When we last left off in this series of blog posts about leadership, we learned of Nehemiah’s burden to return to Jerusalem and re-build its burned, broken down walls. At this point, Nehemiah was a “cupbearer” to the Persian King Artaxerxes. He was in the King’s palace and had the responsibility of tasting the wine before the King to make sure no enemy had slipped in any poisons.
When one works for the King, it is very wise to keep the emotions in check. Kings during this time did not appreciate anyone bringing their own “weather” into his presence. Four months (from Chislev to Nisan) had passed since Nehemiah received the news of Jerusalem’s sad state and since God had put the call on his life to restore it. For four long months, Nehemiah had not expressed his anguish about this in the King’s presence. Nehemiah 2:1 tells us that he had “not been sad in his presence”. But for some reason, on the day discussed in chapter 2, King Artaxerxes picked up on something – he noticed Nehemiah’s countenance and said “Why is your face sad though you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of heart.” Whoa – for a king to notice this was not good news. It made Nehemiah very afraid because it could very well get him fired – or worse – killed!
I see a very valuable life lesson in this passage. The lesson is to have patience while God is working out a time table. Had Nehemiah gone into the King all exasperated and blurted out what he was longing to do, he may very well have been killed. Rather, he chose to keep his emotions in check and let God work in the heart of King Artaxerxes. Remember that God will use whoever and whatever He needs to accomplish His work and will.
The King had finally asked the very question that would allow Nehemiah to pour his heart out, “Why is your face sad…?” Here is Nehemiah’s opportunity and he is ready to act. He told the King of the broken down state of Jerusalem and then the King asks another great question, “What would you request?” I am doing a little happy dance right now for Nehemiah. He is getting ready to reveal what he needs to accomplish the calling. BUT, before he says another word, he says a quick prayer to the God of heaven. Only then does he proceed to tell the King what he would like to do and what resources he needs to do it.
So off goes Nehemiah along with some officers and horsemen the King had graciously sent with him. Nehemiah was wise in asking the King to give him letters to other governors in the provinces through which he would be passing. As he passed through one province, it raised the eyebrows of two men: Sanballat and Tobiah. They were not happy that Nehemiah was checking on the welfare of the sons of Israel. More to come on these two a little later.
Finally, Nehemiah and his men arrived in Jerusalem. They had been there 3 days when Nehemiah did something a little unusual. He got up in the night and started a quiet survey of the gates and walls. Although a “few men” were with him, he didn’t tell them what God was putting into his mind (Neh. 2:12). I strongly identify with Nehemiah in his night time activity. In leading my own organization, there have been many nights that God has awakened me and had me take a mental inventory. At times, God would have me take some action, make some kind of change in direction, or just pray like crazy for my staff members. When God is ready to do a fresh, new work – the burden on the leader’s heart can cause many sleepless nights!
You see, leaders need time for God to mentally create the vision in their mind and heart BEFORE the leader casts the vision to those who would follow. I believe this is part of the reason that Nehemiah did not talk to anyone about what God was putting in his mind at this point. At the Precept Conference that I attended this month, one precious lady from Mississippi (Dorothy) had a great observation about why Nehemiah did not tell anyone else about what God had put in his head. She said that if he had told everybody the vision before God had him “cast” it, he might have been looking for confirmations from people instead of God. I believe that is some incredible insight.
However, there does come a time and a place for the leader to cast the vision and we see this clearly in Nehemiah 2:17, “…You see the bad situation we are in, that Jerusalem is desolate and its gates burned by fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem so that we will no longer be a reproach.” Nehemiah’s vision casting stated an assessment of the need (we are in a bad situation), called for action (let us rebuild), and provided the motivation for doing the work (so that we will no longer be a reproach). With this simple vision, he set a whole series of events in motion that would have the wall and gates completed in less than two months!
Nehemiah waited for God’s cue as to when to cast that vision. Let’s not jump the gun on God. He also kept the vision simple and focused on one goal: LET US REBUILD. As we attempt to lead any group (family, a staff of employees, or a church committee), keep these principles of vision-casting in mind. It worked for Nehemiah and it can work for us too! Details will come, but always keep the vision in front of the people!