Where does God want to use you?

Nehemiah knew that sin brings punishment, but he also knew that God is ever merciful and willing to restore when there is penitence. Deuteronomy 30:1-3~(NIV) Not only that, he realized the seriousness of the situation in his homeland. Going and Doing: Troubling, Arrested, A Knock.

Opportunity Knocks (Nehemiah 2:1-8). The opportune time always come by divine design. Nehemiah 2:1-2~…in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, I took up the wine and gave it to the king…And the king said…Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of the heart…(ESV). As we walk out our faith, we are confronted by moments, as the Lord knocks and asks us to participate. These divine moments hold for us the challenge of responding without overstepping. When a question, situation, or set of circumstances come into our lives we often do not hold the correct answer, but then it seemingly shows up and we share. Man, that was awesome, for most of us our problem is not in the response, but the rebuttal. When a second question is presented and we answer it with the book of opinions chapter 9. 

In the story of going and doing found here in Nehemiah, four months had gone by before Nehemiah approached the king. By then he had plenty of time to see if his was simply an emotional response to bad news, or if God were truly leading him to do something. We gather the burden did not diminish, but rather grew stronger every day. Listen to the last part of Isaiah 28:16~See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who relies on it will never be stricken with panic. (NIV) How do you respond when opportunity knocks?

Nehemiah, who is prayed up and ready, makes a blog request. Like his forefathers who ate the Passover walking sticks in hand, he is ready for the Lord to move in his life. Our Takeaway: Where does God want to use you? Like so many others, Nehemiah was put into a position to be an instrument with influence for God’s purposes. Like Nehemiah, we should never be afraid to work where God sends us, knowing He will provide. Proverbs 21:1~In the Lord’s hand the king’s heart is a stream of water that he channels toward all who please him. (NIV) Let’s take these 21-Days and let God build a new you.  

Better Together

When I was a boy, my dad would promise to play football or catch with me. I would say to him, Dad you promised. I’d remind him of his promise to me, time and time again. When my dad promised me something, he would do it. It is something I work very hard at with my own kids today, and here is why: God says in Isaiah 43:26~Put me in remembrance: let us plead together: declare thou, that thou mayest be justified. (KJV) When we are in need, it’s good to put God in remembrance of His promise to us. It encourages our faith to confess His promises, time and time again as we go before His throne of grace. Saints, maybe God has promised you something. Never let go of the divine promise, remind God, confess His word, let God know that you’ve not forgotten His promises. Let the Lord know that you believe He is faithful and true trusting in His promise.

Despite the fact that Nehemiah was at least familiar with the unfinished business in Jerusalem, the news from his brother and the other men seems to have devastated him. His initial momentary reaction turned into days, weeks fell even to months of fasting, repentance, and prayer. There is a measure of Christlikeness to be seen in Nehemiah. Although he was physically removed from the suffering of his fellow Jews, he identified profoundly with it. Nehemiah like His Lord who will follow in Luke 19:41~As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it. (NIV) Does what moves God move you? Jews normally only fasted on the Day of Atonement, but Nehemiah fasted for several days, indicating the depth to which he had been moved. His penitent prayer is powerful in that it is reminiscent of both Daniel’s in 9:5-6~we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled (NIV) or like that of Ezra’s 9:6-7~I am too ashamed and disgraced, my God, to lift up my face to you…(NIV). All three men identify with their people in using the pronoun we instead of they. Though Nehemiah was many miles separated from his kinsmen who had forsaken the Lord, he still approached God in prayer as though he were as guilty as anyone else. 

Beyond his own humility, there was a precedent for Nehemiah taking responsibility. When one man sinned after the Battle of Jericho Joshua 7:1~But the Israelites were unfaithful in regard to the devoted things…(NIV) It only takes one to bring reproach on all. This should be a great lesson for us today. It’s easy to take hard stands against national leaders for their ungodly decisions and policies, but we often overlook our own sin. Sin in the community of faith is very much responsible for the decay of a nation.

Arrested Development

A foundation for the Temple was started, but after two years it came to a stop and remained at a standstill for seventeen years. Ezra 4:24~ (ESV) Like many, Israel needs some motivation when we get stuck from time to time. They’d convinced themselves they were alright. Haggai 1:2~Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord. (ESV) Haggai 1:7-9 ~Thus says the Lord of hosts: iConsider your ways…that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified…You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the Lord of hosts. Because my house lies in ruins…(ESV)

God says to the people set your priorities in the correct order that the Lord would bless our lives. Blessing flows in God’s order. Urged on by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, work resumed and the Temple was finished in 516 BC. This was a great achievement, but it didn’t represent a turning of the people hearts toward God. They were going and doing but still holding the wrong motivation, they were still self-centered and insincere in their faith. As we begin 21-Days, I want to challenge each of us to not just go through the motions, let this season of prayer and fasting build a new you. Going and Doing — Troubling, Arrested.

Arrested development. Some of us look grown up but aren’t. We walk around with suits, briefcases, car keys, and annuities. But inside, we are five. Ten. Twelve. Sixteen. We stopped growing, up. To help us better grasp the time we get to Nehemiah’s day, the Jews had been free to return to their homeland for about a hundred years. Many had gone back, but the great majority chose to stay in their new adoptive country, where life was easier. Not surprising, since life in exile was much more promising in nearly every way. Also, the earliest Jewish captives had been brought here some 160 years earlier (605 BC), so the ties to Judah were weak at best. Sometimes in making the best of a bad situation we can turn our rehab center into a home. As we look at the two different types of Jews, the ones who held a desire to return had maintained a stronger observance to the Law and Jewish culture. They were more devout and, like Jews of today going back to Israel, had something inside that was drawing them home.

Interestingly enough, Nehemiah himself doesn’t seem to have been inclined to return. Nehemiah 1:1~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, (ESV) Hachaliah’s name means The Lord has comforted, likely a noble class family, his son Nehemiah will become cupbearer to Artaxerxes, who ruled from 464-423 BC. This king was the son of Xerxes, stepson of Queen Esther. Perhaps was Esther’s influence a generation earlier which may have made Nehemiah’s lofty position attainable. He lived and worked in Shushan, the king’s winter palace.

As cupbearer to the king, Nehemiah carried great responsibility. His life was also constantly at stake since he tested the king’s wine to make sure it wasn’t poisoned. One day a group of men, including his brother, returned from an expedition to Judah Nehemiah 7:2. Nehemiah trusts the integrity of Hanani’s report by his response. Jerusalem had never been fully repaired since the first pilgrims had returned and rebuilt the Temple. They suffered from arrested development. Similarly, Nehemiah seems to have been arrested, and it should not have disturbed him so greatly, but God. Apparently, God chose this moment to touch his heart with the seriousness of it all. Arrested Nehemiah could go no further.

In our world, city walls may seem like an insignificant thing; but in the ancient world, they symbolized safety and protection from enemies. Just as various cultures regard different forms of dress as adequate and appropriate to hide nakedness, so walls were a symbol of how a city was clothed. Without them, the inhabitants were vulnerable, exposed. Listen to Nehemiah’s Reaction 1:4-5~…I sat down and wept…mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. And I said, O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love (חֶסֶד checed) with those who love him and keep his commandments, Nehemiah’s 1:6-7 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…(ESV) Nehemiah has brought back to the Lord’s remembrance covenantal love.