For many years now, I’ve wanted to live as a Nehemiah. Not in the sense that I am having an identity crisis and want to change my name, but in the sense that I want to be a leader like the Nehemiah of the Bible. The book of Nehemiah is really quite an epic tale of God raising up a leader and miraculously working through His people to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. This little book really packs a punch, but the thing I want to focus on is visionary leadership – the legacy of Nehemiah.
I connect well to the portrayal of Nehemiah – talk about a man who carried a big God-vision! I am a very visionary, “big-picture” person – I am bursting with passion and plans and dreams. I tend to live with my head in the future and my feet in the present. Often I struggle to enjoy the present because I am so excited for the future. I have a hard time balancing what is with what will be and should be.
This is both a blessing and a curse for me. It’s like a Back to the Future version of wanderlust – I simply can’t restrict myself to looking at this moment. Sometimes I feel crushed by the weight of the passion, the dreams – and wonder why others don’t seem to feel the burden. Why can’t people just get it? Why isn’t everyone excited about what the future holds and what God is doing? Then I get frustrated. But, as will most things in life, there must be balance. Nehemiah found that balance – the balance of living as a vision-carrier for God.
Leadership is not something one does on a lark. Leadership is not always fun or glamorous; in fact, it is rarely either of those things. People do not always cooperate, expectations are not always met, and it is all too easy for leaders to get burnt out. In these moments, it is the God-vision, fueled by God’s Holy Spirit, that prevents “burnout” — that gets you going and fills you with passion.
The literal definition of the word “vision” is “the ability to see.” This is what I mean by “vision,” except I am applying it more broadly. You see, visionary leadership isn’t just the ability to see what is now and the things that are present; it is the ability to look forward to the future and to dream and plan boldly about what will happen next.
This forward-looking perspective must be coupled with the ability to share the vision with others. Vision paints a passionate picture of hope, giving specific goals and directions. Visionary leaders help others catch hold of and pursue the vision. Of course, vision is clearest and most powerful when it comes from God. This is what Nehemiah’s role was as a leader: to carry the vision. This is actually what it means to be an apostle in the Biblical sense: carrying, sharing, and initiating the vision amongst people. To be an apostle is to look at the “big picture” and help others do the same.
In Nehemiah’s time, Israel had been dominated by Babylon. Many of the people had been taken captive to Babylon, while the others had been left, destitute, to tend the land and keep it from turning to wilderness. The city of Jerusalem had been utterly ravaged, and the walls had been torn down when the Babylonians captured the Israelites. So the Lord settled a burden on Nehemiah’s heart, giving him a vision to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and bring back God’s people to the Promised Land. Rebuilding these walls was not merely a practical means of protection; it was a symbol of spiritual renewal and a return to the Lord in the place of His promise.
Of course, just because Nehemiah had an idea from God, it does not mean that being the vision-carrier was a simple task. As a leader, he needed to discern when to cast the vision and when to withhold it – and whom to share it with. Rebuilding the walls was not a task Nehemiah could undertake alone; he needed the Israelites to partner with him to carry out the vision.
Herein lies the danger of being a visionary leader: you become so consumed with attaining the goal and carrying out the vision that, when you are victorious, you find there is no one left to celebrate with because you left them all behind.
Proverbs 29:18 tells us that people perish for lack of vision. God-directed vision is a vital part of learning to walk with Him, and we must learn to nurture and not stifle the vision. I am a very “visionary” person; and where I sense no vision, it feels as though the life is being sucked out of me. However, being visionary (apostolic, far-sighted, and big-picture) scares others if they aren’t prepared. This is why leaders must use discretion in casting vision. Sometimes carrying this God-vision means that you keep it to yourself for a while, and sometimes it means that you only share a portion of what God is speaking.
The result of Nehemiah’s God-driven, apostolic leadership was that the walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt (from piles of rubble!) in a mere fifty-two days (Neh. 6:15). But realize that he didn’t start by telling the oppressed Israelites, “I’ve returned to our decimated homeland to help you rebuild the city walls and restore the land! Oh, and we’ll do it in less than two months! Who’s with me?!” No. Rather, he went and scouted out the walls; he spent time planning, praying, and preparing before he began to share the vision with the people, calling them to rebuild and restore their city. And he did not simply tell them what they should do; he told them why they should do it and shared his testimony of God’s faithful hand at work in the situation:
‘And I told them of the hand of my God, which had been good upon me, and also of the king’s words that he had spoken to me. So they said, “Let us rise up and build.” Then they set their hands to this good work.’ – Nehemiah 2:18
This is Nehemiah’s great success: he knew when to cast the vision and when to withhold it. Sharing a vision in poor timing is often akin to aborting it. Just as vision itself is a necessity, so is proper timing; you cannot separate the two. My mentor told me, “There are some things that need to be said, but don’t need to be heard.” When you are given charge of the God-vision, there are times when you need to keep it between you and God, simply praying over the vision and nurturing it. Like a pregnant mother, you carry something precious, but there is a right time for the birth that should not be forced or tampered with.
I frequently pray, “Lord, make me a Nehemiah. Nehemiah did it right, and I want to do the same. Help me to carry Your vision with wisdom and compassion.” I want to carry the vision well, and I want others to be around to revel in the fullness of the victory and blessing that God will bring through it.
Perhaps you don’t feel like you have any vision to share right now. Or perhaps you have a vision already burning inside you, locked up tight and waiting to be shared. All those things are fine. The Lord always gives the passion and the vision in its time, and He will direct you about where, when, and how to share the vision. Maybe right now you need to support the God-vision that someone else is casting. Maybe right now you need to help someone else be a Nehemiah and cultivate his or her leadership abilities. Or maybe the time has come for you to step up and be a Nehemiah, sharing the vision that the Lord has placed in your heart. Don’t be afraid of the vision. Simply allow the Holy Spirit to give you discernment to recognize the timing and the means.
I bless you to freely and boldly live the Nehemiah life!