The story of Nehemiah shows us how we can respond to adversity with empathy, ministry, and servant leadership.
Even though Nehemiah was in a position of privilege, he was aware of what was going on around him. He wept, fasted, and mourned for people in devastation. He pleaded to God for people who were dying and were in danger. In response to the news about the destruction of the walls of Jerusalem, he decided to lead the rebuilding of the wall.
It seemed so impossible for him during a time when nothing, except for the calling from God, seemed right. People around Nehemiah were scared and shaken. Using his circumstances to shed light on our current situation, we know that it is also so easy for us to feel that we are not doing anything to contribute to help solve this pandemic. We feel frustrated, because most of us are limited to spending our time inside our homes. We ask God, “What can we do?”
We may also get distracted or paralyzed by fear because nothing is really certain. We may also be taking the situation as a season to take a break from God’s mission.
Let’s look at Nehemiah’s life to learn how we can respond to the crisis we’re facing.
Recognize the People’s Situation
Nehemiah 4:11–13 paints a picture of their condition.
And all this time our enemies were saying, “They won’t know what hit them. Before they know it we’ll be at their throats, killing them right and left. That will put a stop to the work!” The Jews who were their neighbors kept reporting, “They have us surrounded; they’re going to attack!” If we heard it once, we heard it ten times. So I stationed armed guards at the most vulnerable places of the wall and assigned people by families with their swords, lances, and bows. – Nehemiah 4:11–13 (MSG)
In this passage, Nehemiah did something very important that we as leaders should take note of: He recognized the people’s fears. He showed this by strategizing for their safety and defense. But he did not stop there. While he recognized their fear, he also never coddled it. He didn’t allow the people to wallow in it. He encouraged them to press on in the will and purpose of God for their lives.
Remind Them of God
After looking things over I stood up and spoke to the nobles, officials, and everyone else: “Don’t be afraid of them. Put your minds on the Master, great and awesome, and then fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.” – Nehemiah 4:14 (MSG)
Like any other Christian leader, Nehemiah reminded them of who God is and how great He is. Nehemiah did not miss out on that. As he reminded the people of God’s greatness, he didn’t want them to just be the recipients of God’s greatness. He encouraged them to go back to their mission—to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. The reminder of the greatness of their God energized the people to continue in God’s mission, and this mission benefited their loved ones.
Remain in Servant Leadership
Now let’s look at Nehemiah himself.
“So neither I nor my brothers nor my servants nor the men of the guard who followed me, none of us took off our clothes; each kept his weapon at his right hand.” – Nehemiah 4:23
The events in this verse show Nehemiah’s devotion to the task God assigned him. We see that when people were anxious, when fear was high, when the mission was being threatened, Nehemiah remained in an attitude of servant leadership. Yes, he saw to his own security, but he did not shrink back from the task.
In the same way, in times of anxiety, people are looking for leaders who will remain—leaders who will remain connected to God and connected to them; leaders who will not only lead in times of comfort but will continue to serve. Maybe this means going online and responding in a Spirit-led way to people. Maybe this means looking at your home and serving the people in your family. However you may apply this, I pray that you will remain in an attitude of servant leadership.
You may be asking: “So how do we do God’s mission now?” I don’t have a specific answer. Each of us have different areas to work on, just like the people in Nehemiah’s time had different sections of the wall to rebuild. Whatever your task may be, it will involve:
Allow me to share an encouragement from one of our student leaders, a graduating student from UP Diliman. She wrote this for her fellow students in the midst of COVID-19 and losing her mom to an illness.
“God is calling us to ‘rebuild’ the spiritual ‘walls’ that are being shaken, by praying for each other and for others. God is calling us to pick up even just a single ‘brick’ to rebuild the walls. We must know and recognize the reality that we have right now, but we must also keep on clinging to the greatness of God as we pray. The uncertainties, frustration, anger, and disappointments can be overwhelming during this time, but we must remain in faith, as Nehemiah did. Remember, they rebuilt the walls in 52 days, when it should have taken years. We call everyone to pray for miracles during this time. Let us pray ‘crazy’ prayers! Let us ask God for all the things that our hearts yearn for right now. Let us continue to pray for the people who are on the frontlines, laying their life for this nation. Let us pray for our government leaders’ integrity, wisdom, and discernment. Let us pray that God, as He did for Nehemiah, will give us a vision on what the end for this looks like. Let us keep on holding the ropes for our nation and the church. Let us cover our church leaders, campus missionaries, and fellow Christians with prayers and blessings. Let us also pray for other nations and their people. God is faithful and He will always be. He is taking us into an unfamiliar place that can overwhelm us, but He will never leave us hanging. He knows what He is doing. He will provide peace and comfort that go beyond our human understanding.” —Donn Ayo
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