Work HigherBlog / Produced by The High Calling
Under the recently installed King Artaxerxes, Nehemiah’s livin’ large in Persia. He’s the cup bearer for the king, a trusted confidant and advisor.
One day, Nehemiah's brother Hanani, shows up. He’s just returned from Judah, where the exiles from the Babylonian captivity have been trickling home. Things are bad in the old neighborhood, Hanani reports.
Artaxerxes grants Nehemiah’s request to go home, and even provides him with safe passage and supplies for the rebuilding job ahead.
Once back in Judah, Nehemiah discovers that not everybody’s glad to see him. Enemies on all sides like having a weak Jewish nation and hassle Nehemiah constantly. To restore the walls, he must confront an actively hostile opposition and knit a fragmented, demoralized workforce. His leadership is still a model to us 2,500 years later.
First, Nehemiah covers every task, every conflict, with prayer. He undertakes nothing without a good, solid prayer-cover. For example, in Nehemiah 4, two rival armies provocatively taunt the Jews as they work. His response? “So we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night” (Neh. 4:9).
Second, he invests his workforce in the process. He stations his soldiers to guard the parts of the wall closest to their homes, and to keep their weapons close at hand—even while they work. People fight the fiercest when they’re protecting their loved ones.
Third, Nehemiah establishes that no task is too small, too insignificant for leader or worker. Nehemiah “leads from the middle,” working among his people every step of the way. He believes that the rebuilding of these walls is a sacred task, ordained and blessed by God. Nehemiah and his servants toil side by side with the workers, and stand guard alongside the guards.
Although the opposition and problems continue, Nehemiah’s life and example invigorate the people. The Jewish state steadily grows and prospers.
When the walls and Temple are eventually rebuilt, he calls for a nationwide celebration: “They offered great sacrifices that day and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and children also rejoiced. The joy of Jerusalem was heard far away” (Neh. 12: 43, NRSV).
Why? Because this job mattered!
In fact, all jobs matter! No job is too small to merit our best effort. Our lives, our demeanor, our relationships with our coworkers in any given task are—ultimately—as important as how we accomplish a task.
God numbers the hairs on our heads, treasures the tiniest sparrows, and makes big statements about microscopic mustard seeds. God doesn't distinguish between “big picture” or “little picture,” or “macro” or “micro.”
It’s all the Big Picture.
In the end, Nehemiah was a construction foreman. He oversaw the placing of brick and mortar and rock until a wall was rebuilt. That’s the little picture.
But in the big picture, he rebuilt a community. Along with Ezra, his work united a demoralized people.
Scholars trace the birth of modern Judaism to this moment. As such, it is a watershed moment in all of history.
And it was accomplished by a leader who convinced his people to see God in the details, one brick, one rock at a time.