Nehemiah 2 “Not Getting Ahead of God”

How often do we sit and pray and wait anxiously to see God at work forgetting that God’s timing is not always ours. “There is an appointed time and an appropriate time for every activity on earth” [Eccl 3] and only God knows that time.

As Nehemiah prepared his heart over the four months of intense prayer he studied the Torah. Perhaps he came across the story of Moses who took matters into his own hands after seeing his own people’s hard labor.  Moses recounts his sad tale of how he attacked an Egyptian man after seeing him beat a Hebrew. His outrage escalated and the next thing that happened was the murder of the Egyptian. Long story short, after the Hebrews and Pharaoh heard of this event Moses had to flee for his life since the anger of Pharaoh was aroused. Perhaps as Nehemiah studied that story he learned a lesson: don’t get ahead of God or you might find yourself cooling your heels in the desert tending sheep—for 40 yrs.!

Have you ever stepped out thinking you knew what needed to be done? Nehemiah knew what needed to be done and so he prepared his heart and prayed “Grant your servant success TODAY and show compassion to me in the presence of this man”— meaning the king.

When God calls you to do His work, prepare your heart in prayer, test the waters by asking God to grant you success and leave the results up to Him BUT don’t get ahead of God by taking matters into your own hand.

Nehemiah 2 “Tilling the Soil”

“Do not grow weary in doing good, for in due time we reap, if we do not give up.” [Gal 6] Nehemiah had spent four months in prayer, fasting and mourning after hearing the news of the state of Jerusalem. Like the parable of the sower, he had scattered the seeds of prayer to the God of heaven yet it seemed some had fallen along a hardened soil and the enemy had stolen his prayers. Yet even in that Nehemiah remained faithful to pray, believing the principle that in due time he would reap.  Are you facing a garden that seems devoid of answers? Does it seem like your prayers have fallen amongst the thorns of life—a.k.a duties and busyness?  Beloved, if you have tilled the soil and you are patient, watering, weeding, and fertilizing your prayers/seeds will take root and you see the little shoots sprout up. But, also, like Nehemiah, we must be on guard for the tare of fear will seek to infiltrate our garden of prayers. Keep on praying even if you don’t see fruit right away.

Nehemiah prayed: Please, Lord! Grant your servant success not in the future but today! Show me compassion! May the prayers I have offered have fallen upon the good soil.  In Nehemiah’s case God had also been doing his own tilling and the king’s heart was now ready to receive the fruit of Nehemiah’s prayers.

God is tilling the soil of that hardened heart of that unbeliever; your job is to pray.   

2 Samuel 22 and Nehemiah 2 “What’s On Your Sleeve?”

Sometimes like Nehemiah and Timothy we face the same presence of fear which is revealed in our countenance.  While Timothy lived centuries later the advice is the same: 2 Timothy 1:7 For God did not give us a Spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control.

Four months into Nehemiah’s fasting and praying regimen he entered the king’s presence. Now either Nehemiah felt it was time for God to act and he chose to step out in faith or the king was just plain perceptive. Whatever it was, the king was alarmed at Nehemiah’s countenance.The King was very perceptive and noted that this one whom he knew personally had sadness of heart. Truly we often wear our heart on our sleeve exposing our emotions and making ourselves vulnerable. The King had the power of life and death for his servants—even his trusted cupbearer Nehemiah! But once the door was open Nehemiah did what was very ordinary to him: he prayed to the God of heaven.  Perhaps in his quiet time he had come across God’s challenge to Moses:  “Who gave a mouth to man…is it not I the Lord?” [Ex 4:10] Had he memorized those words for such a time as this? Perhaps. But, Nehemiah was saying in his heart; God you can do this; I am your servant! 

Nehemiah had studied the scriptures. He knew the words of David:  “In my distress I called to the Lord; I called to my God. From his heavenly temple he heard my voice; he listened to my cry for help.” [2 Sam 22]

What is on your sleeve today? Fear or Courage?

How often do you pray and think God is not listening? Do you think that what you are saying is falling upon deaf ears because you don’t see any movement from God? Nehemiah knows this principle: a key aspect of prayer is to listen, discern and use your time reflectively and then wait expectantly for God’s timing to happen. Like Hannah, Jeremiah and Daniel and many others, Nehemiah did not just pray once but many days—in fact it was four months before there was a breakthrough.  How long are you spending in a mode of prayer for yourself, your church, your country?

Like David in Psalm 5 Nehemiah began; Lord carefully consider; or pay attention to my cry. Nehemiah knew he was a servant of King Artaxerxes but his real king was Jehovah. Like the psalmist, Nehemiah came in a mode of repentance and a heart of repentance: “I am praying to you today throughout both day and night on behalf of your servants the Israelites. I am confessing the sins of the Israelites that we have committed against you – both I myself and my family have sinned.”

Use today to pray for yourself, your family, your church, your country. Use your time wisely. Spend time in prayer and “then wait expectantly for an answer” knowing that God rewards the godly and protects them with His shield.

Have you ever heard this said?  Don’t you want to see my dream fulfilled? Sounds like a plausible question does it not? In fact, the question worded as it puts us in a peculiar position. If we say no the questioner is offended. If we say yes we may be leading them astray. Such is the case the Prophet Nathan found himself in before the king in 2 Sam 7 and 1 Chron 17.  In reality, we should ask the questioner are you putting your dream ahead of God’s dream for you?  We might ask them shouldn’t your question be “Don’t you want to see God’s dreams fulfilled?”  In 1 Chronicles 4, we find a man by the name of Jabez.  We might say “he got it right.”  He asked God to fulfill his dream which was essentially God’s dream so that when others encountered him, God would get the glory not him. So Jabez prayed:

“If only you would greatly bless me and expand my territory! May your hand be with me! Keep me from harm so I might not endure pain!” Don’t miss this:  God answered his prayer.”

We know from that last phrase that his dream was for God’s blessing, not his. God answers the prayers of the righteous and humble and Jabez was that. In fact, we learn that he was more respected or honorable than all of his brothers. This story teaches us that God has some pretty important lessons for us and often they are compacted in very short snippets, like 7 verses or as in the case of Jabez only 1 verse! So 2 Sam 7 and 1 Chron 17 is one of those just like the Prayer of Jabez.

In 2 Sam 7 and 1 Chron 17 we read that David had a vision or a dream. It came from a pure and humble heart.

GET THIS POINT IF YOU DON’T GET ANYTHING ELSE HERE: 

There was nothing wrong with David’s dream and there may be nothing wrong with yours.

In fact, as the prophet Nathan listened, he responded, in today’s vernacular, just like we might:  “Go for it!”   But in the middle of the night, God spoke to the prophet.  God said go and  tell David emphatically “NO!”  So, sheepishly Nathan takes what God said and returns to David with God’s message. Hearing no, David had some choices; and when we hear God say “no” we also have some choices. We can say, God, you are being unfair, or you and others are against me. You can be bitter, angry, have a temper tantrum or submit. The rest of this chapter shows us the lesson God wants us to learn when David experiences the “death of his dream” and how we can respond.

 He went in and sat before the Lord 

How about you, have you experienced an unfulfilled dream?  It may have come like David’s from a pious heart but God has said “no.” Here’s the real question; was it “your” dream or His? Now don’t miss this!  God didn’t take away his dream but showed David how much bigger His dream was instead of David’s.   Jesus reminds us that unless a kernel of wheat, like our dream, falls to the ground and dies it cannot produce a far greater yield than if we left it above ground.  Don’t stop listening when God says no WHY? He usually has something far greater or bigger than you can imagine.

You may think your dream was just that; a dream and nothing else. Take a hint and do as David. Go and sit before the Lord and share your heart. You may get the shock of a lifetime! God is listening! God cares but you may have missed his bigger dream because you are focused on yours and not His.

That seems like a rather strange title, doesn’t it? Yet God in His mercy has recorded this for us that we might know that these were real people just like us with their aches, pains, joys and sorrows. Each was given the gift of life and was chosen in eternity past. The only reminder we have of them is their tombstone recording for us their birth date and their death date.

So what are we to glean from this sacred graveyard?

God has had his servants record these chapters to show us His plan for our redemption in this chain of people. God sent His son born of a woman to redeem those who were under the law.  (Gal 4:5) They bowed the knee and whispered God save me for there is no other name under heaven whereby we are saved. (Acts 4:12) We are saved not from perishable seed but from imperishable seed. (1Pet 1:23) No matter how great our first birth privilege or heritage is it does not secure our salvation for by no works are we justified, but by His grace alone. (Eph 2:8-9) Of all those recorded, righteous or unrighteous, they could not save their own son or daughter only their own lives by their righteousness because they chose to believe in the Son of God. (Ezek 14:14-20) They believed and trusted in the God who saves.

Each name recorded, along with yours, will join those standing before the Lamb of God when the books are opened. To some they will hear well done, thou good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of the Lord but to others they will hear depart from me I never knew you.

This is a sobering thought. Consider your decision for Christ today.

Have you ever obeyed God and then it seems like, as we said yesterday, the sky is falling in? God knew this would happen when David obeyed God and it seemed to backfire. This is why He put it in the heart of Jonathan to find David to encourage him. And finding him was like finding a needle in a haystack because David was in the deep forest of Horesh.  But, Jonathan did and he came to encourage David in God. Encouragement is the prescription that is needed when we are down. It is then that God steps in and sends to us the one who has the courage to step out of their comfort zone. In the NT we find Barnabas doing the same for a “young in the faith” Paul when he came to Jerusalem and was ostracized out of fear by the believers.

Encouraging another who is down begins first by immersing and meditating upon the Word of God day and night and hiding God’s word in your heart.  Fill your quiver with His words and His love. Then you can remind your downcast friend to think about how God has fulfilled His promises. Help them to think about “whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy.”  [Phil 4]

Be a Jonathan or Barnabas today for someone who is downcast.

In Genesis 16 we find Hagar in the wilderness next to a spring of water. In this time of wandering, wondering and facing an unknown future, God reached down from heaven and spoke lovingly to her. “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?”  Hagar responded truthfully: “I am running away.”

Are you willing to be truthful with God about your circumstance?

The psalmist reminds us that when we like Hagar, face the unknown, He is there. He “encamps” around us. When our vision is blurred we need fresh eyes. When Elisha’s servant could only see the enemy; when Hagar could only see the wilderness before her; when the future before us seems unreachable, we can pray O Lord; open my eyes so I can see that You, El Roi are  “encamped” around me.  He is the not just God who sees but more importantly He is the God who sees “me!” Hagar would name that well, Beer Lahai Roi and would be her spiritual marker and testimony to all who came by and asked, why is this well named that?

Do you have a spiritual marker that testifies to your intimate meeting with God?

Can you say with Hagar and the servant “God has seen “me?”

God’s Word has a simple gospel message; “I, God created the heavens and the earth” and since the creation of the world My invisible attributes can be understood by just looking at My creation. Yet, for Stephen Hawking, who died today and saw and studied the stars and the universe; he missed the most important clue. Hawking saw the evidence before him but said:

“God may exist but science can explain the universe without the need for a creator.”

Another man also died this past week: Billy Graham. He preached the simple gospel message for 60 years. Because of his message of God’s love, many believed and their lives were eternally changed. 1Timothy anchors that idea. Christ the Savior was revealed to us in his incarnation and proven to be who He was at his resurrection. He was seen by the angelic host at his birth, his temptation and at his ascension and it all began in Genesis 1:1 “God created the heavens and the earth.” This is the evidence that requires us to take a step of faith and believe.

Hawking chose to reject, Graham chose to believe.

Hawking sadly now knows the truth of the simple gospel message and yet it is too late just like the rich man in Luke 16. We determine our destiny now not after we die. Graham knew and now knows God is who He said He was and is with Him in heaven. Graham saw and believed the evidence; Hawking saw and rejected the evidence.

Truly, the psalmist words of Psalm 19 are before us and we should take heed:

The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky displays his handiwork. [Ps 19] therefore if we reject this evidence we are without excuse. (Rom 1:20)

How about you?

 

From Acts 24 we learn a valuable lesson in how to stand strong when our world is topsy-turvy and everything is twirling like a top set to spin.

Paul now is brought before the highest ranking Roman official, the governor Felix. This chapter reminds us of those who use the overkill of flattery to dull the senses. This reminds us of what Paul wrote late: “by their smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of the naïve.” The Jewish attorney Tertullus knew Felix never exhibited even one of those character qualities of a longtime peace and rightful reforms! Not even one! Yet Tertullus hoped, by using excessive and insincere praise to gain the attention of Felix who would then order Paul back to Jerusalem. The plan then could be implemented to rid the world of Paul. But then…..

We learn a principle from this encounter that we can practically apply:  Men’s plans often go awry because God’s higher purposes will never be overturned. God had told Paul that he would speak about Him in Rome and nothing Tertullus or Felix could or would do would stop that plan.

The question before us is how could Paul stand so strong in the midst of this entire charade when he obviously did not know if this ruthless and corrupt Felix would listen and follow the advice of Tertullus? The psalmist tells us the “how” and it fits in with how we are to remain steadfast:

 

“I constantly trust in the Lord; because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” Ps 16:8

It means that Paul had given God first place in his life and he knew his “right-hand Man” would not fail him. How about you? Is God your “right-hand Man” and do you trust Him implicitly when you do not know what is ahead and the world seems to be twirling you by?