Leadership comes down to one thing: are we influencing other people? Is there someone following us? While there are occasions when the leader may be standing on the ledge by himself, it is usually determined to be successful leadership if people are moved to do something… if they are moved from Point A to Point B.
Nehemiah stood before a mountain that had to be moved. Not a physical obstacle but a mountain of a person in King Artaxerxes. He needed the King to grant him favor on two counts: (1) to release him to Jerusalem to lead in the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem and (2) to do so over the former objections of the King to this very thing ever happening again.
Complicating the second item, we still have in our culture today a statement that says “this is the law of the Medes and Persians.” This is understood to mean one thing: it isn’t going to change. When the king made a statement in that context, it was literally written in stone. No delete button. No modifications. No exemptions. It was going to stand because it was now “the law of the Medes and Persians.”
Jerusalem was a conquered entity. It had a history of rebellious behavior against kingdoms that sought to rule it. The military power and threat of such a city was based on the strength of its wall. Tear down the wall… remove the threat. The law of the Medes and Persians said, “This wall shall not be rebuilt.” It was thoroughly destroyed and to make sure it would never be rebuilt the intelligentsia and leaders of the city were taken away, leaving only the laborers behind who would not have the capacity or tendency to organize and rebuild.
Now, Nehemiah had received an assignment from God. “Rebuild the wall.” So Nehemiah in prayer assented to the job. But two obstacles remained: 1) how will he get out of his job for the period necessary to rebuild and 2) will the king be willing to overturn “the law of the Medes and Persians?” Nehemiah saw both of these tasks as “out of his pay grade.” And so he prayed. And prayed. For four months, with “mourning and prayer and fasting.” And specifically, his prayer request was this: “Lord, give me favor with this man… grant your servant success.”
What we sometimes miss is that what Nehemiah was about to do was not just secure vacation time or a leave of absence from a petulant boss. He was proposing something subversive… even traitorous to the Babylonian empire. Rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem could be seen as insurrection, resulting in not only loss of his job… but of his head! No wonder he added, “and grant (your servant) mercy in the sight of this man!”
Hudson Taylor wrote, “It is possible to move the hearts of men only through God in prayer.” While Nehemiah had never read Taylor’s book, he agreed with the premise. We can move men’s hearts… a difficult boss, an estranged spouse, even a rebellious child… in prayer. How often do we resort to our knees when those kinds of things need to happen?
Ultimately, the king assented. (Nehemiah 2:1-5) And going forward, Nehemiah’s success was linked to one thing: he believed God would move hearts through prayer and prayer alone.
And he was right!
FOR MEMORIZATION: …let your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man. Nehemiah 1:11b
FOR REFLECTION: Who’s heart is there in your life that needs to be moved and influenced today? Are your manipulating… threatening… or praying?