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Prayer, Planning, Purpose and Parody

Date: Jun. 30, 2013

Author: Bob Henkins

Nehemiah 2:1-20

Key Verse: Nehemiah 2:4

“The king said to me, 'What is it you want?' Then I prayed to the God of heaven,”

If you remember from last week’s passage we were introduced to Nehemiah, who has heard the news that the capital city of his people has been destroyed. He is heartbroken and cries out to God in prayer for his people. Nehemiah himself is a foreign eunuch slave, who just happens to be the king’s cup bearer. Not many of us know what the job description of a cup bearer is but it goes something like this. He is working for a foreign king that everyone wants to kill. And since the king was usually well guarded the easiest way to kill him would be to poison him. So the king would appoint a person that would have to taste everything the king ate or drank. And the king would watch him as he tasted his food & drink to see if he remained alive. If he did, then all is good and the king would finish his meal. The job was a pretty good one that had its perks, he got to live close to the king, probably a nice condo all to himself. He got to eat and drink the best food and wine in the country, but there was always the risk that he could die on the job. His job may not have required a lot of skill, but it was extremely important none the less because the most important man in the country life depended upon him doing his job well.

How did a foreign slave like Nehemiah get to the position where the king’s life was in his hand? There are two ways for a person to rise up to positions of significance. One way is that God calls you and prepares you and enables you to become that leader. God blesses you with the gift of leadership where people are naturally drawn to you and respect you. The other way is different than the first because this sort of person is not going to rise up on their own. They aren’t as naturally gifted as the first leader but they have other important qualities such as character, humility, faithfulness and dependability. These type of people are willing to humble themselves and serve alongside the first type of leader. And by attaching themselves to a leader that is on the rise they rise along with them. Nehemiah is that kind of man. He can never be the king because he’s a slave. But because of his humility, faithfulness and dependability he is able to rise to a very important position. Nehemiah is like Joseph who did the same thing for the king of Egypt. And what we see from this is that some of us will be called by God to be leaders and others he will call to be helpers and servants both of which are worthy of respect because they can be used greatly for God’s good purpose. And over the years of Nehemiah’s service, we find that his skills have been refined and he develops into a pretty gifted leader himself.

Let’s take a look at verses 1-2. “In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before, so the king asked me, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.” I was very much afraid,” The month of Nisan is around the March-April time frame. This indicates to us that Nehemiah has been praying for about four months now. What I learn from this is that even though you may be praying for something that is according to God’s will, you may still have to persevere in prayer until is it God’s time. Even though he has been praying for the last four months still his heart is grieving so much that it’s beginning to show on his face and he is afraid when the king notices it. He’s afraid because the rule is when you go before the king you are supposed to be happy. (Est 4:2) And if you’re not, you fake it. If he made the king angry, he could be killed right on the spot (Pr 20:2). So naturally, Nehemiah was afraid when he realized that the king noticed that he was sad.

But much to his surprise the king looks at him and says, “Why are you so sad? You’ve never been sad in my presence before what’s going on?” (v2) Sometimes we let fear rule our lives when we shouldn’t let it. We need to overcome this fear and take a chance and act on our faith. As it turns out the king was pretty wise and compassionate of heart toward his people. Nehemiah responds in verse 3, “but I said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” This is the point where Nehemiah pours out his heart to the king and tells him of his concern. He overcomes his fear and takes action based upon his faith and the king doesn’t kill him. In fact the king actually cares for him, which is king of remarkable. From this I see how important it is to have God’s call in our heart. It was God’s calling that helped Nehemiah overcome his fear and stick to his conviction. Each person has to have their own personal calling from God, without it we may never reach our destination.

Take a look at verse 4. “The king said to me, “What is it you want?” Then I prayed to the God of heaven,” The king gets right down to the point and says how can I help you. This is it, this is the opportunity that Nehemiah was hoping for. He knocked and the door was opened for him and what’s he do, he stops and prays. What’s he been doing for the past three or four months? Praying. And what’s he going to do now right before he gets his big shot? That’s right pray again. First Thessalonians 5:17 says, “ pray continually,” We need to keep on praying. Some prayers are long, some are short. Sometimes we can make prayer too complicated but it’s not really. God is a father and we’re his kids. You can talk to your dad any time about anything. Sometimes you talk to him for a long time, other times you give a little “Hey, dad,” just a quickie like my daughter Suzy. Sometimes it’s pouring out our heart crying while other times it’s just saying, “Thanks.” There are all kinds of prayers. Long, short. Doesn’t matter. God’s a father, he loves you and wants to talk to you. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year God is available to listen to his kids. Prayer, because of the Lord Jesus’ intercession, as he took away our sins, we are able to speak to God at any time, as the Bible says, “To approach the throne of grace with confidence...” (Heb 4:16) so that we can talk to dad about anything. And so that’s what Nehemiah does. It’s a brief prayer, “Father grant me the right words, let his ears be open, and please don’t let him kill me,” because certain decisions and opportunities in life are strategic. And if you miss it, it’s gone. So whether it’s going into a meeting, or a job interview, or taking a test, in moments like those you got to pray.

Take a look at verse 5. “and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it.” At first glance this doesn’t sound like much, “Boss, can I use my vacation time to go back home and work on my house?” But when we read the book of Ezra (Ezra and Nehemiah are contemporaries) we find that this is actually a huge request. To sum it up briefly, when the Israelites started to rebuild Jerusalem, the other people from that region got together and wrote a letter to King Artaxerxes telling him what’s going on and if the Israelites completed their work, it would end up being big trouble for him. And so the king issued an edict saying, “No. I forbid it. There will be no rebuilding of the city, no rebuilding of the gates or the walls, no rebuilding of the houses of worship. I forbid it.” And then those people took the king’s edict and stopped the Israelites by force. And so what Nehemiah is really asking here is for the king to reverse his foreign policy. This would be like a waiter in the White House as he is serving dinner one day and the president looks at him and says, “You look bummed out. How come?” And he says, “I don’t like your foreign policy in the Middle East. I feel like the way you’ve handled Israel is messed up. I would like you to send me to Israel so that I can rebuild the city. And I would like to be appointed as the person to negotiate peace talks.” That’s a huge request for anyone let alone a waiter. Now you know why he’s afraid.

Take a look at verse 6. “Then the king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked me, “How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?” It pleased the king to send me; so I set a time.” Challenging the kings decisions are difficult enough by themselves but to do it in front of his woman is insane. Either Nehemiah has faith or he’s crazy. The king asks, “How much time do you want off work?” Although it doesn’t tell us here we find out later (v5:14) that he will be gone for 12 years. So not only does he want to change the king’s foreign policy, but he wants a promotion and 12 years off of work to do it. You have to pray to make that kind of request don’t you? And now it gets to the really amazing part because Nehemiah is going to lay out his plan for the king. What’s he been doing for three or four months? Praying. And what has he been doing in that time? Planning. Prayer and planning go together. It’s like faith and action. Some people don’t understand this and their mistake is that they do one or the other and not both. So they will say, “I want to lose weight, finish college, get married, buy a house, disciple people, or change the world.” And when asked, “What’s your plan?” they say “I’m praying about it.” Prayer’s good, but prayer should lead to a plan. Some of you say, “It’s not spiritual to have a plan.” Sure it is. As soon as the king asked Nehemiah “What do you want?” Nehemiah starts laying out his plan because during his three or four months of prayer, he wasn’t just praying and crying. He was sketching out a plan. How many of you, your strength is praying, but you’re not planners? You say things like “I’m just trusting the Lord.” What that means is “I have no idea.” Or “Whatever the Lord leads.” What that means is “I have no idea where I’m going.” How many of you are planners and not prayers? You like to get right to the work and you forget to pray? And the time you pray is after you have made a mess of things. My wife’s more of a prayer and I’m more of a planner. Sometimes God does that. It’s frustrating for everyone, but it’s better. She’ll be like “Did you pray about it?” and I’ll be like, “ahhhhh yeah?” The key is to pray so you know what God wants for you, and then pray that God would reveal to you a plan, and then move forward praying through all the aspects of that plan as you execute it. Prayer and planning go together. Just like faith and action.

Here’s his plan. Take a look at verses 7-8a. “I also said to him, “If it pleases the king, may I have letters to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, so that they will provide me safe-conduct until I arrive in Judah?And may I have a letter to Asaph, keeper of the royal park, so he will give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel by the temple and for the city wall and for the residence I will occupy?” First Nehemiah asked for permission, then he asks for authority and then he asks for resources. He’s a slave with no money, influence or people how is he going to get this job done? Does king worship his God? No. And yet he’s asking the king to fund this 12-year plan to rebuild a city and a church that the king has forbidden to be built and to allow his servant who protects his life to be released from his job to go do it and to do it under his own protection and to do it at the king’s own expense. It’s a good thing Nehemiah had a plan.

One thing that strikes me here is Nehemiah’s amazing faith. Sometimes I think that we don’t really have faith that God can accomplish great things through us. We have this meek, timid, flaccid faith that has no vision to accomplish anything of substance. I don’t think that Nehemiah set out to do this great task but I think he had such love and compassion for his people and he wanted to do something for them and the result was this massive prayer topic and plan. Amazingly God granted all his requests and more. Take a look at 8b-9. “And because the gracious hand of my God was on me, the king granted my requests. So I went to the governors of Trans-Euphrates and gave them the king’s letters. The king had also sent army officers and cavalry with me.” Nehemiah gave all the glory to God because a miracle happened. He knew it. He didn’t try to hide it. Not only did God grant all his requests, he even sent protection to carry it out. This leads me to the third point from the title, purpose. Why did God grant Nehemiah’s requests? I believe that it was because Nehemiah had God’s purpose in his heart. It wasn’t for his own glory but for the glory of God and for his suffering people. God is a father and he cares about his children. It’s at this time that we have to think about what is our purpose in doing things, what is our motive. Is it right before God? Sometimes our prayers are not answered the way we hope because our motives/ purpose is not right.

And finally we come to the last point I want to make and that is parody. A parody is when someone makes fun of, or mocks someone else. Take a look at verses 10 & 19. “When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiahthe Ammonite official heard about this, they were very much disturbed that someone had come to promote the welfare of the Israelites. - But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official and Geshem the Arab heard about it, they mocked and ridiculed us. “What is this you are doing?” they asked. “Are you rebelling against the king?” One thing you soon realize when you make a decision to follow God is that you will run into parody. There will always be someone there to mock you or ridicule you. Some people are just gifted in discouragement. Why do they do that? Who knows. Maybe they hate God or God’s people, or maybe they are just unhappy bitter people or maybe they feel threatened. Sometimes people are threatened when they see someone else receive God’s blessing and so they attack that person because they are jealous. The reason doesn’t matter, what we have to realize is that it will happen and we have to expect it and be ready for it when it does happen. There is no need for us to get upset or worried. Because just like Nehemiah who had the king’s permission, authority and resources, we have our heavenly Father’s permission, authority and resources to carry out the mission he has prepared for us. And we can answer just like Nehemiah did when they ridiculed him in verse 20, “I answered them by saying, “The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.” Those who oppose God’s work, have no share in it therefore we don’t have to worry. We just need to stick to our plan and have courage to carry it out. Since Jesus died on the cross, paying the price for our sin, he has won the victory and Satan has no hold on us anymore.

In conclusion it all comes down to this our key verse for today, 4. What do you want? Sometimes we don’t have a clue about what we want. We need focus, we need to know what our purpose is. And for this we need to pray and ask God what does he want us to do? I believe that God has put us here where we are for a purpose. Acts 17 says that “God determines when and where we live.” And so God has us here at this strategic time when we can serve his purpose on this campus, in this neighborhood, when this nation seems to be pulling away from the one who created all things. I believe that God gave us his mission to make him known on this campus and community however each of us must have a personal calling from God.

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