The Leadership "One-Two Punch"


It was a boxing fan’s dream. On May 25, 1965, Muhammad Ali stepped into the ring against the formidable Sonny Liston.

At stake: the Heavyweight Championship Of The World. People who came to see an epic battle went home disappointed. Ali landed a knockout punch and disposed of Liston before the bell ended the first round. Wouldn’t it be nice if all the leadership challenges you face could be knocked out in the first round?

Every day, leaders step into the ring.  We lace up the gloves and stare into the menacing faces of our adversaries: problem people, big projects, pesky problems.

When we go toe-to-toe with an opponent it is usually a hard-fought, twelve-round affair. And for those battles we need God’s one-two punch, found in the book of Nehemiah.

Nehemiah assumed the monumental task of rebuilding three miles of protective walls around the city of Jerusalem, all the time under the constant threat of attack from his adversaries. Just when it looks like his challenger has him on the ropes, Nehemiah comes back with God’s one–two punch. Can you spot it?

So we built the wall. And all the wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work. But when Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs and the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repairing of the walls of Jerusalem was going forward and that the breaches were beginning to be closed, they were very angry. And they all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it.  And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night. Nehemiah 4:6-9

The leadership one-two punch is a potent combination of prayer and work!

Leaders must pray

It is interesting to me that Nehemiah, who is a leader par excellence, is also a prayer warrior. Nehemiah helps me understand both why I must pray and how I must pray. Let’s start with the why:

  • We pray because of who God is (Nehemiah 4:14) God is “great and awesome.” Nehemiah knew that no matter what problem he faced, God was bigger than that.
  • We pray because of what God has done (Nehemiah 4:15; Psalm 77:11) The psalmist said, “I will remember the deeds of the LORD.” Christian leaders look back to move forward. We remember how God came through in the past and that encourages us to trust him in our present troubles.
  • We pray because of what God will do (Nehemiah 4:20) Nehemiah didn’t demand God’s help, but knowing God, he learned to expected it.

If you want to see how Nehemiah prays, check out 10 Prayers Of A Leader.

Leaders must work

Nehemiah prayed, but he didn’t stop with prayer. He got to work. “We prayed to our God and set a guard.” As I study the life of Nehemiah, I see three kinds of work the leader must do:

  1. The quiet work of assessment (Nehemiah 1-2; 4:14) Some live by the motto, ”Ready, fire, aim!” Not Nehemiah. He didn’t proceed until he carefully assessed the situation.
  2. The powerful work of encouragement (Nehemiah 4:14) Sam Rayburn, former Speaker of the House, quipped, “Any jackass can knock down a barn, it takes a skilled carpenter to build one up.” Nehemiah encouraged his team: “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the LORD, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers . . . “
  3. The essential work of involvement (Nehemiah 4) Nehemiah was not content to stand comfortably on the sidelines while others did the work. He rolled up his sleeves and got busy for God.

What has you up against the ropes? Don’t stand there and get beaten to a pulp. Fire back with God’s one-two punch.



  1. Do you lean more toward praying yourself out of your problems or working yourself out of your problems? What does this say about your leadeship?
  2. What have you learned about God’s nature and character that should make you want to pray to him?
  3. Nehemiah did the quiet work of assessment. Where do you need to do some careful assessment before moving forward?
  4. Nehemiah encouraged others with his word and presence. Who needs your encouragement today?
  5. What do you need to bring to the Lord in prayer? Where do you need to stop procrastinating and get to work?