Planning, Praying & Obeying

Planning, Praying & Obeying

This sermon was unrecorded due to technical difficulty. The text is available below:

Planning, Praying & Obeying (Series: Nehemiah – Building a Life of Faith)
Nehemiah Chapter 2 * Northshire Baptist Church 08.26.18

This will be our 3rd Sunday in the book of Nehemiah but 2 weeks ago I preached a message from Psalm 23 after Pat Hardman’s Memorial Service, and last Sunday we heard from former NBC Pastor Mark Waite. So I want to remind you, our first Sunday in Nehemiah we looked at much of chapter 1 and we remembered how God always keeps His promises. We saw Nehemiah being so moved that the walls of Jerusalem had been freshly broken and the gates burned with fire, even 65 years after the people had begun to return to the land, that he wept and fasted and prayed. We remembered how God always keeps His promises, so Nehemiah was hoping and trusting in the promises of God, not just an idea.

Then we learned in the rest of Nehemiah 1 about how to pray from Nehemiah’s prayer.

Today we will cover all of chapter 2 as we see Nehemiah approach the King and make a bold request, and the beginning of Nehemiah’s time in Jerusalem. Two important leadership lessons we will see in Nehemiah 2 are on prayer and planning.

To get you started on thinking about prayer and planning, I want to tell you about the largest mammal ever exploded, as found in the Guinness Book of World Records. In 1970 there was a 16,000 lb (7.25 tons), 45-ft long carcass of a sperm whale that washed up south of Florence, Oregon. I’ve been there and it’s a beautiful coastline. It began to rot, and they couldn’t figure out what to do with it. So on November 12, 1970, the Oregon State Highway Division placed 1,000 pounds of dynamite around the decomposing, foul-smelling whale and detonated it. ½ a ton of dynamite around 7+ tons of whale carcass!

Rather than vanishing in the explosion as they had hoped, huge chunks of whale meat rained down on the spectators. One piece of whale blubber and meat that was 3 ft x 5 ft large crushed the roof of a Buick car that was a quarter of a mile away!

The moral of this true story? We need to plan carefully, and my guess is that if those highway workers had not prayed about their plan at the point of detonation, they surely started to pray once whale blubber was raining down on their heads!

Well, mixed in with prayer and planning, we are going to see some powerful lessons about obeying God even in difficult circumstances, so let’s jump into Nehemiah 2.

1) Obey God Even When It’s Hard or Dangerous

Nehemiah 2:1, “In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been said in his presence. [2] And the king said to me, ‘Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of the heart.’ Then I was very much afraid.”

Remember what Nehemiah’s job was? The end of chapter 1 he had told us: he was cupbearer to the King. Now being a cupbearer was for somebody who liked good food, and who didn’t mind constant risk because the cupbearer usually did not just sip the king’s wine to make sure there was no poison, he also tasted the food!

This is one reason that Nehemiah was afraid to be sad in front of the king: because the cupbearer was supposed to intercept any plot to try and poison the king through his food or drink. So the king not only trusted the cupbearer, he probably would have looked him in the eye when the cupbearer handed him his food, because if the cupbearer knew of a plot to kill the king and was involved, he may have looked sad or nervous. So this is one reason it was scary to be sad in front of the king!

A 2nd reason is because ancient kings wanted everybody to be happy in their presence. If I’m so great that I practically think of myself as a god, then why would you not be happy in my presence?? If you are before my greatness, you should be happy! That was the idea.

Not only was it a risk to be sad in the king’s presence and to show it, but what Nehemiah wanted to propose to the king that day was dangerous because Nehemiah was asking the king to reverse one of his policies!!

I already mentioned a place in Ezra chapter 4 where God’s enemies who had overtaken Jerusalem and were still back in the land, stopped the work that the Jews had begun on the wall. They did this by convincing the king that if the wall was rebuilt and the city was prospering again, that the Jews would no longer pay taxes to the king. Remember, King Cyrus at the beginning of Ezra had sent the people—those who wanted to go—back to the land. But it was under THIS king, Artaxerxes, the one who Nehemiah is serving, that the work had been stopped. So Nehemiah is asking the king to reverse one of his policies! Yes, Artaxerxes had even said at the time in Ezra 4:21 that he may reverse the decision at some point, but nobody was bold enough to make that request!

Except for one guy named Nehemiah, who, as we saw several Sundays back as we looked at part of chapter 1 and 2, had been praying for 4 months! Proverbs 16:14 warns that “A king’s wrath is a messenger of death…” It was not unheard of for Kings to kill people who approached him with a request that made him angry, especially if he suspected that it was disrespectful or somehow a possible act of treason!

When was the last time you were really, truly afraid? I don’t mean just kind of scared, but I mean scared for your life? For myself, I think of the last time I was rear-ended, about 9 years ago, and my car was totaled. He hit me so hard that it pushed me into the car in front of me which hit the car in front of them.

Nehemiah was scared. But he obeyed God even though it was hard or possibly dangerous.

Have you ever thought about the fact that even people who do very brave things are always scared, but they find a reason to push through? I remember hearing some World War II Veterans talk about great acts of bravery and each of them said that it wasn’t that they weren’t scared that helped them to storm that beach or fly in that war, they were actually scared to death. It was belief in what they were doing for good that helped them to overcome that fear.

What better motivation to push through fear than the glory of God? Nehemiah might have been thinking something along the lines of, “My life could be in danger if I upset the king, but it is right to rebuild Jerusalem because God has promised He will bring His people back. And not just this, but the Messiah—Jesus—would be there. That was clear all over prophecy—remember that Nehemiah is the last narrative before the 400 silent years and then Jesus. Isaiah and other prophets had made it clear that Messiah would come to Jerusalem. Who would rebuilt it?

This is why I said a few Sundays ago that Nehemiah was trusting in God’s promises, and remembering that God always keeps His promises.

It was not only hard and dangerous for Nehemiah to approach the king and make his request, but remember where Nehemiah was going: a broken-down, bombed-out city. It is hard to do that. This is why nobody else had done it yet. But we overcome our fear to do something that is hard or dangerous by remembering and trusting in God’s promises.

What is it that God might be calling you to as an individual or as a family that is hard or dangerous? Maybe it is something hard like inviting your neighbor over for dinner because you know it would honor the Lord, but your neighbor is so different than you and you are scared of conflict…some of the most radical and glorious salvation testimonies have been when neighbors reached out and loved and got to know people who were radically different than them and showed them the gospel before they shared the gospel.

Maybe it is something potentially hard and dangerous like going on a mission trip. I am still praying and hoping that our church will be able to do a church-wide mission trip sometime in the next 12 months. I don’t know right now what that will look like but I have some ideas. Maybe God is calling you to be a part of that.

I will let the Holy Spirit apply this to your hearts in your situation, but notice with Nehemiah that we need to obey God even when it’s hard or dangerous.

2) Pray AND Take Action

[3] I said to the king, ‘Let the king live forever! Why should not my face be sad, when the city, the place of my father’s graves, lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?’ [4] Then the king said to me, ‘What are you requesting?’ So I prayed to the God of heaven. [5] And I said to the king, ‘If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ graves, that I may rebuild it.’”

First, let’s notice how Nehemiah treats a pagan king. For someone in government who does not believe in the true God; for someone in government who had stopped God’s people from rebuilding the wall, Nehemiah treats King Artaxerxes with absolute respect. We may not respect those whom God has put in authority over us in secular government, but we do need to say to them, I wish you well—even if we wish that their policies would go down the toilet. Nehemiah’s attitude to the king is helpful. But even more so, notice yet again in verse 4 how Nehemiah prays even as he is in front of the king. We already saw in chapter 1 how Nehemiah had been praying for 4 months.

I want you to see that God calls us to both pray AND take action.

If we only pray but aren’t willing to act, we are not praying in God’s will.
If we only act but don’t pray, we are not acting in God’s will.

Nehemiah did both! The prayer is probably what compelled him to action, and it is certainly what allowed him to act! God changed his heart while he prayed.

We are going to see in Nehemiah 2:5-7 that Nehemiah didn’t just pray, he planned and then he took action in light of that prayer and that planning. And his plans were detailed—when the king asked him, he already had a length of time planned out that he would be gone, he already knew how much timber he would need from the king’s forest not just for the wall but even for his own house to get the work done, he already knew to ask for a guard.

He prayed and while he prayed he planned, and then he was bold enough to take action.

Maybe you have known that God is calling you to do something for Him, but you have not been bold enough to take the next step. It very well could be that the missing ingredient is PRAYER.

Maybe you have known that God is calling you to do something for Him and you have been bold and have taken action, but you don’t see His blessing or experience His help. Maybe the missing ingredient is PRAYER.

Maybe you have known that God is calling you to do something for Him and you have been praying and praying, but then sitting on the couch. Maybe it’s time to start writing down some plans and then to get out there and do something about it.

Nehemiah prayed for 4 months, but when the time came, he took that next step and then he went for it, trusting God when the time was right!

“[6] And the king said to me (the queen sitting beside him), ‘How long will you be gone, and when will you return?’ So it pleased the king to send me when I had given him a time. [7] And I said to the king, ‘If it pleases the king, let letters be given me to the governors of the province Beyond the River, that they may let me pass through until I come to Judah, [8] and a letter to Asaph, the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress of the temple, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall occupy.’ And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me.”

Notice—how did Nehemiah pray and take action? He had a plan. It can be a godly thing to make a plan, realizing all the time that God is the one who confirms or changes our plans.
*Proverbs 16:9, The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.

Think about where Nehemiah wants to go. A bombed out, broken-down city, to do God’s work.

But I thought God wanted me to be comfortable? What Bible are you reading?!
No—He cares more about your holiness than your comfortableness. He cares more about His Kingdom than your plans for your own Kingdom.

And verse 8 is perhaps the most important verse in chapter 2. It is not the only time that Nehemiah will say this. The Lord gave him success in his endeavor to glorify God, “for the good hand of my God was upon me.”

  • The only way you will be able to honor the Lord in your job is if the good hand of your God is upon you.
  • The only way you will be able to honor the Lord at school this year is if the good hand of your God is upon you.
  • The only way you will be able to honor the Lord in your marriage is if the good hand of your God is upon you.
  • The only way that we will be able to not just survive but thrive another 35 years as a church is if the good hand of our God is upon us!

3) Obey God Even When Others Don’t

[9] Then I came to the governors of the province Beyond the River and gave them the king’s letters. Now the king had sent with me officers of the army and horsemen. [10] But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant heard this, it displeased them greatly that someone had come to seek the welfare of the people of Israel. [11] So I went to Jerusalem and was there three days.

You have now been introduced to Nehemiah’s enemies who will appear again and again all throughout the book trying to stop God’s work through Nehemiah. Notice in verse 10 why they are displeased. “That someone had come to seek the welfare of the people of Israel.” What they don’t understand is that the people of Israel are God’s people, so they are enemies of the living God.

Notice also in verse 11—Nehemiah was wise to rest for 3 days. The trip from the palace in Sousa to Jerusalem was over 500 miles if he went through the dessert, and 800 to 900 miles if he went around the fertile crescent. This would be an exhausting trip for us and certainly in those days, so before Nehemiah tries to rally the leaders or the people of Israel to work hard, he needs his own mind and body to be refreshed so he rests for 3 days. What an example to us. It can be godly to rest.

[12] Then I arose in the night, I and a few men with me. And I told no one what my God had put into my heart to do for Jerusalem. There was no animal with me but the one on which I rode. [13] I went out by night by the Valley Gate to the Dragon Spring and to the Dung Gate, and I inspected the walls of Jerusalem that were broken down and its gates that had been destroyed by fire. [14] Then I went on to the Fountain Gate and to the King’s Pool, but there was no room for the animal that was under me to pass. [15] Then I went up in the night by the valley and inspected the wall, and I turned back and entered by the Valley Gate, and so returned. [16] And the officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, and I had not yet told the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials, and the rest who were to do the work.”

We again see Nehemiah carefully planning. We also see how bad the situation was. He had to get off of his animal at one point because it was so broken down he couldn’t even ride around the rubble!

Even in this Nehemiah is an example of obeying God even when others don’t. I want you to think of all the others who could have gone to build the wall. Think of all the others who were already living there who couldn’t see the need to rebuild, or who were too overwhelmed by the thought to do anything about it!

[17] Then I said to them, ‘You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision.’ [18] And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, ‘Let us rise up and build.’ So they strengthened their hands for the good work. [19] But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they jeered at us and despised us and said, ‘What is this thing you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?’ [20] Then I replied to them, ‘The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build, but you have no portion or right or claim in Jerusalem.’

This is important—notice what happens between verses 18 & 19. God has sent Nehemiah to do this work, and the people follow him. But then right when the people begin to get excited about the work again, that is when the enemies arrive on the scene. Satan’s tactics have not changed in 2,500 years, beloved. Where you see God’s work, you will see Satan’s counter-assault. Our church is no exception. But our God is stronger. 

Obey God even when others don’t. Some of you began high school again this week—go bulldogs! And you will be faced almost every day that you step foot in that high school with the question, will I obey God today? I can guarantee you that there are plenty of others there who won’t. But if you know Jesus as your Savior you are put there to be a light for him. And his commands are not to harm us, but to prosper us. The One who made us knows that if we obey Him, we not only glorify Him but it is also best for us! Some of you start Elementary School or Middle School this week. What will your year look like? Will you obey God even when others don’t?

This is not something that you just deal with when you are school age, as if your high school graduation means that you get to stop wrestling with this question every day: will I obey God even when others don’t? Some of the adults in this room need to hear this message today even more than you.

There are lots of principles and great things in the book of Nehemiah that God wants us to learn. But I want us to take a step back and think about where Nehemiah fits in redemptive history.

Think about it—Nehemiah had a pretty cushy job in some ways. Yes, there was the constant threat of death by poisoning, but other than that—he lived in or spent significant time in a lush palace. He ate incredible food and drinks every single day. He had an audience with the king.

But Nehemiah was willing to leave all of that behind for a time so that he could go to a bombed-out, broken-down city to obey God and bring Him glory.

Someone else who left a palace to come to a place that resembled a bombed-out, broken-down city from what it once was: Jesus left somewhere amazing, in fact somewhere perfect, to come to a broken place, our earth.

You do know, I hope, that the Bible says that Jesus always existed before He came to earth, because Jesus is God. He is different than all of us in that sense, because we were created at the moment we were conceived in our mother’s womb. Jesus has always been.

It would have been a lot easier for Jesus to stay in Heaven instead of deciding to allow Himself to become a baby inside of Mary and grow up as a child. We have a lot of 5th graders in our church—did you know that Jesus did 5th grade? He went through all that you go through as a child, including learning how to write except he wrote Hebrew which is backwards!

But he did more than just grow up in a broken world, he probably experienced the death of his earthly adopted father Joseph. He was sinned against by people. He was homeless once he began his earthly ministry. He was rejected by the leaders of Israel and many others again and again even though He had come to rescue them. And then He was put on a cross out of love for you and me.

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. [17] For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. [18] Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”