By Melissa McLaughlin

The story of Nehemiah is one that grabs my heart every time. From beginning to end, I see a man of strength through surrender. Though the concept of surrendered leadership seems a contradiction, when we are surrendered to the Lord, it becomes our greatest strength.

The Story of Nehemiah

Nehemiah’s story took place after the fall of Jerusalem. He was among those taken captive by the Babylonians and served as cupbearer to the king. In chapter one, when Nehemiah was apprised of the severe damage to the wall surrounding Jerusalem, he wept before the Lord in total mournful surrender. His next action step was prayer and fasting. More surrender. We get a glimpse of Nehemiah’s humility through this prayer, steeped in surrender:

Nehemiah 1:5-11 – And I said, “O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’ 10 They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. 11 O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”

Powerful Prayer of Surrender

The weight of power in this prayer is contained in its humble posture because through human surrender, it is inherently built on the strength of God. Nehemiah’s prayer included several areas of surrender:

1.Praise and Thanksgiving – He began with an acknowledgement of God’s greatness and the greatness of His love.

2.Repentance and Confession of Sin – He confessed the sin of his people and the sin in his own life.

3.Claiming God’s righteous judgments and the truth of God’s Word – He agreed with the rightness of God’s judgment over sin in the past and stood on the truth of God’s promises in response to repentance in the future.

4.Calling on God for help – He requested God’s help as he asked the king for permission to leave his duties as cupbearer in order to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem.

Clearly, a surrendered prayer is a powerful prayer.

Facing Opposition Through Prayer

In chapter 2, when Nehemiah was asked by the king why he was so sad, he paused to pray before speaking, a demonstration of his ongoing dependence upon the Lord God.

Nehemiah was granted all he requested of the king, yet he gave God the credit for this accomplishment. More surrender.

As Nehemiah traveled toward Jerusalem, though he met with opposition still he continued on. After arriving there, he began an inspection of the city wall at night, because he had not yet told the people what God laid on his heart. In the quiet of his heart, in the quiet of night, he carried out the work of the Lord. A living illustration of surrender to God’s call.

Once he understood the scope of the damages, he presented his plan to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem to the remnant of Israelites living in the area. As he encouraged the people to take part in this noble task, he again gave glory to God. The people were moved by Nehemiah’s plea and agreed to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem.

As soon as Nehemiah and the remnant of Israelites began to rebuild, opponents from the surrounding area accused them of rebelling against the king. Nehemiah responded not with his own strength, but with the strength of His God.

Opposition Continued

As Nehemiah and the people continued the work, the opposition against them grew steadily stronger. First the outsiders mocked them, stating that the wall wasn’t strong enough to hold a fox. How did Nehemiah respond? With prayer.

Next the antagonists plotted to fight Nehemiah and the workers, so they prayed and set a guard as protection. Prayer and a guard was their corresponding level of protection.

The threats intensified against Nehemiah and the people, so they set up more guards. Nehemiah buoyed their spirits by reminding them of God’s greatness:

Nehemiah 4:14 – “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.”

Due to rising hostility, Nehemiah organized half the people to work on construction while the other half held weapons, spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail. Workers carried construction materials in one hand and weapons in the other. They began sleeping inside the city, fully clothed, ready to protect themselves if need be.

More Opposition

As another tactic to halt the wall, their foes extorted extra taxes from the workers. Nehemiah listened to the concerns of the workers, reacted with compassion, rightful anger and honorable actions, bringing an end to this injustice.

Once the wall was of a substantive size, the adversaries tried to lure Nehemiah to an open plain to do him harm. He did not acquiesce nor did he feed into their confrontation. He politely explained that he could not step away from this great work at this time.

Knowing they were thwarted once again, the enemies sent an open letter stating that Nehemiah was building this wall in an attempt to become king himself. Nehemiah denied the false claims and prayed for renewed strength.

Adding insult to injury, a false prophet from among his own people joined the conflict, by attempting to get Nehemiah to sin against God by hiding in the Temple, where no one but a priest was allowed to go. Nehemiah refused to dishonor the Lord though the attack was now directed at him personally. Even this internal treachery did not stop him.

Nehemiah Succeeds with God’s Help

Despite all manner of resistance, after a mere 52 days, Nehemiah and the remnant of Israel completed the wall of Jerusalem! Now even their enemies admitted that God was indeed on their side. God’s strength was made abundantly clear through the daily surrender of His people.

Nehemiah continued leading with a posture of surrender, for once he called the Israelite families to return to Jerusalem, their first task was to read God’s Word to the whole assembly. The priest, Ezra, read the Book of the Law of Moses aloud. The people listened and responded with heartfelt worship.

Nehemiah 8:6 – And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. 

Nehemiah, Ezra and the priests who were helping teach the people God’s law, uplifted them with these words:

Nehemiah 8:10b – And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” 

What can we learn from Nehemiah’s strength in surrender?

1.Begin in prayer and fasting.

2.Pray a surrendered prayer.

3.Ask for God’s leading, strength and help all along the way.

4.Believe God’s Word and trust His power to accomplish His plans.

5.Seek to employ wisdom, compassion and respect when communicating with those around you, yet remain aware and alert to ungodly opposition.

6.Employ all the weapons of spiritual warfare. (Ephesians 6:10-18)

7.Return to the Word of God again and again.

8.Remember: The joy of the Lord is your strength.

Is God asking you to surrender a part of your life to Him?

Take heart! Surrendering before the Lord is our greatest strength!

Additional Resources:

Order my book on prayer: In Dark of Night When Words Fail, Voice of Jesus Pray for Me

Gentleness – Divinely-Balanced Strength By Melissa McLaughlin

When Everything Falls Apart – 7 Strategies to Get You Through