Growing up, I never really learned much about Nehemiah. Sunday school was filled with stories of Noah, Moses, King David, Daniel, Jesus, the apostles, and many other important figures in the Bible. Somehow, Nehemiah slipped through the cracks in my education.
I recently read Nehemiah and was surprised to find it so awesome. It might even be my new favorite. Nehemiah was a stud with unbelievable leadership skills. It takes place after Jerusalem was destroyed and the people were held in captivity. When they finally returned, of course, they found their city still in ruins. Nehemiah took it upon himself to ensure the city walls were rebuilt and the people of God could again have a home.
Here are 8 epic leadership principles we can learn from Nehemiah:
1) Identify your calling
Nehemiah was not awoken at night by a voice, he had no dreams, and witnessed no burning bushes. But he identified God’s calling by recognizing what broke his heart. In 1:4, immediately after learning the wall of Jerusalem was broken down, he said “I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.”
Nehemiah saw a problem with the world. Rather than ignore it or distract himself with entertainment, he chose to use his gifts and do something about it. If something breaks your heart and you have the ability to change it, there is a very real chance that God has called you to make it happen.
2) Pray for everything
As we already saw in 1:4, Nehemiah’s first response was to pray. In 2:4, as he is speaking to the King of Persia (aka King of the entire world), he prays throughout the conversation. He did not depend on his own abilities, but rather the work of God’s Spirit. He asked the King for permission and help to rebuild the city, and surprisingly (or not surprisingly considering the prayers) the king gave his full blessing.
3) Delegate and Motivate
Nehemiah did not build the walls on his own, he enlisted the aid of hundreds. Chapter 3 is full of different people from different backgrounds with different skill sets, all working together for one great cause.
Nehemiah knew the key to motivating people: he gave people a vision and invited them to join him in building their future. Without the eager participation of the different people and unique skills, the walls would have taken ages to build. They also would have been built poorly. Instead, the project was completed in 52 days and the walls stood for hundreds of years.
4) Lead by example
Nehemiah did an excellent job of delegation, but he never excluded himself from the work. He worked alongside the people, getting his hands dirty everyday to help build and defend the walls. 5:16 says, “I also persevered in the work on this wall, and we acquired no land, and all my servants were gathered there for the work.”
It is easy for a leader to hide behind a title and never actually work. But Nehemiah recognizes the importance of leading by example. He, and those who led with him, worked to build the wall. This undoubtedly inspired the people and is a great reminder for us today.
5) Resist opposition to your work
If you are working on something worthwhile, there will be opposition. People will question you, judge you, mock you, gossip about you, and even try to stop you. Nehemiah faced both verbal and physical conflict, but he would not be deterred. He took the necessary steps to protect the work they had already completed, and continued pushing forward. In Nehemiah 6 he responds to his dissenters by saying, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?”
We often get discouraged when we face opposition, but Nehemiah didn’t flinch. He knew the Lord was on his side. So when people call you crazy or foolish, don’t be discouraged. Keep pushing and praying, and unless God calls you to something different, then don’t quite!
6) Quick decisions and action
In chapter 5, Nehemiah learns that people are going hungry in the city. In 5:6 it says, “I was very angry when I heard their outcry and these words. I took counsel with myself, and I brought charges against the nobles and the officials.” When he recognized the problem, he didn’t wait for a few weeks and hope it went away. He didn’t start a passive aggressive campaign to spread rumors and make the nobles feel bad about themselves. He acted quickly and approached the problem directly.
The approach worked. The nobles and officials repented and restored to the people that which they had earned.
As the governor and good friend of the king of the world, Nehemiah received a large food allowance each month. Each day, they prepared for him “one ox and six choice sheep and birds, and every ten days all kinds of wine and abundance.” That is a pretty impressive feast!
But Nehemiah didn’t let it get to his head. He recognized how hard the people worked, and so he shared his food with everyone. This, of course, is not normal. But it is the mark of a good leader! “The former governors who were before me laid heavy burdens on the people and took from them their daily ration forty shekels of silver. Even their servants lorded it over the people. But I did not do so, because of the fear of God.”
8) Dependence on the Lord
6:15-16 says, “So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty-two days. And when all our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem, for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.”
Nehemiah was a great leader, but his abilities delivered exponential results with God’s help. I want to have the type of life where people see the work I’ve done and perceive that God was involved in the process. This happens when we wholly dedicate our work to Him, whether it be in business or finance, construction or education, ministry or entertainment.
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