Leaders care about their people (Nehemiah 1:2-3)
“… that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said to me, ‘The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire’” (Nehemiah 1:2-3 ESV).
Nehemiah took the time out of his life to ask how things were going in his home country. He was a cupbearer who was living off of the luxury and dollar of the king, he didn’t need anything from the people of Israel, but he cared enough to ask how they were and how things were going. In his book Be Determined, Warren Wiersbe says:
“Why would Nehemiah inquire about a struggling remnant of people who lived hundreds of miles away? After all, he was the king’s cupbearer and he was successfully secure in his own life. Certainly it wasn’t his fault that his ancestors had sinned against the Lord and brought judgment to the city of Jerusalem and the kingdom of Judah. … Nehemiah was the man God had chosen to do those very things (Wiersbe, 1996, p. 14)!
In Nehemiah, we see a man who cared about others. He set his own life aside and jumped in with his life to help his people rebuild the wall. Nehemiah didn’t need to ask about the people, he simply had a natural inclination towards caring about his people. As Warren points out here, Nehemiah’s life was set. Nehemiah didn’t need anyone or anything, much less the need to worry about other people. Many people, left to themselves if they were in a similar situation as Nehemiah would’ve sluffed off the worry about other people and would’ve lived their lives in manner unto themselves.
This is a great attribute of a good leader. If we are leader of people and do not care about our people and we simply live our leadership life to get ahead for ourselves, we stop being a leader and start being a dictator. Our early picture of Nehemiah shows the type of leader he will show himself to be: one who cares deeply for others.
Leaders pray (Nehemiah 1:4)
As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. (Nehemiah 1:4 ESV)
Nehemiah doesn’t simply care for people and leave it there; he goes before the almighty God on their behalf! He prays for them and enters into their pain with them, even though he himself is not really near it. This shows the heart of a leader who is willing to stand in the gap for his people! Great leaders (spiritual or not), if they believe in Jesus Christ should be praying leaders. If we claim that Jesus is our “all in all” yet we don’t ask Him to assist us and those we lead we are simply giving lip-service to a faith that has now bearing in our real life. That may sound harsh but I think it’s true and the sad fact is that in the American church, a praying pastor is something that is lacking. That is poor leadership that makes no sense at all: a spiritual leader who is supposed to lead people towards a deeper faith and knowledge of God spends little to no time with the Lord? How is that possible to then lead people to God?
This is what Wilkes, in his book Jesus on Leadership would call “and act of submission” and the first step towards servant leadership. Wilkes says: “Submission to God and to the divine mission for your life is the first step to servant leadership” (pg. 22). Nehemiah by praying was seeking the best of others, not himself. When we pray as leaders, we are seeking what God would have us do for Him and for His people, not ourselves. When we lead in this way, we are acting as Jesus did in the capacity of servant leaders.
Nehemiah didn’t just stop at a simple prayer either; he stood in the gap for the people. He sought their best and asked God to forgive them their sins.
Leaders Intercede for others (Nehemiah 1:6)
“Let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned” (Nehemiah 1:6 ESV).
Nehemiah cared enough to not only do a simple prayer for them, but like a priest he interceded for them before God. He went to the Living God and asked Him for mercy upon the people. Leaders care enough to pray for their people in this way. This type of praying for leaders can go a long way with their leadership not only because it trains them to become better prayers but also because it helps them to be tenderer towards the people they lead. There is always a need for a harsh word spoken in love for sure, but there is also a time for tender intercession where we as leaders seek God’s forgiveness of them. While reading this idea of leadership from Nehemiah, I am struck with the reality that I rarely do this for my people. I am convicted by Nehemiah’s example and desire to be a leader who intercedes for the people I lead!
Nehemiah was also claiming the promise from 1 Kings 8:29; 2 Chron. 7:14 that God would be attentive to the prayers of His people. Warren Wiersbe in his book Be Determined says:
“The greater part of Nehemiah’s prayer was devoted to confession of sin (1:6–9). The God who promised blessing and chastening also promised forgiveness if His people would repent and turn back to Him (Deut. 30; 1 Kings 8:31–53). It was this promise that Nehemiah was claiming as he prayed for himself and the nation. God’s eyes are upon His people and His ears are open to their prayers (1 Kings 8:29; 2 Chron. 7:14)”. (Wiersbe, 1996, pp. 17-18)
Again, I feel like this all comes back to the idea of “Servant Leadership” which Wilkes talks about. Nehemiah was humbling himself before God and going before Him on their behalf. He wasn’t caring about himself or what others thought of him, he was simply reaching out to the Almighty God for the people. I like what Wilkes says in his book: “As long as leaders are worried about who sits at the head table, they have little time for the people they are called to serve” (p. 36). This was a statement about not caring how important you are as a leader but how important the people are you are leading. As leaders, we must put the people we serve ahead of ourselves.