The story of Nehemiah has been on my heart lately. When I’m weary and tired, stressed and overwhelmed, his story keeps coming to mind. It can be an encouragement to anyone trying to ‘build up’ something in their life – faith, a marriage, a child’s self-confidence. Discouragement will come, and the Enemy will rise up when you try to establish a solid foundation in any area of your life. This post will be the first in a series of posts related to faith building, so that you are prepared for anything life throws at you. We will look at the story of Nehemiah as an illustration. Turn with me this week to Nehemiah 1:1-11.
Unlike most of the called prophets of the Old Testament, Nehemiah was just a regular person like me and you. In fact, he was a Jewish servant to King Artaxerxes of Persia. He lived in the Persian Empire after the nation of Israel spent seventy years in captivity under Babylonian rule. Only a remnant of the Jewish people lived in Jerusalem after this time, as the city laid in ruins.
Nehemiah, however, is not your average servant. He was the king’s cup-bearer (verse 11), a position of importance and one that had direct influence on the king because he would have been in the king’s presence on a daily basis.
Interestingly, even as a Jewish servant, Nehemiah appeared to be someone of status within the Persian Empire:
1. He served the king directly.
2. He is seen later as one that was entrusted with great responsibility and a natural-born leader, governing Israel for 12 years.
3. He appeared to be well-supported and/or had means, because as governor he did not accept payment for his duties.
And yet, for a Jewish man who could have been so far removed from his own people, he showed great care for them. Nehemiah’s story starts with his brother and a few other Jewish citizens, who have come to visit him in Persia, explaining the current state of affairs in the province of Judah:
They said to me, “Things are not going well for those who returned to the province of Judah. They are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem has been torn down, and the gates have been destroyed by fire.” (verse 3)
Nehemiah’s response is touching and humbling. He is distraught by what he has heard.
When I heard this, I sat down and wept. In fact, for days I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven. (verse 4)
Wow, I don’t know on any given day if I show that much emotion about anything outside of myself (just keeping it real!). But Nehemiah doesn’t just feel for the Jewish nation -his nation- he springs into action and prays to the Almighty God. I imagine Nehemiah not just causally whispering a few words to the heavens, but down on his knees, perhaps his face close to the ground with arms outstretched, as he calls out to God.
“O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant of unfailing love with those who love him and obey his commands, listen to my prayer! Look down and see me praying night and day for your people Israel.” (verses 5-6)
From his words, we know this is not a one time event, but something he did constantly: “see me praying night and day.” And then he lays it all on the line – no sweet talk, no sugar-coating, just ‘here it is.’
I confess that we have sinned against you. Yes, even my own family and I have sinned! We have sinned terribly by not obeying the commands, decrees, and regulations that you gave us through your servant Moses. (verses 6-7)
I already feel inadequate in my prayer life, but now Nehemiah has up the ante on us -he admits he is a sinner, admits his faults, admits the faults of his people. There is no doubt he is well aware of his shortcomings (and theirs). Then he does something that doesn’t come natural to me, he reminds the Lord of His promises.
Please remember what you told your servant Moses: ‘If you are unfaithful to me, I will scatter you among the nations. But if you return to me and obey my commands and live by them, then even if you are exiled to the ends of the earth, I will bring you back to the place I have chosen for my name to be honored.’ (verses 8-9)
Have you fallen on the promises of God lately or do you, like me, tend to pray in faith, but not in relationship to the promises of God? We are given the promises of the Bible to assist us in praying in His will, yet they go unused. Nothing will grow our faith faster, than standing on His promises to us.
And so, now that Nehemiah has offered his praise to God, confessed his sins, and reminded God of His promises, he makes the ‘big ask.’
“The people you rescued by your great power and strong hand are your servants. O Lord, please hear my prayer! Listen to the prayers of those of us who delight in honoring you. Please grant me success today by making the king favorable to me. Put it into his heart to be kind to me.” (verses 10-11)
Nehemiah is boldly asking for favor with the king. He is asking to be positioned for service, so that he can be a difference maker. This is just the start of Nehemiah’s story. In eleven short verses, emerges a man on a mission. This is a foundational start to Nehemiah’s adventure. We will see in the coming weeks his sensitivity to God’s call, and the way he is used.
Are we as Christians seeking to serve? Are we asking God to grant us favor? Are we hoping to be positioned for service in a mighty way? For now, examine your heart in regards to serving God and the overall state of your prayer life. These two things can intersect in an awesome and powerful way and produce God-sized results!
*All scripture is taken from the New Living Translation
Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.