by Sharon Nickerson
It all started with a broken heart—a broken heart for God and his people. With that contrite cornerstone, the Lord rebuilt a city.
Nehemiah, whose name means “comfort of God,” was the man chosen to lead God’s people to restoration. After the Babylonian captivity of the Jews, a remnant had returned to Jerusalem. At the time, Nehemiah was still in Babylon serving as the cupbearer to King Artaxerxes. We can picture him in the palace taking warm baths, eating sumptuous food, and drinking the best wine. But in the back of his mind, he was thinking about his people in Jerusalem and how they were getting along.
A Call to Lead
When a group of men came from Jerusalem, including Nehemiah’s brother Hanani, Nehemiah was given a sad report. The walls of Jerusalem were still broken down, the gates were burned, and the people were despondent. As if a sudden death had occurred in his family, Nehemiah wept, prayed, and fasted before God, his heart broken.
Thus began a new direction in Nehemiah’s life, a call to leadership ordained by God. And it all began in his heart.
Nehemiah claimed, “I told no one what my God had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem” (Nehemiah 2:12, New King James Version). The Hebrew word translated heart in this verse is leb. It can refer to our feelings, our will, and even our intellect. God put a desire in Nehemiah’s heart—in his will. The Lord planted a seed that produced a harvest. When we’re open to his leading, the Lord will plant seeds in our hearts, too.
The beaches of California were home to many hippies in the 70s. A local minister and his wife took note of these young people and asked God for a heart to love them. Soon they were meeting with them on the beach, telling them about Jesus’ love, and inviting them to church to hear the Word of God. Many of the young people they met with became Christians. Some entered the ministry and remain there today. A great harvest occurred because this concerned couple sought the Lord’s leading.
Seeking the Lord
Nehemiah sought the Lord, too. Four months of praying prepared him to speak to King Artaxerxes about his intent to take a leave of absence. He requested to go to Jerusalem to help rebuild the city and encourage his people, the Israelites. He also requested letters from the king to let him pass through other lands safely and to retrieve wood from the forest keeper for the building process. All of this was done without a board of directors, book of instructions, or even a counselor. Nehemiah fully relied upon the wisdom God had given him to embark on the task, and God’s grace to get it done.
As Nehemiah did, we too must depend on God when called to lead. We should prepare with prayer and fasting, trusting God to lead the way and open doors.
Nehemiah journeyed for three months to the city of Jerusalem and met with the leaders there. He didn’t waste time placing blame. His heart was focused on the work that needed to be done. He encouraged the leaders to begin the work, finish it, and rest assured that God would not let them down.
Building and Protecting
The first order of business was to rebuild the walls and the gates for protection. But as soon as the work began, a group of outsiders attempted to discourage the hearts of the people. Nehemiah wisely placed God as their first defense saying, “The God of heaven himself will prosper us” (Nehemiah 2:20).
When next the Israelites were threatened with physical harm, Nehemiah prayed before preparing himself and the people for battle. He encouraged the people to “not be afraid of them” and to “remember the Lord, great and awesome and fight” (4:14). The enemies’ plans were disrupted once they knew the Israelites were aware of their intent. From that point on, the people worked with one hand and carried a weapon in the other.
Nehemiah didn’t complain. He maintained a heart of worship. He didn’t see himself as a “star” who needed pampering while the people worked. He worked right alongside them, sweat with them, built with them, and prepared to fight for them. God still chooses such leaders today—those who know leadership is based on mercy and grace.
Caring for Others
Nehemiah refused to lay a heavy burden on the people in order to provide for his financial support. In his 12 years of service as governor for the Israelites, he never demanded the governor’s provisions. He knew the people could barely support themselves while they tried to rebuild their society.
Throughout his work he never failed to pray to God, an indication his heart remained humble and faithful. The final prayer of the book is, “Remember me with favor, O my God” (13:31). And God did.
God seeks leaders today whose hearts are in their tasks. Nehemiah’s example of leadership should not be overlooked. He was a fighter when he needed to be, yet humble before God. He was strict in demanding obedience, yet gentle and not willing to burden the people unnecessarily. His actions stemmed from the condition of his heart, for “as he thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7).
Whether the Lord plants a seed or we see a need, we have to ask him to fill us with his love for the people and the work he wants us to do. Then, like Nehemiah, we must take the opportunity to do it, with all of our heart.
Sharon Nickerson is a freelance writer in Waymouth, Maine.
Wondering About Walls
Imagine what the walls of Jerusalem looked like after Nehemiah rebuilt them. Do you think Nehemiah rebuilt the walls just as they were before, or do you think he changed things for military strategy? Do you think he added anything for aesthetic purposes?
For fun, enjoy these modern walls: