Dear Friends in Christ,

“Now when it was reported to Sanballat and Tobiah and to Geshem the Arab and to the rest of our enemies that I had built the wall and that there was no gap left in it (though up to that time I had not set up the doors in the gates), Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, “Come and let us meet together in one of the villages in the plain of Ono.” But they intended to do me harm. So, I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it to come down to you?” They sent to me four times in this way, and I answered them in the same manner” (Nehemiah 6:1-4).

The project is in the final stages. The wall around Jerusalem is nearly finished. The neatly stacked bricks have reached their proper height and the mortar is beginning to dry beneath the hot sun. The only thing that remains is to hang the heavy wooden doors. After the doors are set, it will be time to celebrate. And that’s when Nehemiah’s opponents strike. They strike at a time when it is least expected.

As a leader, maybe you’ve experienced being “blind-sided”. All seems to be going along swimmingly, but then you catch a quick glimpse of that shark slowly circling in the shallows. As Nehemiah is preparing for the last push on the wall, a message comes from Sanballat and Geshem, attempting to lure Nehemiah away from the safety of Jerusalem. “Come and let us meet together on the plain of Ono”. To which Nehemiah responds, “Oh, no!” Because he knows that Sanballat and Geshem intend to do him harm. Four times Sanballat and Geshem call Nehemiah to come to Ono and four times Nehemiah responds, “Oh, no!”

Two leadership lessons come to mind as I ponder these verses from Nehemiah chapter 6.

First, saying “No!’ is one of the most effective ways for a leader to stay “on mission”. One of the signs of a mature leader is to know when to say, “Yes!” and when to say, “No!” That’s called discernment, and discernment is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:10). Discernment allows a leader to see both the “big picture” and to “read between the lines”. Though it was never stated in the invitation, Nehemiah simply knows (discerns) that Sanballat and Geshem plan to harm him. Nehemiah discerns that Sanballat and Geshem want to get him “off mission”. Nehemiah’s mission is to build a wall, and by saying, “No” to Sanballat and Geshem’s invitation, Nehemiah is able to say “Yes” to the mission.

Second, I have learned over time the wisdom behind Jesus’ teaching, “Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’…” (Matthew 5:37a). We don’t always have to offer a detailed explanation behind our “Yes or No”. Four times Sanballat and Geshem try to get Nehemiah to come out to the Plain of Ono, and four times Nehemiah simply says “No!” “They sent to me four times in this way, and I answered them in the same manner” (Nehemiah 6:4). No! No! No! No! One of the marks of a mature leader is taking the time to prayerfully consider all sides of an issue, but then having the strength to say “yes or no” without the need to offer any further explanation. Simply let your “yes be yes” and your “no be no”.

Let us pray: Merciful God, you give us the strength that guides us in seasons of struggle. Sustain us with the promise of your presence and renew us through the power of your Holy Spirit, that our hearts and minds may be transformed. Help us to lead boldly and wisely. In the name of Jesus, crucified and risen for the world. Amen.