Characteristics of a Godly Leader

As Christians, we are to display the qualities of leaders even if God has not called us into a leadership position. In Nehemiah 1-2, we are given a paradigm as to what a godly leader looks like.

1. A godly leader has a concern for the people and purposes of God.

“…Hanani, one of my brothers, and some men from Judah came; and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped and had survived the captivity, and about Jerusalem.” (1:2)

“When I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days…” (1:4)

“Remember the word which You commanded Your servant Moses…” (1:8)

Nehemiah’s did not ask about Jerusalem and the Jews just to make small talk with the visitors from Judah. It is clear that Nehemiah, like Daniel, knew the Scriptures and the prophecies about the Jews’ return to their homeland. His despair at the bad knews came from both a genuine concern for the well-being of his countrymen, and a knowledge that things were seemingly not going according to God’s plan laid out in Scripture. Nehemiah’s rise to action flowed not from a self-seeking, power-hungry spirit, but a spirit that was seeking to obey God and care for his people.

2. A godly leader prays before he acts.

“…and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” (1:4)

Nehemiah did not rush into action upon hearing the bad news about Jerusalem. In fact, about 4 months passed between his hearing of the news in chapter 1 and him approaching the king in chapter 2. These 4 months were not time wasted, but rather time spent in prayer discerning what God would have him do. Martin Luther is credited with saying, “I have so much to do today that I should spend the first three hours in prayer.” It is our nature (especially for men) to try to spring into action and DO something to solve a problem. Often, it is best to pray about a situation before acting on it.

3. A godly leader uses his position in life to his advantage.

“Now I was the cupbearer to the king.” (1:11)

“…wine was before him, and I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence.So the king said to me, ‘Why is your face sad though you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of heart.’ Then I was very much afraid.” (2:1-2)

As the king’s cupbearer, Nehemiah had unique access to the one person with the authority to move his plan along, and Nehemiah (and God) used that to his advantage. The fact that Nehemiah was afraid of the king’s question means that he probably had not planned to approach the king in this way, but he recognized that God had given him an opportunity, and he seized the moment to exploit his position.

4. A godly leader gives proper respect to those in authority.

“I said to the king, ‘If it please the king, and if your servant has found favor before you…'” (2:5)

Nehemiah gave honor to the authority God had placed over him even though the king was a Gentile. We are to do the same to the leaders in our government even if we do not share their religious or political beliefs. Nehemiah’s respect for the king may have been a reason why the king looked favorably on his cause.

5. A godly leader has a specific, detailed plan.

“So it pleased the king to send me, and I gave him a definite time. And I said to the king, ‘If it please the king, let letters be given me for the governors of the provinces beyond the River, that they may allow me to pass through until I come to Judah,and a letter to Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress which is by the temple, for the wall of the city and for the house to which I will go.'” (2:6-8)

When I was growing up, I knew that if I wanted to go out with friends, I would need to tell my dad all of the details: where I was going, who else was going, what adult supervision there would be, what time I would be home, etc. I quickly figured out that I was more likely to receive permission if I had all those details worked out before I went and asked my dad if I could go. Nehemiah does a similar thing here. He had all the details worked out, and gave the king a definitive plan of action. People will put their time, effort, and money behind a plan that is well-thought out and detailed. Yes, God may step in and change our plans, but that does not mean we should never make any.

6. A godly leader is careful with whom he shares information.

“And I arose in the night, I and a few men with me. I did not tell anyone what my God was putting into my mind to do for Jerusalem and there was no animal with me except the animal on which I was riding.” (2:12)

“The officials did not know where I had gone or what I had done; nor had I as yet told the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials or the rest who did the work.” (2:16)

One of the effects of living in a democratic society is that everyone thinks they have the right to know everything. Even in a church (especially in one where the congregation makes decisions), people think they need to know everything the leaders do. Such a situation, however, is not always practical. Leadership at times is privy to information that needs to stays confidential. In Nehemiah’s case, the fact that he was facing opposition made it necessary to be tight-lipped. He may not have known who he could trust to keep his confidence. Such discernment about sharing information is a quality to be aspired to.

7. A godly leader stands firm in the face of fear and opposition.

So the king said to me, ‘Why is your face sad though you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of heart.’ Then I was very much afraid. I said to the king, ‘Let the king live forever. Why should my face not be sad when the city, the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies desolate and its gates have been consumed by fire?'” (2:2-3)

“But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official, and Geshem the Arab heard it, they mocked us and despised us and said, ‘What is this thing you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?’So I answered them and said to them, ‘The God of heaven will give us success; therefore we His servants will arise and build, but you have no portion, right or memorial in Jerusalem.'” (2:19-20)

Nehemiah had every right to be afraid of the king question his mood. Displaying negative emotions before the king was a capital offense. Yet Nehemiah boldly explained himself to the king and requested his assistance. The opposition he faced as the rebuilding began is reminicent of the opposition faced by Noah when he was building the ark. Nehemiah was seen as conducting a fool’s errand according to human perceptions, but he was confident in the knowledge that he was peforming God’s will. If we are living according to God’s will and God’s word, we will undoubtedly face opposition from the world. It is our response to that opposition that betrays how confident we are in God’s plan and promises. May we stand firm in the knowledge that if God is for us, who is against us? (Romans 8:31)

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