When we are given a tasking, either a challenging one or a routine one, we don’t just turn up on the day and wing it – prior planning and preparation is absolutely vital if you are going to do a decent job. The ability to think through what’s required, recruit help, get advice and do your homework, is what sets leaders apart from the pack.
Nehemiah’s historical journal has a lot to teach us about leadership. Right at the outset, we see that he is presented with disturbing news about his home city, Jerusalem, and he immediately starts to think about how to remedy the situation:
“Things are not going well for those who returned to the province of Judah. They are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem has been torn down, and the gates have been destroyed by fire.”Nehemiah 1:3
It is 446BC (only 34 years after the Persians attempted to overrun Greece, but were thwarted by the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae). The Jewish people were being held captive by the Persians under King Artaxerses, and Nehemiah, being a man of noble birth, had an important position within the Kings household. This means he had direct access to the king, but not the authority to blunder in with his requests of help. So, what he does is sets about planning what was needed so that when the opportunity came, he was prepared – and his diligence paid off.
Some of the people had already been sent back to Jerusalem to resettle, but those who had backfilled the void when they had originally left, did not want them to return and therefore continually harassed them. It was evident that the wall around the city needed to be rebuilt if this was going to stop, and Nehemiah was determined to do something about it and after a few months his opportunity came.
“So the king asked me, “Why are you looking so sad? You don’t look sick to me. You must be deeply troubled.” Then I was terrified, but I replied, “Long live the king! How can I not be sad? For the city where my ancestors are buried is in ruins, and the gates have been destroyed by fire.” The king asked, “Well, how can I help you?”Nehemiah 2:2-4
Even though he was terrified of the King (and who wouldn’t be), he made his requests in great detail: he asked to be sent back to rebuild the walls, as this seemed to him the best solution; he asked if he could have letters of authority for safe passage, as he understood the problems he might face if he didn’t have official proof of his authority to go; he asked for permission to obtain materials for the job in hand, having thought about what was needed and also knew who was the best person to get them from. By the grace of God, the king also sent troops to accompany them on their way.
“I also said to the king, “If it please the king, let me have letters addressed to the governors of the province west of the Euphrates River, instructing them to let me travel safely through their territories on my way to Judah. And please give me a letter addressed to Asaph, the manager of the king’s forest, instructing him to give me timber. I will need it to make beams for the gates of the Temple fortress, for the city walls, and for a house for myself.” And the king granted these requests, because the gracious hand of God was on me.”Nehemiah 2:7-8
Nehemiah was about to have many challenging adventures in carrying out this tasking, but his prior planning and preparation served him well and gave him a good head start. The outcome was mission success and he was eventually made the governor of Jerusalem for his efforts.
If you plan and prepare with diligence, you too, when given opportunity, could do very well. It is however, worth noting that in Nehemiah’s case, he had the favour of God upon him. You can see from the story that he had prayed about everything, putting it all into Gods care and God then caused the circumstances to come about by which all these events became a success.
Even still, there is some truth to the paradoxical: