The Burden of a Spiritual Leader
BIBLE TEXT Nehemiah 1
Nehemiah stands out as one whose leadership abilities are worth emulating. He was not part of the Jewish religious “elite” (such as priest, prophet or king). He was “a cup-bearer” (a very privileged position) of King Artaxerxes I of Persia. But he left his comfortable lifestyle in Persia to lead a third group of the Israelite returnees back to Jerusalem where he embarked on a project to rebuild the wall. The project was completed in a record 52 days!
But how does all this begin? When Hanani, returned from Jerusalem, Nehemiah inquired from him about the state of Jerusalem. The report about wasn’t good: “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire” (Neh. 1:3). Instead of complaining and apportioning blame to others, Nehemiah owns up the challenge. The state of the city and people of Israel becomes his personal burden. He “sat down and wept. For some days [he] mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven” (Neh. 1:4).
As someone put it, “the world is won by tired people” who refuse to settle for less than what God intended for them. Great leadership is born out of a burden—a holy discomfort and discontent about the status quo. Spiritual leaders recognize that we are not what God intended us to be, we are not where God wants us to be, that something is not right. It is this inner conviction that things must change that makes a leader.
I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s house, have committed against you (Nehemiah 1:6).
This burden then motivates one to ask pertinent questions: How did we get here in the first place? What went wrong? What essentially distinguishes spiritual leaders from any other leader is how they answer these questions. Spiritual leaders interpret reality from God’s point of view. It all begins by realizing that we are where we are because of our sin. We disobeyed God’s righteous commands. Human responses will not fix the world problems. The root of the world problems is not essentially political, economic, military, or ecological. It is essentially, a sin problem. And unless we first fix the sin problem, all other interventions will at best be superficial. The right place to begin is by getting right with God (repentance). The spiritual leader’s burden leads one to God’s presence, pleading for God’s mercy, grace and wisdom. The other actions proceed from our encounter with the Lord.