Nehemiah Project: Concentrating on Your God-given Vision
CONCENTRATING ON YOUR GOD-GIVEN VISION
Nehemiah 2:1-8 (ESV):
1 In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence.
2 And the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of the heart.” Then I was very much afraid.
3 I said to the king, “Let the king live forever! Why should not my face be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ graves, lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?”
4 Then the king said to me, “What are you requesting?” So I prayed to the God of heaven.
5 And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ graves, that I may rebuild it.”
6 And the king said to me (the queen sitting beside him), “How long will you be gone, and when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me when I had given him a time.
7 And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, let letters be given me to the governors of the province Beyond the River, that they may let me pass through until I come to Judah,
8 and a letter to Asaph, the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress of the temple, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall occupy.” And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me.
Would you allow God to shift the direction of your life? What is your life all about right now? Is it all about success or significance? If all you care about right now is making a lot of money, receiving promotions, getting more prestigious titles, or having power over others, there’s no question that you are all about living a life of success. Unfortunately, many people who have tried this route ended up being so unhappy because of the fact that financial success don’t really bring that inner satisfaction of the soul and it is usually temporary or short-lived.
On the other hand, people who have lived for significance were often more satisfied because of the understanding that their lives have made a difference in the lives of others. It is also true that their significance has outlasted them. Even if they are long gone, they are still remembered for what they have done for others.
The subject of our study, Nehemiah, is one of those individuals in the Bible who was wise enough to shift the focus of his life. I’m sure that being the
cupbearer of King Artaxerxes, the mighty King of the great Persian Empire, he felt that he was occupying a very esteemed position. Yet, when the Lord impressed upon him the great needs of His people in Jerusalem and gave him a sense of mission, he did not hesitate to get involved and rearrange his priorities.
Honestly, how many of us are willing to do the same? As I have said the last time we studied chapter 1, Nehemiah could have ignored everything he heard from Hanani, his brother, and just went on business as usual. He was living comfortably in Persia, living a busy life serving the most powerful King during that time. But, would we be talking about him today if he did not shift his life from a life of success into a life of significance? How many cupbearers do you know who have been recognized as great men in history?
Let’s pick up from where we left off. Last time, Nehemiah heard the report from his brother, Hanani, regarding the fact that God’s people in Jerusalem were so miserable and vulnerable because they have failed to rebuild the walls in the city. Now, this news devastated Nehemiah causing him to go to the Lord weeping, fasting, and praying. As we move to chapter 2, let’s examine the three critical steps that Nehemiah took in order to address the problems of God’s people in Jerusalem:
I HE MANAGED WAITING FOR GOD’S TIMING:
It is not always easy to wait for the Lord to respond to our prayers. Many of us get frustrated when God is silent and does not respond according to the timing that we have set. But as the saying goes, “Good things come to those who wait,” Nehemiah experienced the benefit of waiting on the Lord.
If you go back to Nehemiah 1:1, Nehemiah started praying and fasting for the predicament of God’s people in Jerusalem “in the month of Chislev.” As we begin in chapter 2, the setting is now “in the month of Nisan,” which is the mid- March to the mid-April in the Hebrew calendar. In other words, it took him about four months in prayers before he would see the hand of God move in the positive direction towards answering his prayers. How many of you would be willing to wait that long for an answered prayer?
If you have a great tendency to be impatient, let’s be quick to remind ourselves that if God is not yet answering, it is not because of the following:
1. He doesn’t know what to do with our request – God being omniscient, He always knows what the perfect way for us is.
2. He lacks the power to do what we ask – God is Almighty; He can do whatever is required to respond to us.
3. He is not good and generous enough to help us – In Matthew 7: 11, Jesus told the disciples at one point that “if we who are evil know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more is our Father in heaven.” Meaning, we can
expect Him who is a good Father to always treat us generously.
In short, when the answer to our prayers is delayed, we should stop doubting the Lord. Rather, we have to wait for Him to accomplish what is best for us. Take, for example, David. Do you know how long David had to wait from the time Samuel had anointed him till the time he was crowned as king over Israel? He waited for about 15 years. It took that long to develop him into maturity, so he can rule well over Israel. David himself will write these words:
Psalm 27:14 (ESV):
14 Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!
Therefore, when God is allowing us to wait, it is primarily for the purpose of preparing us to accomplish greater things for Him. This is quite visible with Nehemiah. It is evident that the months of praying were not idle moments for him. He used them to properly prepare for what God wants Him to accomplish.
Let’s read again the first four verses. So, there came a day that he was serving king Artaxerxes and the king noticed that he was obviously sad. If you notice the last part of verse 2, Nehemiah was terrified when the King questioned his sadness. Do you know why? Bible scholars explain that during those times everyone who enters the presence of the king is expected to display a cheerful countenance. The slightest show of sadness can be perceived as dissatisfaction towards the king and can be a threat to him. So, such expression can lead to an immediate incarceration or execution.
Go to verse 3. Nehemiah’s response was clearly calculated. First, he did not mention Jerusalem. It is because according to Ezra 4:21, the same king ordered to stop all the rebuilding work in Jerusalem. So, if he mentioned Jerusalem, the King could have resented his response. Second, he, instead, made an appeal to the king’s bent in respecting the dead loved ones. It is quite obvious that Nehemiah was well prepared to say to the king when God gave him the opportunity. How about you? Are you managing properly your waiting time?
II HE MEASURED THE WORTH OF THE PROJECT:
The preparation time that Nehemiah had served him well especially when King Artaxerxes asked him this question in verse 4, “What are you requesting?” Before Nehemiah would respond to this very critical question, the last part of verse 4 says, “So I prayed to the God of heaven.” This instantaneous prayer only shows how dependent this man was on the Lord to work on his behalf. Nehemiah
understood the truth that even powerful world leaders are simply there to serve the over-all plans of God:
2 Chronicles 20:6 (ESV):
6...“O LORD, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you.
Then, Nehemiah began enumerating what he wanted to ask from the king:
1. He requested to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem (vs. 5-6) – He gave the king a very specific answer of what he wanted to do. When the king asked how long he will be gone, he had calculated the time-frame of the project.
2. He requested a letter of a safe passage (v.7) – He also understood that since his journey to Jerusalem will require him to pass through other provinces with political boundaries, when inspected the letter will show that he was traveling under the authority of the King.
3. He requested a letter to Asaph, the forest keeper (v.8) – He was also prepared to ask the king to supply the lumber that he needed to rebuild the walls. Bible scholars believe that for Nehemiah to know the exact name of the forest keeper, it only shows that he did his homework.
It is easy to see that Nehemiah planned well and calculated exactly what it would take for him to carry out his project. This reminds me of the wise words of Jesus Christ in Luke 14:28-30:
28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?
29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’
These are great reminders from Jesus Christ that if you are intending to do something, you have to count the cost. You don’t want to start building only to find out that you don’t have enough resources to finish it. For Nehemiah, he clearly measured the worth of his project. He understood the time-frame and the resources he needed for the project. Howard Hendricks once said:
“Most people don’t plan to fail; they fail to plan.”
Let’s put it this way. If God was the one who will ask you today, “What are you requesting for your life?” Would you know exactly how you would respond? Let me remind you this morning, “Trusting God and wise planning can go hand in hand in God’s economy.” If you want a proof, read the last phrase of verse 8,
“And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me.” Indeed, Nehemiah was well prepared to ask the king for his needs for the project, but he also acknowledged that everything was coming directly from the good hand of God.
III HE MOBILIZED HIS WORKFORCE:
Finally, we will find Nehemiah moving directly where God wanted him to be. Notice what happened as described in verses 9-20:
Nehemiah 2:9-20 (ESV):
9 Then I came to the governors of the province Beyond the River and gave them the king’s letters. Now the king had sent with me officers of the army and horsemen.
10 But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant heard this, it displeased them greatly that someone had come to seek the welfare of the people of Israel.
11 So I went to Jerusalem and was there three days.
12 Then I arose in the night, I and a few men with me. And I told no one what
my God had put into my heart to do for Jerusalem. There was no animal with me but the one on which I rode.
13 I went out by night by the Valley Gate to the Dragon Spring and to the Dung Gate, and I inspected the walls of Jerusalem that were broken down and its gates that had been destroyed by fire.
14 Then I went on to the Fountain Gate and to the King’s Pool, but there was no room for the animal that was under me to pass.
15 Then I went up in the night by the valley and inspected the wall, and I turned back and entered by the Valley Gate, and so returned.
16 And the officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, and I had not yet told the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials, and the rest who were to do the work.
17 Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision.”
18 And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work.
19 But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they jeered at us and despised us and said, “What is this thing that you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?”
20 Then I replied to them, “The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his
servants will arise and build, but you have no portion or right or claim in Jerusalem.”
Bear with the reading of this passage, but it is important to see how Nehemiah will see himself as the leader who needed to recruit his potential partners or workforce in the project that God gave him.
Before I move further, I want to highlight verses 10 and 19. Right at the outset, Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite were identified as the people who would stand in the way of the vision. Sanballat was the governor of Samaria and Tobiah was one of the public officials who was working closely with him. It is important for us to understand right on the front-end that every time we want to accomplish something for God, there are always people who are there ready to oppose it. They should not be the focus of our time and energy. Instead, we should do exactly what Nehemiah did, he concentrated more in building and mobilizing the people who will support our project. How did he mobilize them?
1) He personally investigated the situation firsthand (vs.10-16) – All he knew about the problem came as a report from Hanani. As soon as he had the opportunity, he privately surveyed the walls. Perhaps, he did it by himself so he can avoid the unnecessary attention from other leaders, especially those who could be intimidated by Sanballat and Tobiah.
2) He challenged the leaders by helping them notice their terrible situation (v.17) “Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned.” – It’s possible that the people had already been immune with their situation, that it was no longer bothering them. They needed to be reminded that their situation was unacceptable.
3) He encouraged the people by letting them know how God was already working on their behalf (vs.18,20) – He definitely shared to them that God has already manifested His goodness by working in the heart of King Artaxerxes.
The project was great and there was no way that Nehemiah can build everything by himself. Nehemiah was smart enough to mobilize his partners for the project.
How about us? If God wants us to accomplish something, are we able to build the team of people who can partner with us? We need to do an effective job in mobilizing partners. On the other hand, some of us must be sensitive to see who and where God is inviting us to partner. When God is clearly at work in a vision or in an initiative, we must be willing to ride the wave and join God in what He is trying to accomplish. Verse 20 is a great reminder to all of us - “The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build, but you
have no portion or right or claim in Jerusalem.”
It is important for us to recognize that our participation will not be the basis for the success of God’s work. It is always because God has prospered it. So, God’s invitation for us to participate is only so we can have a share in His victory.
September 16, 2018 Dr. Jeremiah Lepasana