Characteristics of a spiritual leader

by Aug 28, 2023

Estimated reading time: 5 Minutes.

Series: The New Exodus

Today we will see how Ezra and Nehemiah show us important characteristics of a Christian leader. Let’s see some of them:
Prayer and fasting are characteristics of a spiritual leader.

What did these leaders do that made them stand out? First, they both believed in the discipline of fasting. In Ezra 8, as Ezra and a large group of Jews prepare to leave Babylon and return home, Ezra proclaims a fast. Ezra proclaimed a fast for the people, seeking God’s protection over them during the journey. During this time of fasting, they pray to God and he listens to them (Ezra 8:21-23). When Nehemiah learns that Jerusalem is in ruins, his response is to pray and fast (Nehemiah 1:4). And by leading the people through a collective confession of sin, Nehemiah declares a time of fasting (9:1). Both men were committed to the complementary disciplines of fasting and prayer.

Martin Luther is often called the father of the Protestant Reformation. His attack on the practice of indulgences, his explanations of imputed (given) righteousness and salvation by faith alone, and his translation of the Bible into German for all to read are fundamental pillars of the modern Protestant faith. In addition to his voluminous output, he was a man of prayer. But Luther is reported to have said, “I have so much to do today that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” It’s easy to imagine him saying it, given all we know about this man and the priority he placed on prayer. Prayer and fasting are key elements of a spiritual leader.

As Mahatma Gandhi worked to create the modern nation of India, he often turned to fasting as a means of bringing about the change he was trying to facilitate. Notably, in 1948, at the age of 78, Gandhi fasted in Delhi to stop fighting between Muslims and Hindus. His fast lasted six days but was instrumental in bringing peace to the city. Fasting is a spiritual discipline in all religions. In Christianity, we often fast when we are upset by what we see going on around us and want God to bring about a change.

A spiritual leader speaks the truth in love.

Who were Ezra and Nehemiah? We receive a brief biography of Ezra in chapter 7:6. There we learn that Ezra was “a scribe expert in the law of Moses” whose heart was set “to study the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach his statutes and ordinances in Israel” (v. 10). Nehemiah had a different background but the same heart. We read in Nehemiah 1:11 that he was “the king’s cupbearer.” The king that Nehemiah served was King Artaxerxes. Later, Nehemiah is given the title of Governor of Judah (Nehemiah 5:14). So Ezra was a spiritual leader who influenced the political situation, while Nehemiah was a political

Leader with deep faith in God.

Both leaders were also people who spoke with great boldness, either to God, to the leaders of the world at the time, or to their own leaders in Judah. After a very honest prayer to God
Concerning intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews (Ezra 9:9-15), Ezra tells all the men of Judah and Benjamin: “They have broken the faith and married foreign women, and thus increased the guilt of Israel. Now therefore, confess yourselves to the LORD, the God of your fathers, and do his will. Keep away from the peoples of the land and from foreign women” (Ezra 10:10-11). It’s never easy to tell someone they’ve made a mistake, even if you have the truth of God’s Word to fall back on. It’s especially difficult when you’re addressing a large gathering of colleagues and telling them a hard truth. But Ezra loved them enough to be able to tell them that what they were doing was not for their good or for the good of God’s people.

A spiritual leader acts in faith, is proactive

Nehemiah was also capable of being bold. During his time, there was a great famine and many of the poor suffered disproportionately to those who were better off. The poor went hungry and did everything possible to get grain to eat, and the rich took advantage of their need (Nehemiah 5:1-5).
When Nehemiah finds out about this, he gets very angry and gathers the nobles and officials and rebukes them, telling them that what they are doing is wrong. They need to help each other (Nehemiah 5:6-13). A Christian leader is capable of speaking boldly to God’s people and lovingly conveying God’s will for their lives. Both Ezra and Nehemiah were able to do this.

A spiritual leader is committed to God above all else.

Nehemiah and Ezra were able to exercise leadership in the field because they were committed to God above everything and everyone else. Leaders cannot please people, but must commit to pleasing

God (Galatians 1:10). As you think about your own life, ask yourself: Does your commitment to God outweigh your good reputation with your peers? Does your commitment to God come first when it comes to how you spend your time, your finances, or the relationships you build with others? Are you willing to denounce your own people about sin in the midst of your community, even if it makes you unpopular with others?

God wants to raise up Christian leaders who seek him out, who love him and who serve him with all their hearts, will you be one of them? I hope in God so be it. May the Lord bless you.


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