One of my favorite leaders from Scripture is Nehemiah. His story is quite remarkable and offers enough lessons to keep any leader fully engaged. I’ve been reading his story (again) and one of the greatest lessons is found in Nehemiah 1 when the dream was birthed in Nehemiah’s heart to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem. I’ve often asked myself, “How does a person capture a God-given vision?” I believe Nehemiah’s story provides five great insights:
1. Ask Questions – In the opening verses of chapter one, Nehemiah asked his brother, Hanani, and some Jews traveling with him, about the conditions in Jerusalem. This process of asking questions unlocks the door to vision…and quickly leads to the second step.
2. Gain Awareness of Needs and Problems – After asking about the conditions of Jerusalem, Hanani and his companions told Nehemiah, “The exile survivors who are left there in the province are in bad shape. Conditions are appalling. The wall of Jerusalem is still rubble; the city gates are still cinders” (V. 3 – The Message). When you ask questions, you invariably discover needs to be met and problems to be solved. That’s what vision is all about–it’s a heart-capturing solution to an existing need or problem. If you want to get a vision, put yourself in places that will disrupt your comfort zone.
3. Feel the Weight of the Need or Problem – Verse four begins, “When I heard this, I sat down and wept.” The need in Jerusalem was not a small issue. And when Nehemiah met with the king, the king immediately noticed his heaviness of heart. Nehemiah felt the weight of the need at hand. The problem in Jerusalem was almost overwhelming and something had to be done. As Andy Stanley (1999) says, “Anyone with a vision will tell you this is not merely something that could be done. This is something that should be done.” (p .17). And that’s how Nehemiah felt–fixing the problem in Jerusalem was a should not a could.
4. Fast and Pray – Nehemiah’s immediate response to the news was to spend time fasting and praying. I believe fasting and prayer is where leaders gain four things:
- First, they are able to discern a burden from a calling. Everybody is burdened when they see needs such as poverty, injustice, disease, abuse, and any number of rising global challenges. There are so many needs that feelings of paralysis can easily overtake us. Fasting and praying helps a leader sort through the ocean of need and drop anchor on the issues God has called them to serve.
- Second, prayer and fasting helps leaders clarify the “what” of the vision. It enables leaders to bring the vast need into clear focus.
- Third, prayer and fasting causes leaders to reflect on their own shortcomings and take responsibility for anything they’ve failed to do in response to the need. Repentance was an important part Nehemiah’s prayer.
- Forth, prayer and fasting helps leaders understand their “next steps” in pursuing the vision. Nehemiah asked God to make him successful as he took the step to meet with the king.
5. Act Courageously – Nehemiah knew that vision without action lacks traction. And the big separator between dreaming and doing is one word–courage. It requires an initial courageous act for vision to work itself out of our heart and into our hands. For Nehemiah, that required a meeting with the king where he expressed the need, shared his vision, and requested assistance to pursue it.
What’s your vision? Start asking questions, opening your eyes to the needs around you, letting those needs permeate your heart, seeking God, and acting courageously. The world is waiting!