The Nehemiah Challenge | Part 3 | Getting Going

For the past several months, I’ve kept a journal of nuggets that I discovered and learned from reading about Nehemiah. The name of the journal is, “The Nehemiah Challenge.”

The following is Part 3 of The Nehemiah Challenge. 

Text: Nehemiah 2:9-20

After praying for 3 to 4 months, Nehemiah asks God what he should do. God’s will became crystal clear–knowing that the uncomfortable work was about to begin and would stretch his resolve and endurance, Nehemiah continued to pray.  It is miraculous that the king reverses years of political policy to grant Nehemiah everything he needs for the work of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. To be the recipient of God’s favor is an unspeakable gift!

And so, Nehemiah is getting going on the long journey (800 miles) to Jerusalem. Now as governor, he has full documented permission from the king for validation. He took three days for a sabbath rest and because Nehemiah is a man of prayer, I believed he prayed a lot during that time. During the night hours, with a few men and a horse to ride on, Nehemiah inspected the wall and devastation…broken, burned and destroyed. He was faced with an enormous and daunting task. Being sure of God’s will emboldened Nehemiah while inspiring and influencing the people to strengthen their hands for the good work. When you are doing God’s work, expect to have opposition from people who have the “gift of discouragement.” They can be noisy and abusive with mockery and ridicule.  This is the reality of opposition. We seek to rebuild what’s broken in the world (or church) but the world (or church) will not view its brokenness as needing to be repaired. The rule of action is to actively live out the gospel which gives all glory and power to the God of heaven who will make us prosper.

  1. Getting Going
  2. The Good Work
  3. Mockery and Ridicule
  4. Rule of Action

Getting Going

There is nothing easy or comfortable about what God is calling Nehemiah to. In his role as pioneer in the reconstructing of Jerusalem, we see in him the zeal for God, the love for people, plus the readiness to challenge his challengers and to oppose personal opposition. He does not choose the path of least resistance, the god of comfort. He is well aware that his faith and resolve will be stretched. Once clear on his call, Nehemiah got down to business. He was not a man who let grass grow under his feet. [1] Quietly and methodically, he inspected the different sections of the wall, gathering data, seeing first hand what is needed before he cast the vision and recruited hundreds of others to begin the good work. He has a willingness to work hard under pressure and to inspire and move others to do the same. Nehemiah unites with the people (solidarity) before he challenges them to a greater call. “Come, let us build… that we may no longer suffer derision.”

APPLICATION: Getting going requires a right standing with God, prayer, inspection and evaluation of the job, determining resources, appoint the right leaders at the right time, become united and work alongside of them while gaining their trust.

The Good Work

God is the author and creator of work. He worked for six days and he rested. He has begun a good work in our lives and he will perfect it. (Philippians 1:6) Work is the exertion of effort that aims at producing a new state of affairs. [1] Whatever our calling or profession, our work should reflect the glory of God. “So, whether we eat or drink, or whatever we do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31 ESV) Whatever we tackle, whatever God has called us to do, we should be conscientiously doing our best. While there is great joy in doing good work, it can also be very hard and when it becomes hard, we need to pray. Nehemiah is an example of not being self-focused, self-sufficient, self-centered…he is doing the good work God burdened his heart to do and he becomes God-focused, God-sufficient, and God-centered. The quality of his good work is evidenced by the quality of his prayers.

APPLICATION: Praying determines the quality of our working. Working reflects the quality of our praying.

Mockery and Ridicule

Surrounded by opponents on all sides. Sanballat the Horonite governed Samaria, to the north of Judah; Tobiah the Ammonite governed Ammon, to the east of Judah; Geshem the Arab governed the area south of Judah; Ashdodites, who dwelt to the west of Judah.

The world is a messy place. We are messy people with lives full of dysfunctional stuff and so we should not be surprised when we bump into each other over conflicts and disagreements and when opposition arises. Nehemiah demonstrates that humility is the key for progress. 1 Peter 5:1 says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble…so humble yourselves before God and he will lift you up at the proper time.” It takes an act of humility to give thanks for the daily grind of doing the good work. Pursuing the will of God will not always be popular. Will we complain or stop the work? Or will we give thanks and experience the favor of God?

“If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ.”–Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Bonhoeffer, by Eric Metaxas) [2]

Because of the self-absorbed habits of our sinful hearts, the only way to anything like pure motives is to pray persistently about the things we do and ask ourselves constantly before the Lord why we are doing them and how they fit in with God’s glory and for the good of his people. [1]

APPLICATION:  When have I (you) risked rejection or failure to pursue the will of the Lord?

Rule of Action

It’s a wonderful thing that God has you doing. It’s overwhelming. It’s exhausting. It’s fully beyond you. But the God of Heaven will enable you to prosper because this is the desire that he has placed upon your heart.

APPLICATION: First Pray, then act, then pray again.

[1] A Passion for Faithfulness, Wisdom from the Book of Nehemiah, page 69, 72, 73, 80  by J. I. Packer; [2] The Village Church Nehemiah Guide

You may enjoy reading:

The Nehemiah Challenge Part One: When Walls are Broken

The Nehemiah Challenge Part Two: A Radical Trust in God

There is an Amazon link on this page. If you buy the book using that link, I will receive a small stipend.

The Nehemiah Challenge | Part 2 | A Radical Trust in God

The following is Part 2 of The Nehemiah Challenge.

Text: Nehemiah 1:11b -2:8; Isaiah 62:6ff; Philippians 4:6-7

  1. Pray and Wait
  2. Waiting is not Wasted Time
  3. A God-given Calling will Result in God-given Enabling
  4. Give God the Glory

Pray and Wait

Chapter one reveals that Nehemiah has a heart that follows after God. He is a man of prayer and compassion and within a few verses of reading, I notice that he is also a man of character and integrity. Nehemiah sensed God calling him to act, and his radical trust in God is evidenced by his courage to pray and wait for God to unfold the right plan.

Application: A radical trust in God gives courage to wait and not to act hastily. God’s timing is everything. (Philippians 4:6-7)

Waiting is not Wasted Time

Nehemiah identifies foremost with the quest of God’s glory and praise and is accompanied in prayer with godly friends–“servants that delight in honoring God’s name.” (Nehemiah 1:11) They waited on God to answer their prayers today and nothing happened; at least not what they expected. Through their persistent prayers,  God was strengthening their faith and Nehemiah’s resolve for the incredible task before him. This was a God-given call in Nehemiah’s heart and along with his loyal band of prayer warriors, would not rest in praying. Wrote Isaiah: “You who put the Lord in remembrance, take no rest and give him no rest until he establishes Jerusalem and makes it a praise in the earth.” (62:6-7)

Application: A time of unrest and waiting is not wasted time. Courage to wait on God’s timing is also strengthened through the prayers of others. (Ecclesiastes 4:12)

A God-given Calling will Result in God-given Enabling

As cupbearer, Nehemiah had the important job of tasting wine before it was served to the king, to see whether it was poisoned or not. It was an important job that granted him access to the king but it was also very risky. If the wine happened to be laced with poison, the cupbearer would pay the ultimate price, give up his own life, for the king to live. It was a good idea not to look distressed or sad in front of the king at any time, but especially after tasting the wine, yet Nehemiah did. The king noticed the sadness and asked Nehemiah, “Why are you sad, when you are certainly not ill?” That one question was the catalyst God used to launch his plan for renewal and change. For Nehemiah the waiting was about to end.

For months, Nehemiah has been asking God to answer his prayers today.  I imagine a rush of adrenaline pulsing in his chest, knowing all to well that his answer to the king’s question should be crafted well.  So here is Nehemiah, a man who puts his life at risk on a regular basis for the king yet becomes very much afraid at this moment to answer a question about the mission he has been praying over for months already!

God worked through that fear and rush of insecurity, giving Nehemiah confidence to honor and show homage to the king and with that same confidence, to speak boldly on behalf of his people and a city in ruin.

Application: Always expect God to answer prayers today. A God-size calling will result in God-size enabling.

Give God the Glory

Once again, there is another question from the king for Nehemiah to answer: “What are you requesting?”  Nehemiah’s immediate response was not fear but to pray to the God of heaven. A “flash prayer”…a silent prayer lasting a few seconds. Oh, how Nehemiah was depending on God to enable him for this mission. And without fear or hesitation, Nehemiah humbly asks the king for everything on his long and well thought out, prayed over and memorized plan.

And the king said, “Yes!”  For the good hand of God was upon Nehemiah (Nehemiah 2:8) That’s where the glory is to land…not on Nehemiah but directly upon God. Nehemiah humbly acknowledges the gracious hand of God upon him, and the gracious kindness of God in using him, rather than conceitedly supposing that the result is due to his own skills and talents and wisdom and gifts or experience. [1]

Application: God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things for his glory. It is not about me, it is all about Him!

[1] A Passion for Faithfulness, Wisdom from the Book of Nehemiah, page 68, by J. I. Packer 

Part One: When Walls are Broken: The Nehemiah Challenge Part 1

There is an Amazon link on this page. If you purchase the book using that link, I will receive a small stipend.

The Nehemiah Challenge | Part 1 | When Walls are Broken

For the past several months, I’ve kept a journal of nuggets that I discovered and learned from reading about Nehemiah. The name of the journal is, “The Nehemiah Challenge.”

Text: Nehemiah 1:1-11

Sometimes we need a hero, a person to challenge us in prayer, leadership, faithfulness, bravery, humility, and how to thrive in our everyday work and calling. A hero is just an ordinary person who God extraordinarily works through, yet by God’s grace, must continue to pray for a persistent obstinate quality of belief, to keep-keeping-on, grounded in faith and theology.

I discovered a hero in the pages of history, whose life continues to teach all of us who will become engrossed in his story. Just an ordinary guy that exemplified the art of empathy, so much so that empathy propelled him to take action. This hero’s name is, Nehemiah. The first 11 verses of Chapter One illustrate the character of Nehemiah through his action and words.

Nehemiah seems larger than life with which he defined his goals and the energy with which he pursued them. Yet, Nehemiah’s life story is a testament of what God has done in and through him, not to anything Nehemiah might claim as a personal achievement. [1]

Here are three things (nuggets) to do when walls are broken.

  1. Ask the right question
  2. Start praying
  3. Bear another’s burden

1. Ask the right question

The words of Nehemiah, the son of Hacaliah.  Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the citadel, that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem. (Nehemiah 1:1-2 ESV)

 Nehemiah received a visit from his brother and men from Judah.  After greetings and salutations, Nehemiah asked them a question about the condition of his extended family (concerning Jerusalem.) Nehemiah lived in a lifestyle of security and peace, far away from the hardships of his covenant community, yet he ventures to know more about the people in need.

 Even though Nehemiah suspected the answer would not be encouraging, he proceeded to ask the right question. The answer Nehemiah received about the status of his people and the security of his home and his community was very sad and grievous. The answer to that question propelled him to start. Nehemiah empathized.

Application: Don’t ask a question about a need unless you are willing to be part of the solution.

 2. Start praying

And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.” (Nehemiah 1:3 ESV)

Nehemiah absorbed the answer into his soul, words that quickened his spirit to move, albeit overwhelmed and weakened by the news, he immediately sits down and begins to pray, to cry and mourn the loss of a city in ruin, a broken community. Nehemiah is passionate to do something, yet instead of reacting about the situation, Nehemiah responds in humility with mourning, fasting and praying for days.

Nehemiah is more God-conscious than self-focused.

“As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” (Nehemiah 1:4 ESV)

Nehemiah models an example for us to learn that it is prayer that changes things and that without praying there is no prospering. Nehemiah’s walk with God was saturated with his consistent, habitual and petitionary prayers in devotion to God.

“And I said, ‘O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night…” (Nehemiah 1: 4-6 ESV)

Application: Constant private conversations with God keep us God-conscious and not self-focused.

3. Bear another’s burden

O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. (Nehemiah 1:5-7 ESV)

Empathy is costly because it requires that we step into another person’s situation to meet a need. [2] Nehemiah’s response to the broken walls of Jerusalem was a broken heart. He loved the people of God and the glory of God. He was in anguish because God’s special people were unprotected, shamed and humiliated. [3]

Empathy for others begins when we see ourselves rightly before a holy God. [2] Those walls had been in ruins for 141 years. And likely this wasn’t the first time that Nehemiah heard that there had been no real progress in rebuilding the walls. So what explains Nehemiah’s response to the news about the walls of Jerusalem? The only real explanation is that God was at work in Nehemiah’s soul. He felt God’s heart toward the shame and weakness of God’s people, and he wept. [3]

When we understand our state of utter desolation without God’s grace, we are free to empathize with those who are hurting. [2] If we love the glory of God, than we will be people who care about the well-being of God’s people. When God’s Spirit begins to move among his people, they see the broken walls and begin to care. They turn from indifference, and their hearts are broken over that which does not glorify Jesus in his church. They take ownership of their own compromise. They cry out to God and ask him to intervene. [3]

Application: Bearing one another’s burden will result in greater empathy toward brokenness.

Here’s a question for you, when you know walls are broken, where do you begin first? 

You may enjoy reading:

The Nehemiah Challenge │Part Two│A Radical Trust in God

The Nehemiah Challenge │Part Three │Getting Going


There is an Amazon link on this page. If you purchase the book using that link, I will receive a small stipend.