A. Willing to do God's will (1:11-2:1)
B. Stepping out in trust (2:2)
C. Trusting for wisdom(2:3-5)
D. Acting in confidence (2:6-8)
God has destined most of His great work on earth to be accomplished through prayer. Prayer is also an important means God uses to restore His backslidden people to Himself. We need prayer to rebuild marriages. We need prayer to reach the God of Heaven for the purpose of accomplishing God's great redemptive process. Should we be surprised that Nehemiah felt compelled to give the whole story of this great rebuilding of a city by first focusing on the necessity of prayer? Not at all. We are not binding God's sovereignty to man's prayer and yet we are saying that God works out His sovereign will through our prayers so that we can take part in His great redemptive process. There is a call out to the saints of God to pray. Pray without ceasing. Pray by lifting holy hands. Pray while it is still day for soon cometh the night when no man can work. Prayer is not as many think an irrelevant or secondary activity of passive saints. Instead prayer is what every great man and woman of God have discovered to be the key to bringing God's dynamic and redemptive will to earth. All these verses in Nehemiah 1 do not allow us to overlook this. May they by God's grace bring us to our knees.
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One of the main criticisms of prayer is that it is a passive work. Let me discuss two reasons people perceive prayer to be passive.
First of all, they think prayer is passive because there is a lack of bodily activity. Some people think that nothing happens when we pray because we do nothing. Why would they think this? They think this because it is not the world's way. The world's way is full of activity. Jumping into the politics, management and financial realm of things. They have seen things happen when people start writing checks. I am not denying some things happen when man does write checks or drive to the State House to voice their opinion. However acting without prayer is like putting the car in drive without your hands on the steering wheel. We will get something done, but the question still lingers are we getting done what God wants to get done. Although I do not have time to go into it, let me simply say that prayer is not at all passive but active. You might see a man or woman, a dad or mom or son or daughter on their knees but they are doing more than the one running about driving here and there. Physical restraint of the body does not imply inactivity as sleeping does. The people who believe this have a hard time understanding the spiritual world. For the one who is praying has an alert spirit moving about becoming the vehicle God's holy power accomplishing the will of God.
But there is another misconception which is our chief concern today to understand and apply. Prayer seems to be a passive and poor response to the needs around us. People think that everyone who prays is in their heart being responsibly lazy. They perhaps have seen some pray and yet be reluctant to be part of the answer to their prayer. This however is not prayer according to God's will. Howard Reiss, a great man of prayer, in the end said that he will never pray for anything he is not willing to be part of the answer. I think this is the right attitude that each of us need to take. Nehemiah took this stance. There were several godly people praying with Nehemiah but only one went before the king. The main principles are these:
God asks us to desire His will.
God asks us to be willing to be part of doing His will.
God sometimes asks us to actually take active roles other than prayer.
It is crucial to know and desire God's will to be done. But you need a bold and trusting man and woman of God to say I am willing to be part of what you lay on my heart to pray. It is a scary task. It is not a light one, but it is a very needed task. Genuine prayer is not passive. Prayer is dynamic in that you are making God's will to be done on earth. Prayer is active even though the body is still. Honest prayer demands the person praying to be wiling to be part of the means God is going to use to accomplish this matter. And this is just where we find Nehemiah. Let's then look at four characteristics that the person of God needs to see God's will done.
A. Willing to do God's will (1:11-2:1)
We need to be honest. Men have regularly tried to step away from the call of God, and no doubt sometimes they have. Moses tried to excuse himself from speaking to Pharaoh because he was a non charismatic, non-public speaking type. We might hear someone excuse themselves today by saying , "It isn't just me." God said He would rectify this problem. But Moses went on fussing and then the honor of the call was divided and shared out of default with Aaron who was not equipped at the time to assist him. We can argue with God, but we never win even if we seem to win.
Nehemiah began to feel a burden from God for His people to come upon Him. He was praying but then he sensed that maybe God was going to use him in his unique position to speak to the king of the world Persian empire. We must not think that it was natural or easy for him to initiate a conversation with the emperor. This was not a democratic arrangement where men were equal. One could not express his own thoughts unless they were asked for by the king. And as we see here in the first verses of chapter 2, he was not even allowed to show his own heart. He could not display or reflect his own problems or concerns. Nehemiah was a good servant to the emperor precisely because he could through self discipline put the king's wishes above his own. He was sad but he was not allowed to display his sadness. In 2:1 he says,
Application Is God asking you to be willing to do something? Some people are hung up fearing that God would appoint them to be some missionary in a place they would never like to go. So they harden their hearts. But don't you think that God would prepare you for what He has you to do? We need to trust the judgment of the God who designed us. We must be willing. If not, you are part of the problem. Are you part of the problem or solution?
""George Mueller said that in order to receive counsel "the first step is to get [the heart] into such a state that it has no will of its own in a given matter. When you are ready to do the Lord's will, whatever it may be, nine-tenths of the difficulties are overcome." (ATI Handbook, p. 16)
B. Stepping out in trust (2:2) Stepping out Lost control
The first characteristic of the person God uses is willingness. The second is to step out in trust. Nehemiah had used such total self-control before that when he did choose to express his feelings, he was very scared. For the brief moment he showed his grief over the Israelites' predicament. As he did so, he realized that he had stepped where he had never gone before. He was out on the limb of life. By being vulnerable, he did two things:
1) He was being faithful to what God had moved his heart to do, and
2) He was risking his wonderful position in life filled with the presence of luxuries beyond the average person could ever think. He was even risking his life. As the cupbearer to the king, he tasted the food and wine the king was about to eat and drink. He was there at the king's right hand to listen and hear all that the king shared, to see what the king saw. He was a man of great trust for if someone wanted the king dead they would try to poison the king through bribing the cupbearer. What a wonderful place to work! But he was willing to forsake it all if needed be for the sake of obedience.
Once his face showed his grief, he had already stepped out onto that limb. That branch was never tested before. Before he used his wisdom to get where he had come. Now he had no control over the situation. He was not just afraid but "very much afraid."
Have you ever been afraid of doing the will of God? About one year ago God began to push me to write to the Post-Gazette about their pornographic ads. This might seem to be a minor thing to you, but it was not for me. I was in prayer when this burden about how terrible it is that ads would so vaunt a woman or man's body to booster their sales. But it grieved my heart. I was very busy with so many things, but I know I had to step out from my zone of comfort to where I felt vulnerable. I praise God that from that time on the ads were much better, though there has of recent been another increase of dishonorable pictures. How can one letter make a difference? Who am I to rebuke the Post Gazette? But I did as the Lord dictated. I was not risking my life and house, but I was making a small step in saying that I would be vulnerable in doing God's will if He so desired. I would not limit what I do with familiarity. We would never do God's will that way for this is not the way of faith.
Application Are you willing to be vulnerable for the Lord? Are we willing to step out and do what God is pushing our hearts to do? I will tell you straightforward that God has asked us to do certain things but until we do them, then we will not have peace in our hearts. You can find counselors, get doped up on drugs, entertain yourself, but to no avail. For vulnerability is the very trust in God, the step in faith, the belief that what God can do or wants is more important than your preferences in your life. Without this stepping out in faith, we are stepping back into unbelief.
C. Trusting for wisdom(2:3-5)
When Nehemiah stepped out in faith, and yes to be true, fear, he was in great need of help. What would he say? Would he be able to say anything? Nehemiah just came out with what was true. Let's note different aspects of what he said.
1. He was polite. He did not get prideful thinking now that God has spoken to him that he was the greatest person on the earth. He said in verse 3 what protocol asked for, "Let the king live forever." He respected people for the places and positions God had put them.
2. He was honest and clear. Nehemiah did not need to be a great speaker and practiced logician. Like the prophets, he spoke what God put on his heart. The burden had been with him for days. During his days of fasting and praying and weeping, only these people were on his heart. He said,
"Why should my face not be sad when the city, the place of my fathers' tombs, lies desolate and its gates have been consumed by fire?"
3. He prayed. Before Nehemiah went on any further, He asked God for help and wisdom. I doubt he bowed down and prayed at that time. Instead, as he was thinking, he sent up one of those emergency prayers. God help me. His is praying without ceasing. He was dependent upon God.
4. He was detailed. After the king asked what Nehemiah wanted, Nehemiah did not back down to protect his life. He didn't say, "Oh it doesn't matter." Or "maybe you could help them out somehow." He clearly saw this as God's opening though still what he answered might be used to condemn him. So Nehemiah finally put forward a very demanding but clear proposition, "If it please the king, and if your servant has found favor before you, send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers' tombs, that I may rebuild it." There were a couple of factors to notice:
He did not demand but honored the king's privilege to give or not to give.
He mentioned his sincere connections to the place.
He asked specifically to rebuild the city he was from. He did not say Jerusalem.
Lastly, he volunteered himself to go and build.
The last item is perhaps the most significant thing stated. For the plan and project rested on someone that would submit to the king. The king knew Nehemiah could be trusted, and that in his heart Nehemiah really did respect the king.
Even though God gave him wisdom, it was not evident that he would be allowed to live. He had broken royal protocol. Remember Daniel's three friends seemed to say the right thing but were thrown into the furnace. Even Daniel kept doing what was proper by praying three times a day, but it didn't help him from being thrown into the lion's den. They were saved out of their disastrous situations. Steven, however in the New Testament, spoke a wonderful sermon filled with the Holy Spirit . But these words became his last words. He was stoned to death. Wisdom does not mean deliverance, but it is obedience.
D. Acting in confidence (2:6-8)
The last thing to note is Nehemiah's boldness. We sometimes doubt whether Nehemiah was really as afraid as said in verse 2 because he did such a good job. But frankly I often feel more afraid at the beginning of an important task. I believe this is often exaggerated by the evil one who is trying to prevent one from doing something. For example, I have witnessed to hundreds if not thousands of people in many different parts of the world with different languages and in different settings such as on ships, airplanes, taxi cabs and on foot. I have visited numerous people in their homes sharing the gospel and out on the street whether privately or to a crowd. But every time I am about to start, there seems an unnatural fear that comes over me. That fear is almost talking to me, "Don't do it." Once I start, the fear is completely gone. This is why I do not think it has to do with experience but with Satan trying to hold back the declaration of the Gospel. But those filled with the Spirit find that a holy boldness comes over them to overcome natural and supernatural fears (Acts 4:8).
In this case, Nehemiah's fear also seemed to disappear. He was bold after he got his foothold in the door. After the king gave public articulation of how God was preparing him, he could see that something further was needed. Listen to verse 6. He was being honest and yet subtle. He did not mention what people. He only mentioned his great grief over their condition.
"Then the king said to me, the queen sitting beside him, "How long will your journey be, and when will you return?" So it pleased the king to send me, and I gave him a definite time."
But he went on specifically asking for what the king generally granted. He wanted to take advantage of God's work on the king's heart. He had probably heard numerous times what was needed in building cities or destroying kingdoms. He asked specifically for letters to the appropriate people to get done what was done. Nehemiah probably never thought the conversations he overheard as the king's cupbearer would lead to a clear proposal of what he needed to rebuild Jerusalem.
Sometimes we fear whether we are properly prepared to do a certain task. But if the Lord has burdened us to be part of the task, then we better trust Him that He knows best. Don't worry about doing a shoddy job; we have to trust Him for wisdom to get His work done in a way that pleases Him. This is why "gifts and calling" are inseparable from each other as Romans 11:29 says.
Application We must repent from the numerous circumstances that we have turned down but to be bold to do what God wants in His way. Ask for necessary boldness. He will help. Repent from our doubts and timidity. Ask God to fill us with the Holy Spirit to do what He desires.
Was Nehemiah a special man? We would probably say yes even though his burden and environment seems so far from ours. But it was not his cupbearer royal position that made him so important but that he was willing to give it up for the sake of obedience to God. What we choose to hold onto is what we loose, but those things we deliberately give up for the purpose of fulfilling the will of God are transformed into things that we never could get.
Biblical Foundations for Freedom