In order to correct or restore anything, the need must be recognized. Where there is no sense of need there is no solution. If we do not first admit and recognize there is a problem, where do we go?
Nehemiah is an amazing man. So many leadership lessons can be taught by following his example. He saw the need. He developed a plan. He appealed for help. He led the people to do the work. He motivated them to use their talents for different tasks. He did not let obstacles nor adversaries keep him from doing the work.
First, Nehemiah tried to understand the circumstances. One night he went out with just a few people, secretly and took a tour. Before he took charge, he decided to look around. Nehemiah said, “I examined (viewed) the wall.” (2:13). Examined is a medical term. It talks about how a doctor will probe a wound to see the extent of the damage. He was going out to see exactly how bad the situation really was. That night, the magnitude of the task hit him for the first time. He had heard it was bad, but it was so bad he could not even ride an animal around the wall. The rubble and the wreckage and the ruin were so great. The need was so overwhelming for him that it changed the way he looked (Neh.2:2).
You’d think that when Nehemiah got back to Jerusalem there’d be a flurry of activity, but instead his first few days are marked by solitude and secrecy. I believe Nehemiah is displaying the wisdom of a leader who seeks to understand the situation before he says anything else (Neh. 2:11-16). Up to this point, everything Nehemiah had heard about the walls has been hear-say, second-hand information; rumor. A good leader doesn’t rush into his work but patiently gathers the facts firsthand and then plans his strategy.
He prayed, asking God for His help to be able to go to Jerusalem to help His people (Neh. 1:5-11). Leaders need a sense of awareness about them. They must have their senses attuned to the people they lead. If their flock is in danger but they do not see it, their flock can be destroyed. Leaders do not depend on their own strength. Leaders realize their deficiencies and pray to God for His help and strength. The know they are not strong on their own to handle the problems they face.
Second, leaders look for opportunities. When Nehemiah learned about the problem it was in the month of Chislev, that’s December on our calendar. Then chapter two says, “In the month of Nisan,” that’s the month of April on our calendar, he acted. So what Nehemiah is saying is every day from December to April he prayed constantly for God to open a door and nothing happened. Every day for four months he wrote the same thing in his journal, “Prayed again today, nothing happened.” I don’t know if you’re like me but when I’m praying about something, if after two or three days nothing happens, I stop praying. I try to go out and put my plans into motion. Not Nehemiah. He remained patient and persistent in prayer and waited for God to make the opportunity. Nehemiah patiently waited on the Lord for directions. True faith in God brings a calmness to the heart that keeps us from rushing about and trying to do in our own strength what only God can do.
Third, he identified himself with their need. The most important words of his speech were “we” and “us.” Imagine the response of the people if he shows up and said, “I didn’t make this mess. I’m not responsible for this disgrace. This is your fault. I expect you to make it right. I will be in my office if you need anything. Now get to work!” A leader accepts the problems of those he leads as his own. Not just because that’s how you motivate people, but because it’s right. Nehemiah said, “I’m in this with you.” Nehemiah did not accuse anyone. He made himself part of the solution. It is so important that leaders patiently work with people to be part of the solution. If leaders simply stand back and accuse, they promote bitterness. If all they do is bark orders, people will not respect them. Nehemiah gained the respect of the people so that when they faced hard times, they followed.
Fourth, leaders bring God and the need together. Nehemiah said, “I also told them about the gracious hand of my God upon me and what the King had said to you.” Because God was with Nehemiah, the king had been favorable (Neh. 2:4-9). Imagine the amazement of the people as Nehemiah told them all God had already done to make this project a success. God had changed the heart of the King using a humble cup bearer. Also, all the materials needed to complete the project, were supplied by the King. Nehemiah may have shared with them the letter of endorsement the King had written, giving Nehemiah full authority for the project (Neh. 2:8).
All of this would have been tremendous encouragement for these defeated people. They realized that God was on their side, and immediately responded “Let us arise and build!” There’s an important principle here we dare not miss. When God calls, we must respond. We hear the demands of the gospel so often it’s easy to develop a “I’ll do it someday” attitude. When God has called us to act and opens the doors of opportunity, it’s time to stand up and say, “Let’s get to the work!” Nehemiah’s motivational ability must not be overlooked. For ninety years the people had been saying, “It can’t be done!” Now they are united and eager to begin the work of rebuilding the defenses of their city. This new zeal, however, would quickly disappear if Nehemiah had not been able to put them to work (Neh. 2:18).
Fifth, leaders bring people together. Nehemiah faced opposition (Neh. 2:10). His response to their insults of derision is, “God will prosper us; therefore, His servants will arise and build…” (2:20). There will be nagging problems. Not everyone that day was so inspired to work by Nehemiah’s challenge. There will those who chirp and criticize. They will seek to stop the work and our effectiveness. There were some who were faultfinders, detractors and enemies. Nehemiah teaches us that one of the leader’s major tasks is dealing with disturbances.
If we want a place of leadership because we like how everyone pats us on the back, think again. Because, for every pat there is a paddle! Leaders encounter detractors and this is where the real wisdom of a leader is revealed. Because not every detractor is dealt with the same way. Some leaders think, “If someone doesn’t want to go along, I’ll blast them.” But we’re going to find latter that sometimes the distracters need to be dealt with differently.
Since different critics must be dealt with in different ways, how do you know the difference? Criticism is inevitable, so how did Nehemiah handle it? (Neh. 2:10, 19-20). He considered the source of the criticism. He looked at the track record of his critics. “Did these men have a track record of helping the people of God? Do these people have a history of supporting the things God supports?” When Nehemiah considered the track record of these detractors, he became even more fixed on meeting his goal.
Further, he considered the source of his call. He said, “The God of heaven will give us success.” As a little boy, Nehemiah heard some great stories about men of God being ridiculed. They ridiculed a man named Noah for taking over a hundred years to build a boat on dry ground; until the rain fell. They ridiculed a shepherd named Moses for walking into the court of Pharaoh and saying, “Let those slaves go, because a God who spoke to me in a bush in the desert said so”; until the plagues came. They ridiculed Samson, the old blind judge, when he said, “Take me to a couple of pillars so I can put my arms around them.” They laughed; until they saw a crack in the wall. Goliath ridiculed David and said, “Am I a dog that you come to me with sticks?”; until he put a stone in the sling. So, when the critics ridiculed Nehemiah and said, “Do you feeble Jews think you can rebuild a wall?” Nehemiah said, “Our God will give us success. He has a track record for doing what men say can’t be done.” Realize that opportunities are almost always accompanied by opposition. Nehemiah deals with this problem all through his work. Satan will always oppose attempts to do the work of God. That is why we must not be quick to interpret opposition or problems as being an indication that we are not doing the will of God.
Sixth, Nehemiah put people to the task they had talent to perform (Neh. 3:1-32). He did not make a welder an accountant. It is important for those who lead to recognize the talent of others. It is equally important they be motivated to use their talent the way they are bent. There is no way Nehemiah can accomplish this monstrous task of rebuilding the wall alone. He needs workers. He also needed workers who were empowered to do their job. He organized people so that they could work together and accomplish the job as one. One way that Nehemiah motivated the people was to assign many of them to work on the portion of the wall in which they had a personal interest. The priests worked on the Sheep Gate where the people would bring sacrifices to the temple (Neh. 3:1). Others repaired the wall in front of their own homes (Neh. 3:10, 23, 28-30). They had a personal incentive to do a good job! Leaders seek to use and develop others. It is important that everyone be invested in whatever the opportunity may be.
Finally, Nehemiah’s success may be found in the way he paid his workers with commendation. Leaders recognize the work of others. They show appreciation. Nehemiah was an encourager! In chapter 3 alone, Nehemiah mentioned seventy-five people by name and, in many instances, recognized their accomplishments. He also mentioned at least 15 groups of people. Nehemiah was a “people person.” He knew these individuals by name. He not only knew where they worked, but also what they had accomplished. This took time and effort. We can certainly agree that it paid rich dividends when it came to motivating the people to do their best.
Nehemiah models a remarkably balanced leader. A leader is not just task oriented. He is not just caught up in planning and ordering. He is deeply concerned about the people he motivates. We are living in an era of depersonalization. We want to buy something at the store, and they are more interested in our driver’s license and credit rating than in the quality of their product! To the IRS we are merely a number, and to the Census Bureau we are just a statistic. Especially, in a place with as many people as we have in Dallas, there are people who feel they could live and die, and no one would ever notice. It is comforting to know that God knows the work we do for Him, even if nobody else does. And good leaders also notice the good of others and encourage them.
by Rickie Jenkins