The book of Nehemiah is an encouraging book to read because it describes a season of restoration and revival for God’s people. Nehemiah is a great example of wise and godly leadership. When this book starts, we know that the Israelites had been scattered outside Jerusalem and were living in exile after it had been attacked by Nebuchadnezzar’s army. The city and its walls had been demolished. Nehemiah was living in Susa (current day Iran) some one hundred and fourty years later, serving King Artaxerxes as his cupbearer.
1. Prayer and repentance.
In Chapter 1 we read about how upset Nehemiah was when he heard the news about how the city remained in ruins with the walls broken down, and how the Jews who had returned to the province were in great trouble and disgrace because they had no safe place to live. The interesting thing about this is how Nehemiah responded to the news. He mourned and fasted and he prayed. He confessed his sins and the sins of the people. He remembered the many warnings that God had given His people. In this way, Nehemiah showed God that he accepted the responsibility for his sins and for the sins of his people. This is a great example of intercessory prayer. Nehemiah was willing to be accountable to God on behalf of his people and he repented.
Then, he reminded God of His promise to Moses. God had warned that He would scatter the people if they were unfaithful to Him but if they returned and obeyed His commands, He would gather the exiled people and bring them back to the place He had chosen for them. He asked God for favour in the presence of “this man”, referring to King Artaxerxes his powerful employer. Nehemiah had started his planning.
3. Recognize a godly opportunity, confirm it with prayer and act accordingly.
Chapter 2 starts about four months later. Nehemiah had been praying and planning during this time. One day, the king noticed that he looked sad and asked him why. Nehemiah was afraid, because his job was to serve the king cheerfully and he could be killed if he displeased the king. However, he had courage to tell the king about his sadness regarding the ruined state of his homeland. Then miraculously, the king asked him what he wanted! This must surely have been an answer to his prayer in Nehemiah 1:11! Nehemiah immediately prayed again and asked God what to say. Nehemiah had such a close relationship with God due to his prayer life, that he recognized and understood God’s intervention. After praying, he asked the king to send him to Jerusalem so that he could rebuild it. The king agreed and his main concern was how long it would be before Nehemiah returned. The king must have highly valued Nehemiah and his work. Nehemiah appears to have set a time for the king and then he asked him for the things he would need, such as letters to provide him a safe passage through various lands, and timber for building. Nehemiah did not hesitate at all. He knew exactly what he needed to ask for and how much time he needed. He had been planning this carefully while praying for God’s intervention and interceding for his people. Nehemiah was extremely well prepared. Then the king granted his requests and Nehemiah gave God the glory for this. He recognized that he had got what he wanted because of God’s gracious hand (v8).
4. Expect resistance and opposition
After this, Nehemiah met with resistance and opposition from two characters named Sanballat and Tobiah. This is a useful reminder that even when we are acting on God’s will and have God’s gracious hand upon us, we are likely to come across opposition. This is because the devil does not want God’s will to be done. Do not allow this to stop you, but remember to stay close to God in prayer.
5. Keep your own counsel until you have done your research properly
Nehemiah went to Jerusalem and stayed there for three nights before he did set out to look at the city. It is most likely that he was praying during this time. He then set out at night with a few people only. He had not told anyone of his plans yet. This was because he decided to do his research quietly, without any drama or fanfare. When God puts it in our hearts to do something, the best reaction is to check, pray and prepare. When He gives us work to do, there is no need to make a big fuss and draw attention to yourself. Instead, get on with the work quietly and diligently. It is likely that Nehemiah did not say anything to the Jewish leaders or priests at this time in order to avoid having to deal with their unbelief, opposition or negativity. He needed time to examine the ruins, to think about what best to do and to pray.
6. Encourage people to work alongside you
After a period of research and preparation, Nehemiah finally spoke to the Jews. He showed them the extent of the problem and the trouble that they all were in, including himself. He appealed to their identity; they were God’s people and should not be a people in disgrace. He finally told them about God’s gracious hand upon him. The people understood that this was God’s anointing on Nehemiah and on their situation, so they agreed to start the work of rebuilding the city.
7. Expect more discouragement and opposition.
This made Sanballat and Tobiah angry, and they mocked and ridiculed Nehemiah and the Jewish people. If you are doing God’s work you will meet discouragement and opposition. People may well mock you. It comes with the territory. Do not worry about it but bring your attention to point 8 below.
8. Focus on your purpose and identity in God.
Nehemiah did not bother arguing with them. He simply confirmed his identity and purpose. He replied, “We His servants will start rebuilding” (v20). Do not waste time arguing with mockers. Proverbs 9: 8 tells us, “do not correct a mocker (who foolishly ridicules and takes no responsibility for his error) or he will hate you; correct a wise man (who learns from his error) and he will love you. Get on with the job that God has given you and work with people who are willing to learn and obey God. The opposition has no share in the reward that God has prepared for us. If you are wise, your wisdom with reward you; if you are a mocker, you alone will suffer Proverbs 9:12). In short, do not worry about what mockers say. Know who you are in God whose work you are doing, for He has already won the victory for us.
Are there things that God has placed in your heart to do? Spend time praying in order to prepare yourself for God’s work. Pray over the situation and pray that God will help you remove the things that hinder you. Ask God to show you His plan. Ask God for His guidance about what you need to do to prepare yourself. The task might seem too big, but we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13).