Four months is a long time to live with an anxious, broken heart. Nehemiah has been seeking God for His forgiveness and mercy, and for His intervening power. He loves God’s people, loves God, and longs that God would move to restore His city, Jerusalem. Nehemiah offers himself for that purpose. This man, a close official, has been praying that God would “give your servant success today by granting him favour in the presence of this man” (1.11). Four months later, Nehemiah discovers that God’s “today” has come (2.1).
Nehemiah didn’t contrive to put on a sad face in the king’s presence, but Artaxerxes notices it, and asks about it (vv.1-2). We don’t know if Nehemiah’s words are premeditated, or just tumble out in an agony of heart. After his explanation, he has the opportunity he must surely have been praying for – and must have hardly dared request: leave to return and rebuild Jerusalem (vv.2-5). The other officials must have been stunned at the favour Nehemiah found. The king is intrigued, but gives his permission, and then agrees to share resources for the project after Nehemiah has the audacity to ask for them (vv.7-9).
How come Nehemiah finds such favour? Because he cared, prayed, and was courageous. Ultimately, because “the gracious hand of my God was upon me” (v.8). That is grace, and grace, though always utterly undeserved, is the gift enjoyed through believing prayer. After all, God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us” (Eph. 3.20). It’s not enough to know the theory – prayer is the asking and the receiving of that abundant and powerful grace. So do we?
But any work we attempt for God is the focus of Satan’s attacks. There will be opposition, difficulty, discouragement, disloyalty, upset, frustration and exhaustion. Doesn’t Jesus warn us to count the cost of serving Him? The first hint is in v.10. And Nehemiah knows how ambitious his plans are, and is careful at the moment to keep them to himself (v.11-12). He surveys the scale of the work ahead of him (vv.13-16), again, keeping his plans secret. Notice that he’s no Lone Ranger, and he’s looking for partners. So, once he knows what he’s calling others to commit to, he gathers the community leaders, and tells them three things: what needs doing, that God is good – and that they have work to do.
The work begins. There are the gathering clouds of opposition and discouragement (v.19), but the bright conviction of faith (v.20). With God all things are possible. Do you believe that? Do you believe that God’s work is the best work to do, and that His servants will be filled with His Spirit for it? Then what are we waiting for? Let’s offer ourselves to His work.
A Prayer to Pray
Lord, You are worthy of all risk, effort, sacrifice and danger. I know that, but I don’t know that. I’m always so tempted to run back to the safe and the familiar. Forgive me my cowardly and unbelieving heart. Thankyou for Your brave Son, who was faithful to the end, paying for my sins and showing me the way of brave Gospel service. I go in His Name, in His power. Amen.