Leadership Lessons From Nehemiah 1. Nehemiah had a heart for his people and their future. He heard about the state of the city and he asked about the state of the Jews who had survived captivity. 2. Nehemiah recognized a critical problem that needed an urgent solution. He found out when he inquired of someone that: “The walls are destroyed and the gates are burned with fire.” The most crucial thing that the walls were protecting was the rebuilt temple that Ezra had overseen the completion of. Nehemiah realized that the wall and the gates were the symbol of a people who were not intact, and a nation that had lost its dignity and its sovereignty. As long as the city was in this state, the honor and integrity of his people would never be intact. He knew that there were enemies on all sides just waiting to destroy the new temple because it was an affront to their own gods and their own sovereignty. 3. Nehemiah prayed and fasted over this issue that created much strife in his spirit. He asked God to prepare the way for a vision. You can see Nehemiah wrestling with God in prayer. Here are the essential elements of his prayer: a. He reminds God of His promises b. He boldly demands God’s attention with what appears to be great passion. c. He confesses his sins and the sins of his people. d. He holds God to His very specific promise to bring them back from even the furtherest parts of the earth if they return to keeping his commands (probably quoting from Ezekiel—check this). e. He reminds God of what He has done for His people in the past. f. He begs God to hear the prayers of His people who worship Him. g. He asks God for success on his mission and favor before the authority (King Artaxerxes). 4. The choices that Nehemiah had made at a point previous to this had brought him to a position of influence at a crucial time for his life’s mission. Nehemiah was cupbearer to the King of Persia, ruler of the known world. This was a higher position than it sounds like. He was a man trusted to taste the King’s drink to demonstrate that it was not poisoned. He also would likely have been a trusted advisor. Nehemiah had the ear of the King, so he was in a position to “lead up”* when the time came. In order for him to have even arrived at this place, he had to have had the desire (motivation), the talent (ability/competency), and the opportunity for success. If all three of those had not come together at the crucial moment, Nehemiah would not have been afforded the placement and access which led to his success. He was a cupbearer before he was a policy-maker. 5. Nehemiah had a good attitude. I have been so impressed by the truth of this quote from Chuck Colson, that I have made it the first page of every leadership class I have done to date: Attitude by Charles Swindoll “The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill. It will make or break a company ... a church ... a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past. We cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude ... I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me, and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you ... we are in charge of our Attitudes.” Nehemiah stated “I had never been sad in his [the King’s] presence before.” He chose his attitudes and his outlook. He was very purposeful about his demeanor. He chose to be sad this once, so that the King would ask him what was wrong. He was shaping the environment for success. To use street language, he was ‘setting him up.’ This would not have been effective if Nehemiah were always sad about something or always complaining. It was so out of character that it caused the authority to take notice and offer him a platform to speak. 6. When the authority did offer him a platform to speak, Nehemiah: a. Recognized the opportunity that he had been preparing for b. Seized the crucial moment c. Was straightforward about what he wanted. He was only indirect with his first statement, and that was designed to raise the felt need for action. When the King asked him what was wrong he said, “Why shouldn’t I look sad when the city, the place where my ancestors are buried, is in ruins and its gates are burned with fire?” 7. Nehemiah was able to “lead up” because he had value to the King. At some previous milestone(s) along the way, Nehemiah had probably done things, completed projects, or offered counsel that the King perceived as valuable. The King would not agree to hear his plan until he knew when he would get Nehemiah back. This also seems to indicate that Nehemiah had proven himself a valuable resource to the King. The state of this relationship both gave him credibility and caused the King to value what was important to Nehemiah. 8. When the King asked him what he wanted, Nehemiah was prepared with a plan. He had prayed and fasted and wrestled with God until the vision became clear. He had formed a vision that glorified God and empowered the people. He delivered to the King a series of purposeful, well-thought-out requests to lay the foundation and the method for his vision. He would not have been ready to take advantage of the platform offered to him if he had not prepared his presentation ahead of time. He had considered what he would do and prepared a plan of action. 9. Nehemiah asked the authority to provide support via resources and protection. Nehemiah would accomplish the legwork, but he was wise in asking the King to use his umbrella of authority to offer Nehemiah safe passage through the realm, wood from the King’s forest to build the gates, and a personal security detachment with letters to the governors of the provinces for safe passage. All this from the realm of the King whose grandfather had conquered the empire that had sacked and burned Jerusalem in the first place, and carried off their people into slavery. 10. Nehemiah had success. The opportunity was presented because his prayer and fasting had opened his heart to God’s vision for His people. Once he had the vision, his preparation of the plan and his shaping of the environment afforded him the opportunity to pursue the vision with full support from the authority. If he had attempted preparation without first being given a clear vision, he likely would have been frustrated with conflicting tasks, lack of clarity, lack of focus, lack of authority, and ultimately given up in discouragement because he had not followed a God-ordained process of preparation. If he had not been in a position to “lead up” at the crucial moment, he never would have had the opportunity. If he had not had the desire, he would not have been prepared and hence never would have been afforded the opportunity. Hence, the intersection of the desire, the preparation, and the ability led to the opportunity to pursue the vision. Once Nehemiah arrived at Jerusalem, he: 11. Took an assessment of what needed to be done without telling anyone what he was doing. (2:12-15) 12. He presented the vision to the leaders and the people who would be doing the work. It is possible that he surveyed the damage first in order to address objections and form a plan of action. He presented the vision using the Word of his Testimony* (add footnote about verse from the Revelation) to inspire the leaders and the workers regarding what God had already done to prepare the way for him. He demonstrated an anointing from both God and the earthly authority set in place by God. God had given him a powerful testimony to share in that his mission had already been approved and sanctioned by the Emperor Artaxerxes, the governmental authority for most of the known world at the time. 13. Nehemiah addressed the nay-sayers and the opposition. He was not defensive, but claimed Godly authority for his mission. He put it back in God’s court to defend His Name and the name of His people. He did this more than once in the course of the work, both when threatened with political back-stabbing and when threatened with physical attack. This is something seen in many scriptural precedents—David said to Goliath “You come to me with spear and with sword, but I come to you in the name of the Lord.” Nehemiah must also have known well the prayer of Elijah when he faced the prophets of Baal on the mountain. Elijah knew that God would defend His own name. As the prophet said in one of the most powerfully compact, yet touching prayers in the Bible: “Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that You are God in Israel and I am Your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your word. Hear me, O Lord, hear me that this people may know that You are the Lord God, and that You have turned their hearts back to You again.” (1 Kings 18:36b-37) The Biblical account continues with the testimony of what happened when faced with the awesome power of the Lord defending His name: “Then, the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood and the stones and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench. Now when all the people saw it, the fell on their faces; and they said, “The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!” (1 Kings 18:38-39) It was God’s mission to defend God’s cause—it was the people’s mission to obey in faith and trust God for the outcome. 14. Nehemiah’s presentation of the vision mobilized the people. The people picked up the vision and ran with it. They said “Let us start to rebuild the gates.” The scripture says “So they encouraged one another to begin this God-pleasing work. In another place it says “The people had a mind to work.” It did not take much inspiring, cajoling, or begging because the people knew that it was a credible, anointed (God-inspired), necessary, and empowering vision. The also worked from sun-up to sun-down and finished the work in 52 days. The Bible says “When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self- confidence. They realized we had done this work with the help of our God.” 15. Nehemiah had bold men who stood in the gap, ready to fight so that the people would be protected and the mission could continue. Even the most zealous workers (fighters) can be ineffective when misdirected or when they have a poor understanding of the vision. Nehemiah was a good administrator and a good communicator. He was well-organized. He laid out the plan clearly, as well as the contingency plan. Nehemiah arranged for a rallying signal by horn, so that the fighters would know where the attack was taking place and all of them could rally to the same point to mount an effective defense which would repulse the enemy. The worker/fighters were willing to do double duty, carrying both the tools of their work and the weapons of warfare. The Bible says: “When our enemies heard that we knew about their plots and that God had prevented their plans from being successful, we all went back to work on the wall. The outcome of this plan was that the enemy decided not to attack because the defense was well-organized, well-informed, unified, determined, and effective.
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