Of Bricks & Books, Swords & Sanitizer

education Oct 08, 2021

Attendance down; a weakened economy; powerful and partisan politicians; infighting; conflicting reports; inadequate resources; and mandates to produce.

Sound familiar? Take heart!

A story from ancient days showcases leadership lessons as applicable to the days of masks and physical distancing and sanitizer by the barrel as they were to the time of bricks and buckets and swords.

2,500 years ago Jerusalem lay in ruins – ransacked by the Babylonians in 586 B.C., and emptied of its people, carted off as slaves. A generation later Nehemiah, a Persian court servant-official, received permission to return to Jerusalem and oversee the rebuilding of its walls. This wasn’t an aesthetic endeavor, motivated by a desire to beautify the city. Walls were the first line of military defense, crucial to a community’s survival. This Old Testament account packs an astounding array of leadership strategies into 13 chapters. Let’s examine 12.

  • Nehemiah seeks and receives approval from the king (the ruling authority) to pursue his desire to see Jerusalem’s walls rebuilt. To be certain, any Biblical principle taken out of context and/or automatically applied apart from the remainder of Scripture, results in disappointment or disaster. Other stories, such as Daniel being ordered to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s statue, teaches us man’s laws never trump God’s. But we have no indication Nehemiah needs to steal away from the palace or denounce the king to complete his God-ordained mission. In fact, receiving His Majesty’s approval helps confirm Nehemiah’s role as Jerusalem’s Wall-Restorer.
  • Nehemiah has orders put in writing, guaranteeing him safe passage. He knows relying only on his claims about what the king has said may cause delays at best and disaster at worst. Uncertainty and anxiety seem to produce a lot of forgetfulness in ourselves and others. Written policies and communication promote safety.
  • He requests a grant to obtain necessary supplies. In his case, timber. Today it might be technology. Or thermometers, masks, shields, or disinfectants. He thinks ahead and isn’t shy about asking for materials to complete the job.

Jesus used a variety of methods to heal, and God’s supply train runs on creative tracks.

  • He gets going. He doesn’t just keep holding meetings and drawing up new “wall specification” plans. He prepares -- enough to be productive, not perfect.
  • He immediately encounters opposition. The local authorities of neighboring villages aren’t interested in anyone’s welfare but their own. A rebuilt Jerusalem didn’t threaten their survival – just their lifestyle. Weigh someone’s motives when they support and when they resist. Look closely to see what’s behind their behavior, being mindful of the possibility of misdiagnosing intent.

All disagreement in method isn’t disapproval of mission. All agreement on path isn’t unity of purpose.

  • Nehemiah conducts a firsthand inspection of the situation before communicating his objective. Second-hand reports are good, and it’s necessary to have reliable people as it’s impossible to fact-check everything.

But the more serious the situation, the more critical to have firsthand information, especially initially.

  • He deals with escalating opposition; he’s not disoriented or distracted by it. As his enemies move from unhappiness to sarcasm, from anger and insults to plots and criminal accusations, Nehemiah responds appropriately. He factors in possible harm posed to the mission and the team. He doesn’t ignore, minimize, or exaggerate problems. He confronts obstacles without being consumed by them. He remains fixed on his commission, not winning over his enemies or arguing with them.
  • He equips his team for fast transitions. Brick layers carry trowels and swords. Rubble removers cart buckets and bows. People are prepared to move from construction to combat in a moment’s notice. Team members don’t stand around lamenting “I didn’t sign up for this.”

They are so unified in completing their mission they accept building methods have changed and the old way of wall-building is gone.

  • He deals with in-house issues. One would hope a crisis would bring an alignment of priorities amongst a team. Wrong! Human deficiencies don’t dissipate in difficult times. Nehemiah doesn’t shame those with legitimate complaints or dismiss them with “I’ve got bigger problems right now.”

He realizes damage can come from in-house unresolved issues, not only external adversaries.

Educators burdened with the logistical, financial, relational, and psychological demands of the coronavirus can be especially tempted to roll their eyes (at least inwardly) when someone complains about the cost of curriculum. But if enough people are frustrated about the expense, it will erode morale and can sabotage success.

  • Nehemiah delegates. He appoints reliable people to positions with the authority to carry out clear instructions. There’s no ambiguity about their role. It’s defined; limited; achievable. They are responsible to implement policies which safeguard the city. He’s not threatened by others holding power; he sees this as a necessity, freeing his time and energy to complete his calling.
  • He implements plans for Jerusalem’s long-term success which are not dependent on his being governor. He seeks to embed values and systems to be passed from generation to generation. He understands the end goal is not the rebuilding of walls; it’s the rebuilding of a city, a people, a nation. A strong Jerusalem – the historic political and spiritual capital of the Jewish nation – will inspire hope for a renewed people.

Restored walls aren’t the target; they are progress towards it.

  • Nehemiah prays. Humbly. Boldly. Specifically. He laments, petitions, repents, reminds, worships, and praises. God is not an indifferent Being to him. God is a mighty, holy, caring, dependable Person with whom Nehemiah can converse. He knows the source of his desire to see Jerusalem rebuilt is God. His supplier is God. His shield is God. The deep spring watering his strength and strategies is not his position as royal cupbearer or city governor; it isn’t self-determination; it’s not forceful personality. It is a vibrant relationship with God.

Nehemiah armed his team with bricks and swords. You may need books and sanitizer. Or video conferencing tools and online forums. Whatever immediate project needs completing, copy Nehemiah’s lesson book. Your team’s accomplishments can be just as astounding as Nehemiah’s. The same God of strategy and strength is still here – an ever-present help in time of trouble!



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