“But because I feared God, I did not act that way.” – Nehemiah 5:15b NLT
Leading others is difficult in the best of times. But when things are going poorly, leadership can be nearly impossible. It is difficult to get others to follow when they are faced with opposition, difficulty, and trials or feel as if they are getting the short end of the stick. Either real or perceived inequality and inequity make it extremely hard for people to want to follow. If they feel like they are getting the raw end of the deal, they will resist and sometimes even rebel. Nehemiah found himself in the non-envious position of leading a people who were surrounded by opposition and who faced a nearly impossible task of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. Their enemies were constantly taunting and mocking them. When that failed to deter them from building, their enemies began to threaten them with physical violence. On top of that, the construction project they were tasked with was seemingly insurmountable, requiring around-the-clock effort and robbing the people of much-needed rest. It wasn’t long before they began to lose heart. “Then the people of Judah began to complain, ‘The workers are getting tired, and there is so much rubble to be moved. We will never be able to build the wall by ourselves'” (Nehemiah 4:10 NLT).
In the midst of all this, Nehemiah was charged with the responsibility of leading the people and ensuring that the construction of the wall continued, in spite of persistent opposition and the waning hopes of the people. So Nehemiah did what any godly leader would do – He prayed. But he also did one other thing. He took action. He turned to God for help, but he also did what he could do. He organized. He encouraged. He prepared. He took steps to ensure that the work could continue and the people were safe. In other words, Nehemiah relied on the grace of God, but he understood that God’s grace is opposed to earning, but not effort. The steps he took to organize the people and defend the wall were not an attempt to earn favor with God, but to ensure that the work of God could continue uninterrupted. Nehemiah knew that the job they had to do was difficult and it was going to require even more work on the part of the people. He knew that their enemies were real and the threats they were making were not idol. So did what he had to do to make sure the people were safe and the work could continue. They worked in shifts. Some built, while others guarded. They all carried weapons and were prepared to fight at a moments notice. But Nehemiah also knew that they would not be fighting alone. “Then our God will fight for us!” (Nehemiah 4:20b NLT).
But as if their enemies were not enough, Nehemiah also found himself dealing with some significant problems within his own camp. Bickering began over inequities taking place. Some people were mortgaging everything they had just to buy food. Others had been forced to sell their own children into slavery just to pay their taxes. And the sad thing was, the culprits who were profiting from all this were the nobles and officials of Judah. The haves were taking advantage of the have nots. So Nehemiah took charge once again and demanded that the greed, graft and corruption come to an end. And all along the way, he set the example for godly leadership, never drawing his official food allowance, even though he was entitled to it. He worked as hard as anyone else, never claiming exemption from labor due to his role as governor. Nehemiah was a model of godly leadership. Why? Because he feared God. He had a reverence and respect for God that would not allow him to live in a way that brought shame or dishonor to the name of God through his actions. Nehemiah was motivated by his love for God and his belief that he worked for and was responsible to God for the people, the wall, and his own attitudes and actions. For Nehemiah, leadership was not about power, position, authority, or respect. He was not interested in lining his pockets or padding his resume. He simply wanted to use his God-given position to lead the people through exhortation and example. He would trust God for whatever reward God chose to give him for his efforts. He performed for an audience of one – God.
Father, may I be more like Nehemiah – a man who knew who his true boss was. Give me a growing understanding that godly leadership begins with a healthy fear of and respect for You. Let me be a constant example of integrity to those around me, never shying away from hard work or taking the easy way out. Leadership is hard work Father, and it requires effort and energy. But also never let me forget that it requires a dependence on You. Never let me work independently from You, but always in full submission to and reliance upon You. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men