This is part 3 of 7 in a series about Nehemiah.
After four months of study, meditation, fasting, and praying Nehemiah stands before the King with a sad face for the first time (2:1). Arguably, Nehemiah is risking his life to appear sad before the King. For a cupbearer to display anything but normal-but-reserved happiness could be evidence of a coup. On a bad day, the King could immediately have him hauled off to jail to be tortured to learn of any plot against him—without asking any questions first.
Fortunately, the Good Hand of his God is with Nehemiah, and he establishes an emotional connection with the King over the dire state of his homeland in a culture where family lineage and land are of utmost importance (v.3). Until this point, Nehemiah hasn’t asked for anything. He is just explaining his sadness. But the King is no fool. He asks, “What are you requesting?” (v.4a).
Nehemiah immediately prays to the God of heaven (v.4b). It is critical to note that this type of prayer is no less spiritual than a long prayer prayed in your closet. It is important that we learn to do this throughout our working day. I have made this a habit in my work and regularly pray before meetings, during meetings, and while I am explaining something about work, faith, or life in general to a colleague or subordinate. It appropriately expresses our dependence on Him but also our joy of working with Him throughout the day. I would encourage you to make this a habit in your life as well.
In 2:5, Nehemiah asks for materials to build the gates of the fortress of the temple, the wall of the city, and his own house (smart man!). Talk about the Good Hand of God being upon you—when you can convince the most powerful ruler on the planet to give you a paid, extended leave of absence, and to pay for building you a house while you are away, it should be clear that God is with you!
Despite praying and developing a vision for Jerusalem, its wall, the temple, and how life should look there over a four-month period, Nehemiah shares it with no one (2:12-15) until he surveys the situation for himself and has a reasonable plan to enact. Once he gets to Israel, he immediately identifies with the people and makes himself an insider by not blaming them for the terrible situation but instead joining them in the work.
Nehemiah begins and ends his short career as a community activist by rallying the people of the area around the promise of God from Deuteronomy 30:1-4. When he tells them all that had transpired back in the palace at Susa with the king, their hands are strengthened for the work (2:18).
You see, when God assigns us to live amongst least-reached people groups, we spend our energy to love and serve them, living appropriately like them and among them (not separate in our own gated compound up the hill), and restoring what is broken amongst them. We need to reform our understanding of “bringing the gospel” to people who have never heard.
When Jesus spoke of “this gospel of the Kingdom” (Matthew 24:14), he wasn’t simply offering eternal salvation for all who would believe; he also worked tirelessly to improve life then and there. So should we.
Nehemiah 2 reminds me of Paul’s encouragement to the Thessalonians:
To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by His power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thess 1:11-12)
Paul claims—and I agree with him—that when you have a resolve to do good, God put it in your heart to do. His prayer, and mine, is that you would take those resolves and fulfill them by His power.
How can you help your people restore what is broken in their communities? What businesses are needed to bring wholeness and blessing so that as you communicate the elegant truth of the gospel, it can find a heart ready to receive it?
To learn more about B4T, read Business for Transformation by Patrick Lai.