I was very much afraid, but I said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?"
The king said to me, “What is it you want?”
Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it.”
Then the king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked me, “How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?” It pleased the king to send me; so I set a time.
I also said to him, “If it pleases the king, may I have letters to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, so that they will provide me safe-conduct until I arrive in Judah? And may I have a letter to Asaph, keeper of the royal park, so he will give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel by the temple and for the city wall and for the residence I will occupy?” And because the gracious hand of my God was on me, the king granted my requests. So I went to the governors of Trans-Euphrates and gave them the king’s letters. The king had also sent army officers and cavalry with me.
If you have been called to leadership, then this passage should give you great insight and encouragement.
Nehemiah had the spiritual gifting of "Ruler." It's the equivalent of the spiritual gift of leadership. And have no doubt, leadership is a spiritual gift. Nehemiah's official title was cupbearer to the king (see Chp. 1), and not only was this a high ranking position in the King's court, it also meant Nehemiah was a trusted counselor of the King.
Nehemiah had been praying God would restore His people and the wall of Jerusalem, so God gave him a unique opportunity which required bold action on Nehemiah's part. When Nehemiah next had an audience with the King, and the King asked why he was sad, Nehemiah spoke up instead of cowering before his boss.
Here are four important leadership opportunity lessons we can learn from this exchange in Nehemiah 2:
1. Speak out even though you're scared. Especially because you are scared.
Once the King turned his face to Nehemiah, Nehemiah spoke out about those he loved, and was called to lead, even though he "was very much afraid."
In response to Nehemiah's statement, the King explicitly asks him, "What is it you want?" Before Nehemiah says one word, he "prayed to the God of heaven."
3. Explicitly ask for what you want, respectfully. Seize the opportunity.
After praying, Nehemiah outlined in clear terms his leadership plan: to return to his ancestors city to rebuild. But he did it with great respect for the person he reported to: if it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor...
4. Ask for everything you need.
Once Nehemiah received the King's permission, and he had outlined how long he would need to be gone, he asked for even more from the King in order to give his plan the best chance at success. He "also" said to the King, "may I have letters to the governors?" and "may I have a letter to the keeper of the royal park." Nehemiah had the foresight from preplanning that he would need more than just the King's permission. He would also need the protection of the governors of the area to return to Jerusalem as well as supplies from the park keeper to rebuild. He asked for everything he would need once the King indicated he was on board with Nehemiah's trip.
That takes GUTS! Keep in mind, Nehemiah was scared. I wonder if he thought, don't push your luck man; if you keep pushing maybe the King will change his mind. Nonetheless, he knew this would be a daunting leadership challenge which could only be accomplished with God's hand and the right plans and equipment.
I love that the story doesn't end there. God throws another line in the Bible to show how He rewards those who boldly step out in the center of their calling. Not only did Nehemiah get the letters he asked for, but the King chose to send army officers and the cavalry with Nehemiah on his journey. Part of that was God's hand on Nehemiah, but I believe part was also garnering the respect of a worldly leader who recognized Nehemiah's boldness and preparation and admired him and rewarded him accordingly.
What are you called to do? Go ahead and do it. Speak up over your fear. Pray. Ask for what you want. Keep asking until you are prepared as best as you can be for the journey ahead.