Nehemiah is one of the most heralded examples of leadership found in the scriptures. We have been focusing on his heart, and saw in Part One how he (1) cared enough to accurately assess the circumstances confronting his people; (2) was sensitive to the brokenness of his people; and (3) was focused continually on redeeming the lives of his people.
As we again engage in the narrative (Neh. 2:11-20), it is obvious that cooperation by all the residents is crucial. This challenge brings out yet another quality of Nehemiah’s heart:
He wisely recruited other leaders in his quest to rebuild the walls for his people.
In verse 12 we read that he took “a few men” with him to inspect the walls. This group most likely consisted of his brother and some very trusted companions Nehemiah may have had in his traveling party.
In verse 17 we see that at the right time, after his careful and quiet inspection of the situation, he briefed the officials, Jews, priests and nobles mentioned in verse 16. The result of the wisdom he demonstrated in how he investigated and when he brought in the city leaders is highlighted when these leaders respond in verse 18 “Let us arise and build!”
Recruiting workers is one of the most challenging aspects of church leadership. I belong to a congregation of 5000 that is seeking to mobilize the laity to provide ministry in many areas that paid pastors used to oversee. It will be interesting to see how well this works.
Nehemiah’s leadership demonstrates that wisdom is a key to realizing full cooperation and success in important ministry work. As he was careful in his research and planning, sensitive to the brokenness of his people, and embraced the goal of redemption, not self-promotion, is it any wonder he gained the trust of the leadership and the people?
Now the task before all of them was enormous. Over 140 years of neglect would not be easy to correct. If my wife and I neglect our garden for too long, we pay a heavy price in pulling weeds and untangling branches! So we come to the final feature of Nehemiah’s heart as he, the leaders and the people begin the wall restoration project – a quality of character that would be tested from start to finish.
He persevered in his goal of providing hope and security for his people.
In pastoral ministry, it is exciting to start new projects and embark on necessary changes that bring new life to our congregations. And it is joyous to celebrate the successful conclusion of such endeavors. Yet, many churches and their leaders fail to finish well.
Persevering when the job is hard, the resistance fierce, and the resources slim is a quality of heart found in faithful leaders; leaders like Nehemiah.
In verses 19-20 we are introduced to some of the pressure the builders will face. Nehemiah will receive pressure from Sanballat in the North, Tobiah in the East, as well as Geshem in the South. But his leader’s heart is not swayed or intimidated. He is a man who perseveres, stays the course of his call and convictions. His goal is to lift the reproach upon the people by restoring the place God has chosen to reside – Jerusalem – the Holy City. Nothing short of bringing back God’s glory before the nations is his goal, and his leader’s heart will see the work through to the end.
When I was a young man growing up on our farm in Iowa, one of my summer tasks was to cultivate the vast fields of corn. Climbing aboard the tractor at first light was always exciting. The roar of the engine, the smell of fuel and dirt, and the rush of a brisk morning breeze greeted me. Several hours later, however, after riding back and forth across the field countless times, the thrill was gone. It became a challenge to drive the machinery skillfully. Carelessness was a constant enemy, because it could lead to a damaged crop, personal injury or even death.
I began to learn all those years ago that life requires perseverance. Those long hours on the tractor helped me begin to understand how difficult it is to stay the course, but also how blessed it is to finish the journey well. A joyful harvest was our reward. Nehemiah knew this truth long ago, and his steadfast heart led God’s people to a blessed future.
The wall Nehemiah rebuilt is now in ruins, but the benefit his leader’s heart brought to his people remains to this day. As those who have been grafted into the family of God, people from all nations stand as fruit of his labor in the preservation of the nation and faith of Israel.
It is my prayer that we all possess a leader’s heart. May we handle the challenges of our ministries with care, sensitive to the brokenness of our world and the people God has given us. May we have hearts of grace that continually seek redemption and restoration, only available through the cross of Jesus and empowered by his Spirit. Might our leadership reveal wisdom in developing and energizing leaders in our congregations.
And lastly, let us persevere in our labor, whatever that may encompass, as the apostle Paul encouraged all the saints to do when he wrote to those in Corinth, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58).