Lessons from Nehemiah: Unexpected Leadership

Nehemiah

The book of Nehemiah is nestled so snugly in the Old Testament that we often pass right by it.  I bet that’s how Nehemiah felt as a cupbearer to the King.  He was always around and was a crucial part of the king’s court, but I’m sure he felt that he was overlooked at times.

A lot of us are probably like Nehemiah.  We have a comfortable job, get a decent paycheck, but there’s a burning desire to do something more.  The problem for many of us today is that we struggle to find purpose and often think, “I don’t know what to do with my life.”  Nehemiah could have stayed content with his cushy job, but decided to step up to a challenge that no one accepted for 140 years: rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.

The Challenges of Rebuilding the Wall

The story of how Nehemiah found his purpose in life is inspiring, and is centered on one tenet: prayer.  He was constantly going to the Lord in prayer, which is how he became aware of the ultimate challenge to rebuild the city walls in Jerusalem.

The task was far from easy and Nehemiah had many obstacles to overcome including:

  • Finding food for the families and workers who were rebuilding the wall.
  • Managing resources during the time of famine.
  • Protecting workers from outside raids from neighboring countries.
  • Defending the poor who were being exploited by moneylenders.

Building the wall was the easy part – managing the obstacles was the challenge.

One day Nehemiah was a cupbearer and the next day he was the governor of Judah managing project that seemed impossible.  This unexpected leadership role probably felt a little overwhelming at times for Nehemiah, but he was able to lead with integrity because of his faithfulness in working for the king all those years.

Nehemiah’s Leadership In Action

Aspiring leaders take note of Nehemiah.  Here’s a man who petitioned the King of Persia to allow him to move up from his position as a cupbearer to the governor of Judah.  Talk about a bold request for a promotion!

But it wasn’t done on the fly.  Nehemiah carefully planned his approach and was a prudent leader, which makes for an excellent challenge to those who want to do the ‘impossible.’  Here are three characteristics of Nehemiah:

A Master Planner

At the core of Nehemiah’s planning was prayer.  Too often, leaders will dive into a project without seeking God, and rely solely on the plans they’ve made.  The other extreme is to ignore your planning altogether because you figure that God will “make it all come together.”  Both extremes are the opposite of good leadership.  Trust God, but also use the resources God has given you.

God has blessed us with intellect and the ability to plan ahead.  Nehemiah reflected strong leadership as he made prayer the center of his plans.  When he presented his plan to the king, God’s favor rested on him and the challenge to rebuild was underway.

An Excellent Delegator

Everyone wants a say as to how things should be done, right?  When it comes to rebuilding miles of city walls around Jerusalem, there had to be some opinions thrown to Nehemiah.

While we don’t know how many opinions were given during the build, we do know that Nehemiah divided the labor into segments to rebuild sections of the wall.  In fact, this is one of the most incredible stories in the Bible that highlights the concept of the division of labor.  Nehemiah was able to communicate to the groups of Israelites that the wall would be built faster if teams focused on making their section the best possible.

That theme holds true even in the New Testament when Paul speaks about the body of Christ and how it’s made up of many parts.  Israel needed direction and Nehemiah delivered from a management perspective.

A Servant’s Heart

Most of all, Nehemiah led the entire project with a servant’s heart.  While the phrase may seem cliché today, Nehemiah was literally a servant leader.  As part of the king’s court, he was essentially the chief servant in charge of serving drinks to the king’s table.  As the new governor of Judea, Nehemiah took the challenge and lead as a servant.

Unlike other governors, Nehemiah refused to collect taxes from the poor who had been burdened by famine and economic stress.  He also refused to take any land as payment while governing Judah, showing the nation of Israel that his priorities weren’t self centered but outwardly focused.

Under the leadership of Nehemiah, the walls of the city of Jerusalem were rebuilt in 52 days.  A task that had been left undone for 140 years was completed in just 52 days through the leadership of a former cupbearer who approached everything in prayer and careful planning.

How many times have you told yourself, “I’m just a [fill in the blank with your current job].”  Nehemiah was just a cupbearer but God used him to do great things because he was willing to lead with integrity and with a servant’s heart.

Has God put a desire in your heart to make a difference in this world?  Share your thoughts in the comments.













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5 Comments
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  1. This post specifically really hit home because I actually am a construction worker/contractor/welder. Some of our little projects take longer than 52 days, it’s amazing and wonderful how quickly Nehemiah fixed that wall! At times, we’re encouraged to cut-corners in order to save costs, but I’ve been against that and always try to do my best and do things right. It doesn’t always go over well with the boss, but this story reminds me of why that’s important and what can be accomplished with good planning and leadership and faith.

  2. This post hit me for an entirely different reason than most….when I read this part:
    “Unlike other governors, Nehemiah refused to collect taxes from the poor who had been burdened by famine and economic stress. He also refused to take any land as payment while governing Judah, showing the nation of Israel that his priorities weren’t self centered but outwardly focused.

    Under the leadership of Nehemiah, the walls of the city of Jerusalem were rebuilt in 52 days. A task that had been left undone for 140 years was completed in just 52 days through the leadership of a former cupbearer who approached everything in prayer and careful planning.”

    I don’t think I’ve been praying in the right direction for the president of our country…or the man who will be president. I need to be praying – “Lord, send us a Nehemiah to rebuild the walls.” I don’t mean walls to keep people from coming here, but walls to keep our enemy from tearing our country apart.

    Thank you for “food for thought” today!
    Donna

  3. I love this post. “Too often, leaders will dive into a project without seeking God, and rely solely on the plans they’ve made.” I love that statement because it is so true. When we deliver everything through Him first, everything seems to work out a lot better. He is our best friend (or should be) and how can you be best friends with someone when you aren’t talking to them reguarly? It’s impossible to keep a close relationship of any sort without honest communication and that is something Neimiah knew all too well. Great post, I’m sure it will help encourage everyone who reads it.

  4. My name is Jason and I have been given a monumental task by God. God spoke to me through my thoughts and signs and revealed to me that the many people are divided between worshiping God and money. Our hearts belong to God but it seems our daily bread is being provided by money at least that is what God is asking me to observe. HE has asked me to show people how to provide for themselves and live in abundance in HIS name. I have no money, I am starting small but I am spilling over with the light and purpose to do this. Finding articles like this are inspriring and God uses them to show me that I am heading in the right direction. Thank you for your effort and contribution to making the world a better place for all.

  5. I believe that the greatest need in the world today is the emergence of visionary leaders. Men and women who can make a difference in the world. Can you imagine that a task that had been left undone for 140 years was completed in just 52 days? Can you also imagine the shame and challenges they went through for 140 years? Truly the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits. Daniel 11:32

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