Month: February 2018
Psalm 66:1 (in the NIV) declares!
Shout with joy to God, all the earth! Sing the glory of his name; make his praise glorious!
Loud, exuberant, whole-hearted praise & thanks to God is always appropriate! A subdued, disengaged time of worship when the gathered church meets, or a worship-deficient personal life-style is just out of place with the reality of who our God is and what He has done for us.
Having re-built the wall, re-populated the city, renewed their faith and their covenant with God, having renewed their contributions to God’s house now it was time for praise and thanks.
Nehemiah and Ezra organise a praise party, a celebration of glorious praise befitting of the exhortation of Psalm 66:2.
Two great choirs are amassed to help in dedicating the city to God. A dedication that was to be full of gladness, thanksgiving, singing & musical instruments… The worship was lead by singers with Jezrahiah as their leader and the time of worship was so great, so gloriously magnificent that the ‘joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.’ (vs43)
Corporate worship is so important to God’s people. God gifts people with singing ability, with worshipful hearts, with skill on instruments and with leadership and the best use of those gifts is to cause God’s people to remember, to reflect and to thank God in songs of exuberant praise that are worthy of our magnificent God.
Oh, how I love to worship with God’s people in moments like this! May our praise, our thanks and our worship in church always reflect our magnificent God, who He is and what He has done for us. I urge you to bring your part every-time we gather – together making His praise glorious! Amen.
In chapter 10 we read all the names of the people who as representatives signed the renwal of the covenant with God. And we read details of how they renewed their contributions, their giving to the temple so that something could happen…
God’s design was always that 11 of the 12 tribes had been given land so that they could work the land and provide for themselves and that they should also bring their tithes into God’s storehouse which in turn would provide for the 12th tribe – the Levites who weren’t given their own fields/lands and so couldn’t provide for themselves but needed to rely on the other 11 tribes as they devoted themselves to serving in worship and ministry.
God’s design was that 1 tribe would consecrate (set themselves aside to focus on something) themselves so that they could serve God and serve the other 11 tribes by ministering to them. And God’s design was that the other 11 tribes would commit to that 1 tribe in providing for them and would benefit from that 1 tribe in that they would be ministered to by that tribe.
God’s design is still the same, some are gifted and then set apart to give all their time to serving God by ministering to His people for their benefit, and those they minister to would in turn provide for them. A symbiotic relationship that serves God’s purposes in all people.
This incredible chapter of Scripture looks back on the story of God’s people from the time of Abraham to the present time of Nehemiah and the story is a remarkable one!
Read through the chapter and make note of every reference to God, every thing that describes who God is, what God is like & what God has done for His people…
What emerges is a powerfully clear incredible portrait of our great God!
Now go back through the chapter and look for every reference to God’s people and make not of how they/we are described…
They were and we too are a weak, disobedient people!
God is so patient with me and with you. God is so faithful and gracious and loving inspite of what we are like. Thank Him and praise Him!
The renewal that started as Ezra read out the from the Book of the Law in 8:1-8 continues into a second day of rediscovering God’s word. In verse 13 we read that a group of people; heads of household, levites and priests got together for the express purpose of studying God’s Word together.
As they do so, they uncover a festival (the festival of Booths/Tabernacles) that had been ignored. It was a festival that looked back on the goodness of God’s care and provision for the people of God during the Wilderness years. They instruct the people to not mourn but to rejoice and to partake in this 7 day festival of feasting, sharing and joyful thanks to God.
So what? What relevance does this have to your life and mine?
Two things strike me from this verses.
1. Reading in Community
This rediscovery of God’s will for His people came about because a group of people got together to study God’s Word together. Historically, God’s word has not been read primarily in private but was more a communal activity.
We find this hard to imagine in our era which has the Bible unprecedentedly available on every device we own, and many believers frequently having more than one Bible in their homes.
There is something powerful about reading God’s Word in community, with others, allowing God to speak to you through others and to others from His Word. I love how this renewal of this festival God had initiated 1000yrs earlier was re-discovered as it were by the returning exiles as they read God’s word, studying it together.
I urge you to, not just read the bible alone, but to find ways to read it ‘in-community’. This will not only stimulate group learning but will also help to keep you from incorrect conclusions as you read and also provides some form of accountability for what you’ve felt God say through His Word.
This is one of the reasons in our church we have a Bible Reading Plan! By doing so, we are creating the context where by you and I can read the same passage in a day and share with one another even if we are not physically able to be in the same room.
You can also read in community, with your TRIO (A TRIO is 2-3 Christ followers who have committed themselves to an intentional spiritual friendship focussed on helping one another to follow Christ and His mission for their lives and the church) and or your Community Group.
2. The Ultimate Fruit of Repentance
The second stand out in this passage, is that the re-sensitisation to God’s word, the realisation by God’s people that they had sinned and failed to obey God’s commands did not only result in repentance and contrition.
When we have sinned and we see it, contrition (sadness over our sin) is appropriate but it is not appropriate to stay in that place! Contrition is part of repentance, it makes repentance possible in one sense but for repentance to be complete it needs to make way for the ultimate fruit of repentance which is JOY.
Where there has been true repentance joy is appropriate because having seen one’s sin, and having taken responsibility for one’s sin, and having asked God to forgive you of your sin, and having turned from your way of sin to a new way – then joy is the only appropriate response.
Scripture is clear that if we confess our sin, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Because God is faithful to forgive the repentant sinner, joy is the appropriate response for those who have been forgiven, as joy honours God as having forgiven.
Therefore, to wallow in self-pity and shame does not honour Jesus but rather implies that Jesus can’t or hasn’t forgiven you, or implies that what Jesus did on the cross was not enough or that God has withheld forgiveness from you.
Friend, when we see that we have sinned, wronged God, wronged others, contrition is appropriate but it leads to what is ultimate because of Jesus – the joy of having been forgiven and set free.
So, face up to your sin, be sad about it but then repent and be forgiven and then rejoice in your great Jesus who is able to save you to the uttermost (Hebrews 7:25). Amen.
Wellness is a just modern term for an old idea. Wellness refers to the holistic mental, physical, relational & spiritual well-being of a person. I would argue that the term could also be applied to a group of people – the whole groups sense of stability and well-being in all these areas.
In terms of physical & relational wellness, the people of God in Nehemiah’s time had returned to the Promised Land and to Jerusalem, they had rebuilt the walls together side-by-side in a show of unity and as a result were secure and had rebuilt their esteem before the other nations, relationally injustices had been dealt with through repentance and restitution and yet something was still missing…
As we saw from the previous devotional, Nehemiah clearly had a life-giving relationship with God, but the people’s spirituality, their rhythms of worship had broken down and their lives did not reflect God’s covenant or God’s commandments. So although there was great improvement there was still a need for spiritual renewal amongst God’s people.
Nehemiah chapters 8-12 records the spiritual renewal of God’s people that all started with the reading of God’s word in Nehemiah 8:1-8 by the priest & scribe – Ezra.
And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel. (Nehemiah 8:1)
We read that all the men, the women & the children who could understand gathered as a mighty assembly to listen to God’s Word being read out to them all by Ezra. We also read that there was great care taken by the Levites to help explain God’s Word and presumably apply it into the lives of the gathered congregation (vs7-8).
Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. 8 They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. (Nehemiah 8:7-8)
Wellness is not possible without spiritual renewal! Jesus urges us to ‘seek first the kingdom of God’ (Matthew 6:33) we need a life-giving relationship with Jesus restored in our life if we have any hope of wellness in all other areas.
What we learn from this passage is that wellness requires spiritual renewal and spiritual renewal is founded on God’s Word. Our attitude to and commitment to God’s word is probably the single greatest factor in our spiritual well-being. And so our own personal commitment to the authority of God’s word in our lives, our own reading and obeying God’s word and our listening to God’s word expounded and explained through preaching is crucial to spiritual vitality!
I love how the levites take pains to ensure that the people were helped (vs7) so that the people would understand and be able to obey and apply God’s Word to their lives (vs8). This is the main reason I blog and write these devotionals each day, this is why we have a Bible Reading Plan in our church and this is why when we preach we want to preach from the text, reading, explaining and applying God’s word, not trying to impress or entertain but trying to help people understand and then apply God’s word so that they will be spiritually renewed and inspired to obey God.
Do you desire wellness?
May I urge you to submit to God’s Word in your life, commit to reading, understanding and applying God’s word and then I promise you, you will grow spiritually.
“Then my God put it into my heart to…” (Nehemiah 7:5)
All through this book, Nehemiah’s relationship with God is on display.
Nehemiah has a real life-giving 24/7 type relationship with God. He is constantly shooting up quick prayers, asking for wisdom, God’s intervention, is open to God speaking to him and guiding him. What an appealing picture of what a true relationship with God looks like!
Having succeeded in re-building the walls, Nehemiah is prompted by God to ensure that there is a re-population of Jerusalem and surrounding areas so that the physical city would live again filled with families and all the interactions common to a city.
God prompts Nehemiah to organise and mobilise 42 360 people as life comes back to Judah as God promised it would 70yrs ago way back in Jeremiah 29:1-14;
“For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.”
God moved Nehemiah in the courts of Artaxerxes, God answered Nehemiah’s prayers and provided for the re-building of Jerusalem, God helped Nehemiah to lead well, answered his many quick-fire prayers when opposition came & God whispered into Nehemiah’s heart about how to re-populate Jerusalem and Judah in so doing fulfilling a 70yr old promise of God’s…
Nehemiah is not an exception but an example of what your life and my life can be like, what God wants for your life journey as you follow Him. Why don’t you re-set your expectations of hearing God, speaking to God all through your days and seeing God do wonderful things in and through you as a result!
Despite the opposition in chapter 4 & the challenges brought on by the famine conditions and oppression of the marginalised we read about in chapter 5 the work on the wall has continued. As a result, gruesome threesome of Sanballat, Tobiah & Geshem are not happy!
They know that the work on the wall is nearing completion, soon Jerusalem will have been restored and so their influence and ability to regulate and intimidate will have diminished!
So they introduce a new tactic, one far more complex than those that have gone before. Up to now they have tried to oppose using ridicule, mockery, intimidation & threats of violence. These have all been upfront and confrontational in nature.
Now in chapter 6, a new tactic is introduced that is both subtle & difficult to discern at times. Their plan is to get Nehemiah to compromise and in so doing to divert him from his God-given mission. They invite him to a meeting to talk things through.
Compromise is often subtle & therefore can come in under our radar undetected. The request for a meeting may have seemed reasonable at first, maybe meeting would help create an amicable environment in which the building work could continue unhindered.
Compromise is like that, it often doesn’t appear too bad, it might even appear reasonable at first. But Nehemiah’s reply is a model of clarity;
“I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?”(Nehemiah 6:3)
Nehemiah knew his priorities, knew what mattered most.
As finite beings, if we give ourselves to one thing that means we ignore something else.
So, if I decide to spend 5-6 hours playing a round of golf, by implication I have chosen not to spend 5-6 hours doing something else like spending time with family (unless they were playing with me).
Nehemiah turned down the request for a meeting because he valued his God-given mission higher than anything else! He refused to meet with the gruesome threesome because doing so would mean not continuing the work God had given him to do.
Bill Beckham said; “We value what we do, and we do what we value”
Nehemiah showed what he valued by what he chose to and what not to do! Knowing what we value will help us to avoid sin and self-centred compromise.
In vs10-14 under the false guise of a prophetic word Nehemiah is tempted by Shemaiah to look out for himself and his personal safety, to forget the wall…
Here again we see Nehemiah’s principals coming to aide his decision making process as he responds to Shemaiah with principals stronger than his personal fear of death.
My paraphrase: He says; ’Should a man like me run away? I will trust in God rather than try to save my own life’
Once again, the compromise seems reasonable. Surely God would want Nehemiah to consider his own personal safety? But doing so would have taken him off the wall and would have caused him to compromise & sin by doing what he was prohibited from doing.
More than this, Nehemiah couldn’t enter into the temple as he wasn’t a priest and God prohibited anyone from entering it who was not a priest. So, Nehemiah feared God more than someone who could take his life! More than anything else he wanted to hear God say over him one day; “Well done Nehemiah, with you I am well pleased.”
He valued God being pleased with Him above even a fear for his own life! This kept him from sinning. The power of sin is broken when we realise this: that in God and delighting in God we will be satisfied:
Is there any area in your life where there is temptation to compromise? It might seem reasonable but it will rob your focus from God’s call on your life. Identify the tactic of your enemy and resist like Nehemiah did (6:3).
Do a personal audit of your time remembering that; “We value what we do, and we do what we value”. Do you need to make any adjustments?
Jesus’ kingdom is an upside down kingdom. The first shall be last and the last first, the rich will be poor and the poor rich and those who lead God’s people are meant to serve rather than be served!
All round the world Leadership is prone to abusing its power for personal gain. But not Nehemiah! In stark contrast to those who had gone before him, Nehemiah as the appointed leader in Jerusalem while under Babylonian control, did not take for himself the taxes that he could have taken.
And what was Nehemiah’s reason for being so counter-cultural? Scripture tells us when it records Nehemiah saying; “But I did not do so (place heavy burdens on the people), because of the fear of God” (Nehemiah 5:15).
Friend, right believing leads to right behaving! Fearing God is the beginning of wisdom, it helps us to see with an eternal perspective and helps us to live accordingly.
And good, godly leadership will follow Jesus’ example – serving those they lead, doing so willing as sacrificing servants because that is who Jesus was an is and he is our role model of what goofd relationship.
May we serve others wiith same dedication and upside down focus.
One of the proofs that the bible is authentic and therefore the authoritative word of God is that it is not edited or airbrushed to remove all blemishes! It is authentic in that it is not a triumphalistic version of events but is real about even the sad stuff.
Chapter 4 is a rousing chapter of overcoming opposition by praying and working together in unison, chapter 5 however brings us right back down to earth. Not everything was rosy in Jerusalem with those who had come to rebuild and those Jewish people living nearby.
The rich and the powerful were exploiting their economically weaker brothers, making themselves rich by exacting interest from those who were struggling in a time of famine even ruthlessly demanding that poor people mortgage their fields, houses and sell their children into slavery to pay their way in the midst of a famine! In response the poor rose up with a ‘great outcry’ (vs1). Not exactly a harmonious picture of unity amongst God’s people.
What was needed was leadership! Leadership who would not be pressurised by the rich and powerful but would be willing to stand up against injustice and exploitation, to speak out on behalf of the poor and the weak and the marginalised.
And that’s exactly what we find Nehemiah doing (vs6) – he is outraged on hearing of the exploitation, calls the rich to account, has the courage to challenge the status quo and calls all God’s people together for an assembly to correct the wrongful ungodly actions of extortion.
God honours this courageous step and the wealthy who were in the wrong are silent before their leader; ‘They were silent and could not find a word to say” (vs8). Nehemiah exhorts them to ‘fear God’ (vs9). God honours courageous leadership which acts according to God’s heart for people and so those who had been in the wrong respond saying; “Let us abandon this exacting interest from one another.” (vs10)
Amazingly, Nehemiah doesn’t just call for a stop to the exploitation but he goes beyond calling for restitution from those who had sinned agains their fellow-country men. Saying; ’return to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive orchards and their houses, and the percentage of money, grain, wine and oil that you have been exacting from them.’ (vs11).
God’s social justice here wasn’t merely the stopping of exploitation but a form of ‘making good’ restoring back to people what had been taken from them! Remarkably, the powerful and rich commit themselves to such restitutive actions (vs12) even though it was going to be costly to them to do so. This is a move of God! When our attitudes to money and possessions, when our attitudes to what we have done wrong in the past and when there is a willingness to make good what was wrong and to praise God for the change God has brought about in your heart (vs13) – then you know there has been a move of God’s Holy Spirit!
Writing as a white South African, this passage causes me to consider our own nation, our sad history and how stopping evil practices is a good thing, but not necessarily all God calls us to do. Currently, amongst even believers who are white, the concept of ‘restitution’ is like a swear word to some. But when God moves, I believe there can be restitution even with praise and an Amen! Lord heal our land.
I love how the spirituality of the Bible is so practical. All through this chapter there are references to Nehemiah’s response to the opposition to rebuilding from both without and within God’s people.
The pattern that emerges is that Nehemiah’s first response was to respond to criticism/opposition, threats or doubt with prayer. We read of this in vs4 and again in vs9 which follow the pattern from Nehemiah 1:4, 2:4…
But what strikes me in Nehemiah 4 is the word; “AND”.
Some people are so spiritually minded that they are no earthly good! But this is not the spirituality of the Bible.
So with Nehemiah & God’s people they hear of the threats and the mocking of Sanballat & Tobiah and in vs4 they pray AND in vs6 we read “So we built the wall”.
Later in chapter 4:7-8 when Sanballat and Tobiah get angry at the news of the rebuilding, they plot together to come and threaten overthrow those rebuilding Jerusalem.
God’s people under Nehemiah respond to the threat; “so we prayed to our God” (vs9) AND “we set a guard as protection”. I love that!
They didn’t hear the threat and make a plan and then go to God when their plans had failed, no they went to God first in prayer AND they made a plan for protection.
This is attractive spirituality to me, it is trusting in, calling to God first but then it is thoroughly practical too, God gives us the facility of thought and the ability to make plans and it is not unspiritual to do so but is in fact us utilising the God-given talents we have.
So, when you face opposition and threats – whether they come in the form of internal monologue and doubts and fears (see vs10&12), or whether they come from doubt (vs10-11) or opposition from the outside, I urge you to respond first in prayer taking the trouble to the Lord AND then act, do what God’s told you to do, be decisive and use the ability and understanding God has granted you.
Making a plan with the resources you have is not to lack faith but to have faith believing that God has given you what you need to accomplish what He has planned for you.
So, don’t be immobilised but act (Nehemiah made a plan to arm the workers and to organise a strategy to gather if there was an attack, he posted watchmen by night).
Lastly, we read in this passage the crucial role that good leadership plays. There is a moment when Nehemiah stands up and counters the negativity that was draining their faith in God and says;
“Do not be afraid of them, remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, sons, your daughter ” (vs14)
Again, a wonderful balanced spirituality; “remember the Lord…AND fight!” (vs14). And because of these prayers AND action; ‘God frustrated their plan’ (vs15) as a result of their prayers.
PRAY AND ACT!
The Christian life isn’t like a battle, it is one. Christ Followers have an ever present enemy who will resist us, obstruct us and try to discourage us at any opportunity.
Most significant advances for God, whether those be personal in nature or corporate, will attract the attention and opposition of our enemy. In fact if there is no opposition it’s worth asking whether you’re attempting anything great for God in your life!
Nehemiah chapter 4 is an example of kingdom advance being opposed:
- In Nehemiah 2, Nehemiah called for the people to join together in rebuilding the wall
- In Nehemiah 3 we read about the rebuilding project having begun in earnest
- Yet as soon as that rebuilding project had begun opposition to it arose (Nehemiah 4:1-6)
Analysing the Opposition:
Anger/Rage (vs1) – the more you love God and serve God’s purposes the more you anger/frustrate and irritate the enemy. Advancing God’s kingdom through your life shrinks his kingdom’s influence. Don’t try to make people agnry, but anger in others isn’t always a sign that something is going wrong, but rather might well be that you’re doing something right as you serve God.
Jeering/Mocking (vs1-2) – opposition often takes the form of an attack on one’s identity, character, wisdom or ability. “What are these feeble Jews doing?” – said Sanballat. This is designed to humiliate, to influence the perception of others and to insert doubts into the mind and heart of the person being derided. We do well to remember that our enemies name is the “Accuser” of the followers of Christ and so ought not to be surprised when we face such opposition.
Doubt (vs2) – Another one of the enemies favourite tactics is to get into our minds and sow seeds of doubt. “Will they restore it for themselves?”, Sanballat questioned. Such questions can set off doubts that can cause the ones being opposed to back off, pull-back, to reconsider thereby capitulating to the opposition and being controlled by it.
Misrepresentation (vs2) – “Will they finish in a day?”, Sanballat said. At no point did Nehemiah or the Jewish people rebuilding the wall claim that they would be finished in any short-time frame. Opposition often takes the form of misrepresentation and distortion of what one has said or claimed they would do. Unjustified misrepresentation cuts deep as one often isn’t afforded the opportunity to correct misrepresented facts about oneself. Again the strategy here is to pull the rug out from underneath the person being opposed, distracting them from the task at hand and undermining their will to proceed.
Gossip/Slander (vs2-3) – Sanballat is making these comments and accusations in the company of his brothers, the army of Samaria and Tobiah. Opposition often takes the form of slander and gossip. When we face such things, we need to be careful not to get drawn into ourselves sinning too against those who slander against us.
Criticism & Exaggeration (vs3) – Tobiah joined the chorus claiming that the wall they were building was so weak that it would break down with even just a fox walking on it! We need to know who we are, we need to also know what we are doing to allow unfounded criticism to not disrupt our progress or sow seeds of doubt.
Responding to criticism
1. Take it to God! “Hear, O our God, for we are despised…” (vs4) Your Father is large and in charge of everything. You have free access into His presence because of Jesus and your faith in Him. You are the beloved child of the most high God. So take the opposition you face to Him, lay it out before Him because you can and because He loves you.
Their prayer at this point essentially was; ‘defend us God & vindicate us Lord’. When you take criticism and opposition to God in prayer it relieves you of the need to try to defend yourself or vindicate yourself. Letting go of your right to feel wronged helps one to keep focussed on what you have been called to do and to keep focussed on being like Christ in the midst of this opposition.
2. Get back to the job at hand. “So we built the wall” (vs6) After praying, they got back to the work at hand in spite of the opposition. Isn’t that the best response to opposition, to proceed with the course of action you know God told you to proceed with?
We will all face opposition to the mandates God gives us personally and corporately to advance His kingdom in our lives and through our church. May we never get drawn in by the tactics of our enemy, distracted from the task, tempted to sin, but may we take it to God in prayer and may we get back to the job at hand!
What do you do with sections of Scripture that just seem like they are just long lists of people or places, when they seem boring or just plain irrelevant to your life or are just detailed for you to care?
The lists in the bible contain some gems! You just need to take the time to look for them.
In this list we have here in Nehemiah 3 we have a record of all those who responded to the call by Nehemiah in 2:17&20 to rise and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, detailing what they contributed to the rebuilding project and where they worked.
So, what gems are there in this list?
1. God sees everything
The very fact that all these people’s names are here all recorded for us underlines what elsewhere Scripture explicitly teaches – that God sees everything. God sees, He looks for obedience and service (that’s the majority of this list), and God sees disobedience/unwillingness (see vs 5). Our lives and how we live them really matter! The details of our lives matter to God and so it should matter to us. How we respond to the Gospel, how we spend our days is all recorded in God’s books (Revelation 20:12) because God is looking to reward us for obedience and faithfulness with that which He has entrusted to us.
2. Kingdom advance is a community thing!
God’s plan to restore Jerusalem was not a private project of Nehemiah’s. No God mobilised a whole host of diverse people to work together, to literally work alongside one another. In this one chapter the phrases ‘next to him’ or ‘after him’ are mentioned 27x in just 32 verses! The big idea is that this was a joint effort, the purposes of God was achieved in community, partnering with others.
3. Know what’s your responsibility
Verse 28 says of the priests repaired a portion of the wall ‘each opposite his own house’. So often we are waiting for someone to do what we have seen needs doing! “Who’s going to reach those children/mom’s/school’s…..?”, “Who is going to gather the young adults?”, “There isn’t great pastoral care in this church!”, “Who’s going to fix that tap at the church building or door that’s banging…?”
If you have seen something, if you have been sensitised to a gap in your church’s ministry to people may I suggest that maybe you now have a responsibility, a mandate from God to do something about it! Serve where God shows you need, where God sensitises you to things others might not have seen, take responsibility for your portion, a portion of the wall, something you can say over; “I’ve got this, you can count on me!”
4. Don’t ever think we graduate from serving
In verse 5 we read that the novels ‘would not stoop to serve their Lord’. This is not a good situation. It appears as though this group of people thought that helping with the rebuilding project was beneath them, it wasn’t for them. Serving, getting stuck-in in practical ways is something we should never graduate from. After all we serve Jesus who came not to be served but to serve and give His life for us… May we always be like Jesus.
5. Serving in families
In verse 12 we read about Shallum who repaired the wall, ‘he and his daughters’. May we be like this guy and his daughters, families on mission together, serving God as family units! Parents that might mean supporting your child as they want to serve on sound, or set-up or children’s ministry, dropping them off early fetching late to enable them to serve. Children that means sacrificing time with mom or dad sometimes so that they can minister to people or take responsibility, it might mean sharing your home with others who are being ministered to through a Community Group or something of the sort… Let’s be such families that live not just for one another in the family unit but seek to encourage and support one another as we serve God with all of our unique talents and abilities.
So there they are, five little gems in this passage. Did you uncover any more as you read? Never disregard any section of Scripture but ask God to show you the gems.
Nehemiah is a cupbearer for king Artaxerxes of Persia. His job is to taste food and wine set before the king to ensure that he dies in the kings place if there is any attempt to assassinate him by poisoning. As a foreigner in the court of the king he would not have had any position of power or influence, and would not have chatted to the king unless the king addressed him.
His job was to be happy, least they mistook sadness for poison-induced illness and quiet unless addressed.
But Nehemiah can’t hide what’s going on in his heart and in his mind, he is battling to keep up the facade of pleasantries all because his heart has been sensitised by God to the news of the ruinous state of Jerusalem.
The king can see something is wrong and so addresses Nehemiah his cupbearer; “Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick?” (vs2)
Nehemiah is terrified, what should he say? This is the king of the marauding captors of Israel wants to know why Nehemiah is sad, but what he is sad about is the very fact that Babylon invaded and destroyed and took Israel captive! Awkward!
Nehemiah courageously or foolishly tells king Artaxerxes the truth about what’s bugging him – probably fearing for his life as he does so. Pause, nothing happens…
Then the king says; “What are you requesting?” (vs4)
Scripture records that Nehemiah multi-tasked at this point, way before Windows & iPhones and Android.
“So I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said to the king…” (vs4-5)
Nehemiah knows how he responds now in this moment is crucial, he is still alive after being honest, maybe in this moment he might be granted some favour? Sensing the moment he cries out to God under his breath, in his mind. It might have just been; “HELP!” but Scripture indicates that this is happening as he is simultaneously replying to the kings question.
Nehemiah proceeds to converse with the king and make his bold requests known, he asks for time, for permission and for resources and for protection & favour. And importantly vs8 reports;
“And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me.” (vs8)
Scripture acknowledges the source of the favour extended to Nehemiah as being directly linked to Nehemiah’s multi-tasked prayer!
What I have found is that it is not the length or the might of your prayer or even the faith of your prayer that matters! What really matters is the fact that you prayed, and who you prayed to!
What can you learn from this moment in Nehemiah’s life and Nehemiah’s prayer?
Do you know the feeling? There is a moment when you know what you need to do is pray, there is some form of great need that exceeds your resources or decision that outstrips your wisdom…and yet as you get down to pray you feel at a loss for words.
I love considering the great prayers of Scripture, learning from them by observing how these men and women engaged God in moments of great significance. Nehemiah hears a report of the state of Jerusalem, is reminded of the dire situation God’s people are in, under God’s judgement in a foreign nation, with the temple and the capital city in ruins. Nehemiah has no real power or position to affect any change to the situation…
But Nehemiah is in a personal relationship with the ONE who sits enthroned above the circle of the earth (Isaiah 40:22), and so he can call out to God. As he prays we can listen in and learn from one of the greatest prayers of Scripture.
So what can we learn from this great prayer:
- Heart: great prayers come from the heart that has been moved! (vs4)
- Clarity: prayer that starts with a clear understanding of whom you’re praying to fills that prayer with faith and meaning. After all there is no point praying to someone who can’t do anything about the thing you’re praying about! (vs4)
- Character: great prayers petition God on the basis of His unchanging character and the promises He has made (vs5)
- Repentance: in prayer we allow God to reveal what’s wrong in us and we turn to Him by turning from such sin. (vs6-7)
- Scripture: great prayers quote Scripture, the infallible word of God (vs8-9)
- Requests: to pray is to make your requests known to God (vs11)
- Perspective: true prayer helps us to keep things in perspective (vs11) so that even powerful kings become just ‘this man’.
- Action: prayer is not passive, when we pray invariably God reveals next steps which we must take with faith & obedience (Nehemiah 2:1)
Meditate on this prayer of Nehemiah’s and then incorporate elements of his prayer into yours.