Lessons in Leadership

Nehemiah is one of the greatest examples of leadership we have in the Bible. As a Jew, he held the high position of cup-bearer to Artaxerxes, king of the Persian empire. He not only served the king his wine, but tasted it first to make sure it wasn’t poisoned by some political enemy. Therefore, Nehemiah was someone the king trusted implicitly.

Long story short, Nehemiah gets word that Jerusalem is still in ruins, and its people are struggling, discouraged, and being hassled by their Arab neighbors. Since he is in a position to help, he looks for the right opportunity to approach the king about the problem and is appointed as governor to Jerusalem, commissioned to rebuild its walls and creating a viable city once more. While carrying out this task, he shows many exemplary qualities of leadership from which we can learn.

The first thing we learn about Nehemiah is that he is a man of compassion. This first shows up in his response to hearing of the plight of his people in Jerusalem: “I sat down and wept.” (Neh. 1:4). His caring is also expressed in his deep desire (at great cost to himself) to do something about it. He risks the king’s disfavor, possibly his position, and certainly the comfortable lifestyle he had enjoyed, by going to bat for his fellow Israelites and then taking action once he got permission.

Nehemiah was also a man of prayer, which is revealed right from the beginning
of this book as, upon hearing the sad news from his brother, he fasts and prays before God concerning the situation and about providing an opportunity to talk to the king (Neh. 1:4-11). Throughout the story we see Nehemiah again and again turning to God in prayer with the various problems he encounters along the way; seeking encouragement, strength and direction. It demonstrates a humble and obedient spirit on his part.

This presents a real challenge for each of us who are in leadership positions, whether in our homes, businesses, churches or communities. Are we leaders who have compassion for the people we lead? Do we really care for them and their well-being or do we simply go through the motions of carrying out our responsibilities, often feeling burdened by it all? People sense when we really care, especially our children and those closest to us. Nehemiah cared, and caring made him a more effective leader.

The other challenge concerns our prayer life. How much to we pray? Beyond grace at meals and the prayers we may say before rushing out to work in the morning or dropping into bed at night, do we talk to God about our family problems, our business decisions, the frustrations and obstacles we have to deal with each day? Or have we neatly compartmentalized prayer as a spiritual activity unrelated to real life issues? For Nehemiah, prayer was a natural part of life; his first impulse when facing any situation.

When you think about it, these two qualities are deeply intertwined. You can’t simple conjure up caring. When you really pray and touch the heart of God, you begin to
care the way he cares. And when you really care about issues, and especially the people involved, you are more likely to pray. So, how’s your prayer/care index today?