivation–announce it. If you are trying to carry people with you into a dream, you have to present the dream in a way that will inspire them. Step number three is determination–defend it. No matter what your dream in life is, you are going to face difficult circumstances and difficult people. Nehemiah faced both, but he kept moving forward.

That leads us to chapter 3. This chapter is not very inspiring, at least if you look at it on a superficial level–it is just a listing of names. But the Bible says all Scripture is inspired by God. Every word of the Bible is there for a reason, so there is a reason we find all these names here. I believe it is the fourth step for getting things done in life, and that is organization. The key phrase here is “delegate it.” Nehemiah could have been easily overwhelmed by the size of this project, a wall three miles in circumference. He could have become discouraged and said, “How am I going to do this?” Maybe you are facing a major project and you almost faint at the prospect of having to accomplish so much. It may be the renovation of your home. It may be beginning a new business. It may be writing a report at school. It may be whatever dream God has given you for advancing His kingdom. How do you take a big project and accomplish it?

First of all, Nehemiah divided the work into manageable parts. It is like that proverb: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. It is the same way with accomplishing something major–you break it down into small parts. That is true for any project you are trying to do. Nehemiah understood this, so he divided the wall into many different sections. That is what all those names in chapter 3 can teach us–to tackle whatever project we are working on one bite at a time.


Today’s devotion is excerpted from “How To Eat An Elephant” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2010.

Kingman Brewster, as quoted in “Six ‘Superstars’ Tell Of Their Routes To Success,” U.S. Army and Career Counseling Journal (August 1977): 2.

Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.