And they said unto me, The remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province are in great affliction and reproach: the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire
4 And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven,
Nehemiah was passionate about his homeland and concerned about Jerusalem. The longing for the welfare of Jerusalem that is expressed in Psalms 137:1-6 can be seen in the heart of Nehemiah. Although he was taken in the captivity and was busy serving the king, doing an outstanding job as his wine steward, he was still passionate about his homeland. He had risen to the top and served the king in the palace, but his concern about Jerusalem and the things of God is what really stirred his heart.
As the wine steward to the king he had never had a bad day (Nehemiah 2:1-8). He had never been sad or disgruntled. Only after hearing news about the dismal state of Jerusalem did his countenance change. It was his excellent service to the king which opened the door for the request he needed to make of the king. When the time was right the opportunity became available.
His mission begins when he perceives a need. Then the vision begins to develop. When Nehemiah heard about the condition of Jerusalem from his brother, he was overwhelmed with sadness. He expressed his concern by sitting down and weeping. His mission began when he perceived a need and proceeded with preparation to meet that need.
Before doing anything else, Nehemiah prayed and fasted about his concern. First he praised God for his awesome greatness; then he confessed his sins and the sins of his people, remembering God’s faithful forgiveness in the past. He didn’t pass the blame; instead, he confessed his own sin too. Finally, he presented his request to God, asking for favor when he went to the king.
Why do you think Nehemiah started his prayer with praise to God? Was he trying to butter God up? If not, what is the purpose of such a prayer? The praise was for Nehemiah’s sake, not God’s. Dwelling on how awesome God is helped Nehemiah believe and trust that God would guarantee the success of the mission He put into Nehemiah’s heart to do. Similarly, the fasting also was for Nehemiah’s sake, not an attempt to twist God’s arm into doing what he wanted. He was preparing his own heart to listen and hear what God had for him.
The vision for Nehemiah’s mission may not have come all at once. Many details came along the way. For the mission to move forward Nehemiah had to talk to the king. A leader shares the mission with those in authority over him or her or with those who have the most authority to help with the resources that are necessary. Nehemiah needed time to think it through before speaking to the king about it. Timing was important to the successful accomplishment of his mission, and even when the door opened for him to make his request of the king, he first paused to go to God about it.
Whatever the reason, after his time of prayer and fasting Nehemiah waited nearly four months—from autumn to spring—until the time was right to make his request to the king. Great leaders wait patiently for God’s timing, not running ahead of Him. Then the time arrived and Nehemiah was ready when the king asked him what he needed.
It does not specifically say that Nehemiah wrote everything down, but the fact that it took four months for him to develop the plan specifying all the details sure suggests that he didn’t just keep it all in his memory. Having it written would have been the logical way to present the request to the king. When the king asked, Nehemiah would not have expected the king to remember all the details but would have had a detailed list to give him along with an explanation of the plan.
But even when the king asked what his request was, Nehemiah didn’t respond on impulse ( Nehemiah 2:4,5). Even though he had already prayed, he offered another prayer to God, this one quick and silent, and then he spoke his request to the king. Leaders must cultivate a habit of praying in all situations before acting. Impulsiveness often leads to unnecessary mistakes. Nehemiah made sure his words were God-pleasing and his actions God-directed.
When the king asked about his need, Nehemiah knew his plan well enough to be able to give a clear answer. It doesn’t say he wrote anything down, but he figured it out and remembered it somehow. Leaders must prepare well, planning the initial steps before approaching those in charge. Nehemiah knew what he planned to do, how long he estimated it would take, and what resources he would need.
In Nehemiah 2:11-16 we see Nehemiah assessing the situation in detail. He took the time to examine the situation in person by himself. He formed his own opinion after gathering the facts before asking anyone else for their take on it. A leader presents the need to others at the right time.
After Nehemiah went to the king and secured what he needed for his mission, he took some key individuals with him to survey the wall and make a plan of action; and he didn’t reveal his plan to them until he had presented the need to them in person. He showed them the condition of the walls and they responded enthusiastically with, “Let us start rebuilding” (v. 18). Showing the need was more effective than just talking about it.
If the vision and mission is massive you will not be able to accomplish it without the help of others. That will mean recruiting people to join you. If at all possible show your people a picture of the need. The clearer a picture they get, the more solid their support of the mission will be. If you cannot physically show them the task, help them see it with words. Because Nehemiah knew their efforts would be successful with God’s power, he assured the people that they would accomplish the mission.
By Wayne Clapp