Commentary by Walter Albritton

May 11, 2008


God Uses Visionary People to Inspire People to Work


Nehemiah 1:1-2:20

Key Verse: I told them that the hand of my God had been gracious upon me, and also the words that the king had spoken to me. Then they said, “Let us start building!” So they committed themselves to the common good. – Nehemiah 2:18

          No nation or church can remain strong and reach its potential without visionary leaders. America became a great nation because of visionary leaders like George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt. Such leaders inspired the people to make the sacrifices necessary for our nation to grow and survive.

          A sad reality is that few such visionary leaders are available in our time. Sacrifice is presently a bad word. None of our major candidates for the presidency has been willing to call upon our people to sacrifice. The implication is clear: no one even using the word sacrifice could hope to be elected. The mood of the American people is hopelessly materialistic and selfish. People want a president who will make their lives easier and more comfortable.

          Nehemiah could hardly be elected of the United States today. But his vision met a great need in his own day. In his time cities without walls were indefensible. Strong walls were absolutely necessary for people to protect themselves from their enemies. Seventy-five years after the return of the exiles from captivity, the walls of the city of Jerusalem were still in ruins. The once proud gates of the city had been burned.

          Nehemiah got sick and tired of looking at the dilapidated walls of the holy city. He decided something had to be done. So he devised a plan and executed his plan. His visionary leadership led to the rebuilding of the wall. Let’s see what we can learn from the biblical account of Nehemiah’s strategy.

          First he saw the need. Then he took his concern to God. He fasted and prayed about what to do. Here is a great lesson. Often when we recognize a need, the first thing we do is complain about the problem. We must learn to follow Nehemiah’s example and take our concern to God in fasting and prayer. Complaining seldom produces any positive results. But a man with a plan authorized by God can usually get things done. He simply needs to stand up and be counted.

          Nehemiah realized that he could not fix the problem without God’s help. So he prayed until God gave him a passion for rebuilding the wall. He prayed until he was in synch with God. When he told people God wanted the wall rebuilt, his appeal had an authentic ring to it. This is a step we must be willing to take for our leadership to be effective.

          After taking the problem to God in prayer, Nehemiah came up with a plan of action. He did not rush off to repair the wall himself. It must have dawned on him that God had placed him in a strategic position as the king’s cupbearer. He had served the king faithfully. The king trusted him. And he cared for Nehemiah. He cared for him so much that he discerned that the sadness on Nehemiah’s face resulted from a sadness in his heart.

          Nehemiah used the respect he had earned from the king to win the king’s approval for rebuilding the wall. He realized that the resources he needed for his project were at hand. Wisely he gained the help of both God and the king before making his appeal to the people. Here is another fine lesson. Often the resources we need to do the will of God are already with us. We have but to see them and claim them. Wisely Nehemiah acknowledged that the support of the king was the result of “the gracious hand of God” upon him.

          When finally Nehemiah appeals to the people he calls the community together, including the leaders, priests, and ordinary citizens. He casts the vision with passion and confidence. His speech is electrifying. The people are ready to respond. With conviction they say, “Let us start building!” So the work began and soon the job was done – all because one man had a vision.

          Nations and churches need visionary leaders who can inspire people to roll up their sleeves and go to work. As was the case with Nehemiah, sometimes only one voice is necessary to stir people to action. Each of us must ask God to clarify our role. He may call us to cast the vision. Or he may call us to be like Aaron and Hur and hold up the hands of our leader. To know the will of God usually requires fasting and prayer. This much is certain: we do not want to found sitting on our hands when God has called us join the team that is doing his work.  When the vision is cast, let’s not quibble about why it cannot be done. Let’s respond eagerly, as the Israelites did, and say, “Let’s get started!”

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