Nehemiah 2: 1 – 6 NLT
Nehemiah Goes to Jerusalem
2 Early the following spring, in the month of Nisan, (the months of either April or May) during the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes’ reign, I was serving the king his wine. I had never before appeared sad in his presence. 2 So the king asked me, “Why are you looking so sad? You don’t look sick to me. You must be deeply troubled.”
Then I was terrified, 3 but I replied, “Long live the king! How can I not be sad? For the city where my ancestors are buried is in ruins, and the gates have been destroyed by fire.”
4 The king asked, “Well, how can I help you?”
With a prayer to the God of heaven, 5 I replied, “If it please the king, and if you are pleased with me, your servant, send me to Judah to rebuild the city where my ancestors are buried.”
6 The king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked, “How long will you be gone? When will you return?” After I told him how long I would be gone, the king agreed to my request.”
Remember in chapter 1 how Nehemiah prayed that God would change King Artaxerxes and make him open to Nehemiah leaving for Jerusalem? Well, now it’s 4 months later. Have you ever prayed asking God to change a situation that really concerned you, and you felt that God wasn’t listening because nothing seemed to be happening? Nehemiah must have felt that way. Four months is a long time to wait when you’re concerned about something.
In 2020, our culture counts on speed. On the news this past week, it was announced that Amazon was opening 2 more warehouses in Ontario to help them make faster deliveries – within a day or two of ordering. We don’t use mail much anymore to communicate – why would you when you can email, message or text anytime? During this pandemic time, we’ve seen people get frustrated with the restrictions placed on them to stay safe – and it has been hard over the past 6 months. We’re used to doing whatever we want, when we want, for the most part. Waiting is hard for us!
We need to recognize that God has his timing, not necessarily ours. That is something I have to remind myself so often. I like things organized and want to get them done – now. So often I have to confess to God that I am desperate to run things on my timing. There is a boss or co-worker who drives us crazy. There is a neighbour who irritates us. Our kids have habits that drive us insane. We want change sooner than later. Patience is difficult. And God’s timing is definitely not our timing. These verses might make you gasp:
Psalm 90: 4 “For you a thousand years are as a passing day, as brief as a few night hours.”
2 Peter 3: 8 “But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day.”
Don’t get discouraged by those words. God does love us, and he is very aware that in comparison to him, our lives and time are short. He does listen to our prayers, but he also knows the right timing for us.
What was Nehemiah doing during those 4 months? Praying. We find on this particular day when the king asks him what is bothering him, that Nehemiah prays immediately. Prayer is an important foundation in Nehemiah’s life. I suspect that prayer is something many of us struggle with. I know I do. It seems that life starts the moment I get up, and finding time to be quiet and away from people seems hard to do. Nehemiah’s habit of praying, praying … really struck home to me. To find that patience to deal with life’s twists and turns, I need to concentrate on including prayer in my everyday life.
“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4: 6 – 7)
Why was Nehemiah terrified when Artaxerxes asked him why he was looking sad? Apparently, in those days, you were to look alert and happy in the presence of the king. You were not allowed to do anything that would upset the king’s day. It appears that over the past 4 months, Nehemiah had been his cheerful self, even though he was sure God was calling him to fix the walls in Jerusalem. He hadn’t let that concern change his pleasant behaviour. But he also realized here was the opportunity he had been waiting for. Pray and take a deep breath. (Note, once again, that Nehemiah prays?)
Artaxerxes wasn’t known for being a generous kind person. It’s interesting that Nehemiah includes Artaxerxes’ wife in his account of what happened that day. Maybe she leaned over and whispered to her husband that he should be generous with this excellent cup bearer. God had certainly been at work in Artaxerxes over the past 4 months, because he went beyond what Nehemiah asked for. He even sent some soldiers along to protect Nehemiah. And he asked Nehemiah when he would return, so he must have valued Nehemiah’s work in his palace and home. This moment was obviously God’s timing.
Nehemiah gives us a great example of someone who prays and waits. As LSA begins to open its services again, and programs start up in this new pandemic way, you may be hearing God speak to you about how to get involved again. Pray! Be patient! If you’re facing problems at home or at work, pray. Be patient. Ask God to give you the right moment to speak, to do something.
Our song for today is Lord, I Need You by Matt Maher