Nehemiah was a great Jewish leader. He was originally a member of one of those Jewish families still exiled from home many years after the Jews were forced to go live in Babylon around 587 B.C. From 444 B.C. to 432 B.C., Nehemiah served, under the Persian Emperor, as governor of Judah. He was an important figure in history of the people of Israel, helping to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and guiding, along with Ezra, the people who were now back in Israel to rededicate themselves to the Law of God that was revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. He wrote a book about his experiences, called “Nehemiah,” that is in the Old Testament.
I had always passed off Nehemiah as someone who was “just” a historical figure – someone without much personality and someone who was not a teacher of the faith like many of the prophets were. But I was wrong. To read the book of Nehemiah IS to read a mainly historical account, yes – and some parts of that history are fascinating – but Nehemiah not only accomplishes things with his actions – Nehemiah tells us HOW he comes to his important decisions – and it all has to do with his relationship with God.
Now let me back up a bit and say that what Nehemiah reveals is something that, today, we might call a superpower – in this day and age in which the superhero movie is so popular – or at least it WAS popular before COVID came along! You know how many of us like to joke about having a superpower – whether it’s a real talent or just a quirk that we have. I grew up reading superhero comic books and imagining having a superpower. I wanted to have telekinesis – the ability to move things with my mind. Well…guess what? I never had telekinesis. Nope!
What would I describe Nehemiah’s superpower as? Well, to put it in modern terms, I’d call it “seeing around the corner,” or “looking ahead.” He not only could envision good things ahead – if one worked for them; Nehemiah could also see bad things coming if people weren’t prepared. Let me give you a sampling of what Nehemiah is talking about, using his own words – words that seem fairly “modern” to us, today.
The book of Nehemiah begins with Nehemiah still living in Susa, the capital of the Persian Empire and serving as cupbearer at the royal palace. It’s revealed to Nehemiah by his brother, who had been back in Judah, that things were not going very well there – even though some Jews had returned there about 100 years earlier and had rebuilt the temple about seventy years ago. This brother of his told Nehemiah that the gates of Jerusalem were all broken down. Nehemiah was dumbstruck by how bad it had gotten. He immediately prayed mightily to God, baring to God his soul. Then one day, Nehemiah tells us, he served wine directly to the king; he was in the king’s presence for the first time. The king asked young Nehemiah why he was downhearted. I will now read our boost for the week, which is from Nehemiah, chapter two, verses two through five: “So the king said to me, ‘Why is your face sad, since you are not sick? This can only be sadness of heart.’ Then I was very much afraid. I said to the king, ‘May the king live forever! Why should my face notbe sad, when the city [of Jerusalem] – the place of my ancestors’ graves – lies waste, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?’ Then the king said to me, ‘What do you request?’ So I prayed to the God of heaven. Then I said to the king, ‘If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor with you, I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city of my ancestors’ graves, so that I may rebuild it.’” And the king not only agreed to Nehemiah’s request, but also ordered everyone in Judah to follow Nehemiah’s orders, and put the walls of Jerusalem back up after they had been destroyed about 150 years earlier!
But did you notice what Nehemiah did when the king asked him what his request could be? Nehemiah, in this high-pressure moment, quickly prayed – and he prayed in a way that you and I can pray, today. It was no elaborate, long-winded prayer. It was a short prayer asking for fast guidance from the Lord – and he got it! Can you imagine being the king? You ask Nehemiah what he wants, and there before you the young man pauses – is it a pause for five seconds, or even ten long seconds? In any case Nehemiah paused to make a short prayer to God, and then God guided his mind and his lips to make the perfect request – a request that may have changed the course of history, for without Nehemiah’s leadership, would there even have BEEN a Jerusalem for Jesus to preach and be crucified in, or an Israel for Jesus to have been born in?
It’s with these quick, “in-the-moment” prayers that we find the Holy Spirit really coming through not just for Nehemiah, but for us as well! Why? Because our life needs to be dedicated to God at all times, and not just during worship or other obvious “holy times.” A short prayer for guidance may help you do the right thing or say the right thing when it comes to making a snap decision – and, in these strange times, you and I have been forced to make difficult decisions – decisions we have never had to make before – almost every day.
Now, before I go on I want to tell you that there are other places in the book of Nehemiah where Nehemiah lays out the exact same spirituality – the exact same moment by moment reliance upon the Spirit of God. When Nehemiah first got to Jerusalem, the powerful people there were astonished that the Persian King had put so much power in this new young governor’s hands. But Nehemiah knew that his royal decree was not enough to help him. God gave him an idea which would help him understand what we call today “the lay of the land.” Nehemiah tells us, in chapter two, verse eleven, “So I came to Jerusalem and was there for three days. Then I got up during the night, I and a few men with me; I told no one what my God had put into my heart to do for Jerusalem.” Nehemiah took that creative idea that God had put into his heart, secretly toured the city, and from that point on knew how all the city’s walls could be rebuilt. We, too, need to look for ideas that God puts in our hearts and minds; we often need God’s vast creativity to bolster our mind and heart as we seek to do God’s will every day – even on those confusing days that we have often gone through already.
Nehemiah’s approach to prayer in his life reminds me of a couple of passages in the New Testament. There are two places where Paul advises that all Christians “pray without ceasing.” Now that’s the kind of prayer that is mixed in to every part of our lives – praying while we are working…praying while we are driving…praying even while we are in the middle of a dispute…praying while we are thinking about tomorrow’s events, and so forth. That’s what Nehemiah did…he prayed without ceasing. He prayed about the future. He prayed to receive a certain kind of sight and insight – he prayed for a certain kind of superpower – the ability to see “right around the corner” – in order to anticipate those events that were about to happen “right around the corner”! And God led and guided him down successful pathways.
It reminds me of something Jesus once said, in Luke chapter twelve, eleven to twelve. He once proclaimed, “When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you AT THAT VERY HOUR what you ought to say.” In these critical times, how wonderful it is to trust and have faith in a God who is able to give us such help when we need it, and such power when we feel powerless on many of these days! Let us not grow weary but continue to rely on God every minute of every day, relying on God’s superpowers, as Nehemiah once did! Amen!
Go to kogcarmel.org and find King of Glory’s Sunday worship services as well – live at 10 am every Sunday. Archived worship services and boosts may be found at the bottom of King of Glory’s home page.