by Doug Campbell • ELCA High School Principal
The story of Nehemiah is one of the great books of the Bible that shows how leadership rooted in faith can get God’s purposes accomplished. As I read Nehemiah, I am impressed at the way he went about his business to tackle a huge problem for his people. He was never a part of the community in Jerusalem and had only heard of the problems there. He had been raised in captivity and could have easily made a good argument why it was not his problem to solve. What I am most impressed with is the way he heard God’s call and willingness to respond without hesitation.
Nehemiah’s example is one that we should really be able to identify with because he did not perform signs and wonders, interpret dreams, or hear God’s voice audibly-nor did he have a prophet of God speaking in his ear. He moved the same way we would today. He showed that great leadership can accomplish much. His leadership was rooted in his faith in God and his prayer life-not his own skill set. However, it is quite evident that he did possess certain administrative talents that God was able to use to accomplish His work.
Authentic Leadership Requires Faith
Starting in chapter 2 we find several examples of evidence of Nehemiah’s faith. These examples are relevant because we should examine our own hearts to see if we are really walking and working by faith.
He had the faith to wait on God’s timing– four months passed from the time he heard the plight of Jerusalem and before he was able to act on behalf of his people. He patiently waited on the Lord for directions, according to Hebrews 6:12, it’s through “faith and patience” that we inherit the promises.
Warren Wiersbe says, “when you wait on the Lord in prayer, you are not wasting time, you are investing it. God is preparing both you and your circumstances so his purposes will be accomplished. However, when the right time comes for you to act on faith there should be no hesitation in moving forward!”
He had the faith to ask– It took faith for him to ask the king to let him leave to help his people. God had already worked ahead of Nehemiah to give him favor with the king and Nehemiah knew it because of his fervent prayer and faith that God would answer. Proverbs 21:1 says “the king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord and He turns it whichever way He will.” This is still true today. He does not use only Christians to get his purposes accomplished, he uses whomever he wishes to get the job done. In this case Artaxerxes had been softened by the Lord so the way could be made for Nehemiah.
He applied his faith to the circumstances he faced- This will give one a peace and a calmness when one truly applies his faith and trusts God in every circumstance. This includes challenging those that stood in his way and even threatened him. He made decisions without fear because he knew God was faithful.
Prepared for the Work
I have read this story many times and I glean something new every time. The manner in which Nehemiah planned ahead during this four-month period of praying and waiting on God is not something you may not pick up on immediately. It is not spelled out, but it is apparent he didn’t sit on his hands and wait for an answer. He apparently planned every detail before he ever received an answer to his request or even before he made the actual request. We know he did this because immediately after the king asked him what was troubling him and granted his request, Nehemiah wasted no time in telling him everything he needed to complete the project. He knew everything he would need and everyone he needed cooperation from to accomplish the work.
Obtained Influence for the Right Reasons
What is interesting here to me is the fact that Nehemiah apparently knew he would need to operate in a position of power. Why? Because in the past, the local officials had shut down the rebuilding of the wall. It was very political- God’s people do not have to work from a position of political weakness to get things done. If the power and authority are ordained by God, it is fine to operate from a position of power and to have influence. He had an armed escort, he had rights to travel wherever he needed, and he had permission to gather all the materials he needed. Most of all, he had the letter and permission from the King to proceed. This was a position of power that God had ordained and made possible to accomplish his work.
Lead with Humility
Nehemiah went quietly about his business and the people followed. He was an outsider to them-not someone who was familiar. God had brought in a person with new ideas and a new vision to get the work done but Nehemiah needed the people to put in the work or they would not be successful. Of course, God “strengthened their hands for the work” otherwise they would not have done it in 52 days.
Often in the church or in Christian organizations the old veterans don’t respond well to outsiders because they fear it may lead to change. The people responded to this outsider because they saw true leadership in Nehemiah.
D L Moody once said: “A holy life will produce the deepest impression. Lighthouses blow no horns; they only shine.” Nehemiah didn’t blow his horn, but his leadership rooted in his walking and working by faith helped him to accomplish God’s purpose.