Nehemiah knew that for God’s post-exilic remnant to be safe, they needed to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem. The book of Nehemiah records how he gained conviction, inspired the people, and led them to complete the task.
He Acted on a Need. Nehemiah was minding his own business as cupbearer to the Persian king. Then his brother Hanani showed up, bringing news that the people of Jerusalem were “in great distress and reproach, and the wall of Jerusalem is broken down” (1:3). Nehemiah didn’t shrug his shoulders. He saw the problem and decided to solve it.
Do you think the church needs to do better at training its members about family life? Recruit teachers. Do you think the landscape needs to be upgraded? Call a work day, put shovels in hands, and get the job done. Think the church is lacking a family atmosphere? Start a monthly dinner schedule.
He Prayed for Success. Nehemiah spent a lot of time in prayer. When he heard the news about the wall, he prayed (1:4-10). When he realized that, as a slave, he needed to secure the king’s permission to leave, he prayed (1:11). When he stepped into the king’s throne room, he whispered a prayer (2:4). When enemies surrounded him he prayed (4:4, 9).
It is vital to ask God to participate with you in any endeavor. Check with His word to see if it is right, and beseech His blessing in prayer. “Commit your works to the Lord, and your plans will be established” (Prov. 16:3, cf. Psalm 127:1-2).
He Gathered the Materials. Nehemiah knew he couldn’t accomplish such a huge task without making preparations. So he anticipated all his needs for travel and materials, and requested help from the king (2:7-8).
Many easy jobs turn into whole-day projects because of too many return trips to Home Depot. A gospel meeting or VBS may fall apart simply because someone didn’t make a list of all the material and manpower that would be necessary to bring the task to a smooth and successful finish. Be thorough!
He Made Plans. Nehemiah kept his arrival secret for three days while he inspected the walls by night. He didn’t want to discuss the job until he knew what was involved.
Advance planning helps in any worthy task. Do not be haphazard about something like a special speaker series; instead, figure out the best topic, choose the best speaker for the topic, choose the best days the hold the series, consider the best ways to advertise. Anticipate doubts and questions and prepare answers ahead of time.
He Inspired Others to Work. When Nehemiah finally spoke, the people got so motivated they said, “Let us arise and build!” It’s a sad commentary that the people who lived in Jerusalem hadn’t bothered to do this task, that it took an outsider to come and stir them up. It certainly shows the vital need for leadership.
Nehemiah didn’t try to do the work himself. He inspired others. The workers included the priests and Levites (3:1, 17, 28), people living outside the walls and in other towns (3:2, 22), and people from trades not normally associated with heavy labor, such as perfumers (3:8), merchants (3:32), government officials (3:9), and daughters (3:12). It included Nehemiah and his men, who refused any payment for their efforts (5:16).
He Dealt with Opposition. Any project will attract nay-sayers. Sanballat and Tobiah accused them of rebellion (2:19-20), milled around laughing at the wall (4:2), slandered Nehemiah’s character (6:2-9), and even threatened violence (4:8). Nehemiah dealt with it all in stride, even reorganizing his efforts to appoint guards (4:16).
Satan won’t let a good thing go unchecked. A good leader knows how to deal with unfair criticism and underhanded opposition, to see through a task to the very end.
He Listened to Advice. Nehemiah’s fellow workers presented their concerns about weaknesses in the defenses, and Nehemiah listened (4:12-13). “Where there is no guidance, the people fall, but in abundance of counselors there is victory” (Prov. 11:14).
He Delegated Effectively. Nehemiah’s success had nothing to do with his own skill with mortar and trowel, but his skill as a leader. Even after the job was done, he appointed good men to fill various city functions (7:1-2) so that he could turn his attention to other necessary tasks.
He Expected Impressive Results. The workers toiled so hard they completed the wall in just 52 days (6:15-16)! God was glorified, and the enemies “lost their confidence.”
A lot of projects get off to a good start, but lose the head of steam. Godly leadership knows that the people will need to have gentle pressure applied from time to time, to keep the vision fresh and stay motivated.
He Reevaluated Frequently. Nehemiah went back to Persia, but eventually returned to check on things. He had to reprimand some officials for being lax (13:11), to have Tobiah the enemy evicted (13:7-9), to remind the people to support the Levites (13:10), to appoint new supervisors to handle extra work he hadn’t foreseen (13:13). He even had to remind people of the Sabbath (13:15-17) and smack around some of the priests (13:23-29).
Nothing runs on autopilot. No bathroom stays clean without maintenance, no garden bears fruit without weeding, and no congregational effort remains effective without constant evaluation, staffing, tweaking, restoration, or perhaps even replacement.
Nehemiah was guided by a love of God and a desire for heaven (13:31). Let our efforts and leadership be driven by the same goal! –John Guzzetta