Nehemiah was a man who saw a need—a need to travel from his home in Babylon and rebuild the destroyed walls of Jerusalem. Nehemiah couldn’t do this alone; he needed the king’s support. And with much prayer, he approached the king and received the backing he needed. What Nehemiah didn’t realize was his toughest tasks were still before him.
When most folks hear the term leader they think of presidents, pastors, teachers, and CEOs. But very few think of themselves. And yet, it’s true. You are a leader.
In his roles as cupbearer, builder, and governor, Nehemiah exemplified the qualities of a wise, godly leader. Regardless the extent of our own realms of leadership or the skills and experiences we bring to the table, we can learn from Nehemiah’s example as we examine our own character and God-given place in life. Like the bricks and mortar of a solid, ancient city wall, the bricks of excellent leadership must be placed on a foundation of God’s Word and godly character with the mortar of faith and fortitude.
Nehemiah was known and respected for his diligence as a contractor and builder, while his contemporary, Ezra was a dedicated scribe and priest.
Few Old Testament characters surpass Nehemiah in the potency of their leadership. God used him to motivate and direct a relatively small group of people in building a wall around the city of Jerusalem and then to establish a godly government. Nehemiah discovered Jerusalem’s desperate need and then brought it before God in prayer. It is highly significant that the first place we find this great leader is on his knees. Leadership requires prayer.
While carrying his great burden for the people and conditions in Jerusalem, Nehemiah began the tough job of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem…by getting on his knees in prayer. He asked God for compassion and understanding to come to the heart of King Artaxerxes (Nehemiah 1:3–4, 11). In the second chapter of Nehemiah, we see God’s gracious answer to Nehemiah’s prayer, an illustration of Proverbs 21:1, giving us insight into how we should handle a difficult boss or authority figure today.
Nehemiah faced the immense task of inspiring those around him to pick up bricks and begin a gruelling project. Some were young novices with soft, callous-free hands. Others were old and accustomed to living without the wall—perhaps lethargic and disinterested. The sands of time had smothered much of the patriotic zeal that had once burned in the hearts of the Jews. It’s easy to see that motivating them was one of Nehemiah’s first challenges of leadership. Through Nehemiah’s example, we can learn how to motivate people to “get off dead centre” and to rise up and begin a massive project.
As soon as Nehemiah and his crew began to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, opposition and criticism broke out and constantly bombarded them from all sides. Yet through Nehemiah’s response, we discover how a leader should handle the inevitable and unavoidable criticism that comes from the outside. Nehemiah’s example teaches us that it is possible not only to stay at our task regardless of the opposition but also to do it in a way that deepens our walk with God. Criticism may knock us down, but it doesn’t have to knock us out!
The further we travel through the pages of Nehemiah, the more we discover the value and relevance of its instruction for every level of leadership. As we turn to Nehemiah 4:9-23, we find Nehemiah’s work crew discouraged for the first time since the project of rebuilding the walls around Jerusalem began. But what caused the discouragement? How did Nehemiah handle it? The answers to these questions apply directly to the discouragement many leaders face today.