Treckin’ n Checkin’

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Then I came to the governors of the provinces beyond the River and gave them the king’s letters. Now the king had sent with me officers of the army and horsemen. When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about it, it was very displeasing to them that someone had come to seek the welfare of the sons of Israel. Nehemiah 2:9-10 NASB


Faith in Motion

Nehemiah, with the King’s approval, protection and with supplies in hand, begins his task. He begins by leaving the only home he has known for a land a good bit away. Lets not lose the significance of this. Nehemiah left all he knew in order to go somewhere he had never been in order to obey God. Wow. That is faith in motion.

Now we notice in v.9 that he met with some opposition. We know this because he gave the letters the King had given him so that he could have safe passage. When we journey according to God’s plan, we don’t always find that the road is paved and smooth. We also often find that there is opposition to what we are doing. But God always provides for us! Here, God provided for Nehemiah through the King who gave letters and some soldiers. For us, God gives us HIs protection through His plan for us.

No matter who opposes our journey into God’s will, when we are traveling with His letters, no one can deny our passage because God has already determined that we should pass. 

Enemies Arrive

Now we are introduced to the main nemeses of Nehemiah: Sanballat and Tobiah. We’ll get to know these two characters throughout tNehemiah’s work in and around Jerusalem. They were displeased with Nehemiah. In fact, as we will see later, this “displeasure” was more like hatred. Now why would anyone hate a man sent by the Kingt of Persia, protected by the King’s own letters and soldiers, ostensibly doing the King’s work. The King of persia was the mightiest King on earth at this time. Seems to me that people would get out of Nehemiah’s way and seek to help, not hurt him.

Well the answer is rather simple. Sanballat and Tobiah hated the sons of Israel. They hated them. Racism was alive and well all the way back in Nehemiah’s time. Scripture states they were displeased because Nehemiah had come to “seek the welfare of the sons of Israel.” Wow. Do we see that today? Well, yep we sure do. What did Nehemiah do? What should we do when faced with opposition? Lets take a look.

So I came to Jerusalem and was there three days. And I arose in the night, I and a few men with me. I did not tell anyone what my God was putting into my mind to do for Jerusalem and there was no animal with me except the animal on which I was riding. So I went out at night by the Valley Gate in the direction of the Dragon’s Well and on to the Refuse Gate, inspecting the walls of Jerusalem which were broken down and its gates which were consumed by fire. Then I passed on to the Fountain Gate and the King’s Pool, but there was no place for my mount to pass. So I went up at night by the ravine and inspected the wall. Then I entered the Valley Gate again and returned. The officials did not know where I had gone or what I had done; nor had I as yet told the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials or the rest who did the work.                                                                   – Nehemiah 2:11-16 NASB


Chillaxing in the Rubble

The first thing Nehemiah did when he arrived at his destination was to take a break. Yep, that is what he did. Look at v. 11. When he arrived, he was there for three days before he did any evaluation of the wall or the work that lay ahead for himself and those with him. When he arrived in Jerusalem, he could appreciate why his brother Hanani was so bummed out. As he looked at the city’s shattered walls and useless gates, he was overwhelmed. But, before he could examine them more closely, there was a greater priority. Nehemiah needed a nap. The journey of four months took its toll on Nehemiah. Take a look at Ezra 8:32 – Ezra did the same thing when he arrived in Jerusalem.

Everyone needs to take a rest from time-to-time: Nehemiah in Jerusalem, Ezra in Jerusalem, Elijah needed rest under the juniper tree, and Jesus withdrew with his disciples for rest. We need to make sure we Chillax – rest and recuperate -on a regular basis. I know folks who think rest and relaxation is wrong. these folks work and work and work. They have no time for rest. Most of these folks have the mistaken idea that their worth in God’s sight is somehow diminished if they take some time off. How wrong can a person be! Take time off from time-to-time. If Nehemiah, Ezra, Elijah and Jesus all did it…well, lets just commit to chillaxing every once in awhile.


Scoping out the Situation

Nehemiah, after getting himself recharged by rest, takes a look at the situation he is facing. We see this in verses 12-16. Nehemiah knew that in order to lead this project, he would need a firsthand picture of what needed to be done. He then scoped out the damage to the walls one dark night. With the moonlight showing the mounds of broken stone and demolished gates, Nehemiah made some notes to himself. Seeing all this damage to Jerusalem had to be discouraging.

Look at what he found: broken walls, burned up gates, piles and piles of rubble, so much so that his mount could not pass through. Wow, that is some kind of rubble. Now he did this all at night, I think, so that others would not get discouraged. This is great leadership. The leader of the people must know the situation and formulate a plan in order to motivate those he leads.

We really need to pay attention to Nehemiah here and learn some great leadership: always know what your up against before you try to motivate others to join you.


– Nehemiah discovered this was going to be a demanding job. The wall would be at least a mile long and at least three to four feet thick and fifteen to twenty feet high. That is a lot of rock to move. Remember, no hydraulic lifts existed back then. My back aches just thinking about this.

– Nehemiah discovered the work was going to be dangerous. One reason he went was because Nehemiah knew there were enemies lurking about. If they saw him scoping out the damage during the day they may have attacked and tried to scatter his workforce. Nehemiah, knowing there was opposition, wisely chose to perform a recon mission under the cover of darkness.
· Nehemiah discovered he couldn’t do this himself. This may go without saying, but i’m going to say it anyway: the work Nehemiah faced was monumental – and he could not do it by himself. He discovered that for sure when he surveyed the damage. I wonder what was flying through his mind as he saw the destruction all around him.

You know doing a work from God seems monumental sometimes. Sometimes it seems that the task is too big to be done. It can be discouraging to see how much needs to be done. But we need to know what we need to do to even embark on the work.

We should never be discouraged with the size of the task ahead, the opposition we encounter, or the danger involved. Why? Because our King – THE King of the universe – has given us His letter, His resources and His protection.

The Tool Box #2

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 The wall that surrounds us must be built  through the knowledge and experience of THE Master Craftsman of life

This week we are continuing to discover the right tools for Nehemiah’s job – and for our job – as we build the walls of our lives. In Nehemiah’s time, the wall was physical. For us, it is more metaphorical. But it is no less important even though it is not a physical wall. In order to be secure, the wall that surrounds us must be built  through the knowledge and experience of THE Master Craftsman of life. Lets continue here in Nehemiah 2 and discover what other tools are available to us as we prepare to build into our lives.

We should be a praying people who plan. 

Then the king said to me, “What would you request?” So I prayed to the God of heaven. I said to the king, “If it please the king, and if your servant has found favor before you, send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ tombs, that I may rebuild it.” Then the king said to me, the queen sitting beside him, “How long will your journey be, and when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me, and I gave him a definite time. And I said to the king, “If it please the king, let letters be given me for the governors of the provinces beyond the River, that they may allow me to pass through until I come to Judah, 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 which is by the temple, for the wall of the city and for the house to which I will go.” And the king granted them to me because the good hand of my God was on me.  Nehemiah 2:4-8 NASB


The Pick of Prayer

The next tool we discover in the toolbox is the Pick of Prayer. Verse 4 begins with a direct question from the King: “What is it you want?” Before answering the King of Persia, Nehemiah needed to speak briefly with the King of Heaven. I love this. The text says, “So I prayed to the God of heaven.” This had to be a short prayer because it happened between the time the king asked his question and Nehemiah’s answer. I picture him sending up a really quick prayer or in contemporary jargon, sending God a text message. He obviously didn’t have the time to drop to his knees or even bow his head. He prayed where he was and as he was. He could have done this because of time constraints or because such an action could have looked treasonous to the king of Persia. Nehemiah’s quick prayer though had been preceded by months of fasting and intercession.

This is encouraging to me. You and I can pray at any time, in any place by sending up a brief prayer to God. Right before we have to give an answer to our boss, or before responding to our spouse, or when disciplining our kids, or when looking for a way to impact our neighbors for Christ, just shoot up a prayer. It doesn’t have to be long or even audible. We need to make good use of these chance moments to send up “text message” prayers to God. I’m convinced that this is the only way to fulfill 1 Thessalonians 5:17 where we’re challenged to “pray continually.” But don’t go overboard with these quick prayers. Remember the time Nehemiah spent – up to four months – in prayer and fasting before this meeting with the king of Persia. There is no substitute for deep, intercessory prayer if we desire to have a deep walk with our God.

The Polishing Tool of Planning

We see this in verses 5-8a. Nehemiah has lifted his heart to God; now he must open his mouth to the king. He practiced both dependent praying and deliberate planning. We need to hear this. Far too often we fall on one of these two extremes: we pray only or we plan exclusively. Really there isn’t one more important than the other because we see both in Scripture. Instead of being either a praying person or a planing person, we should be a praying people who plan. It isn’t an either/or proposition. It is a both/and one.

Nehemiah anticipated the king’s questions and had answers for them.  So when the king asked, Nehemiah gave him a timeframe. He also knew how to plan the dangerous journey by asking for letters on the king’s stationery, which would give him safe passage through the different territories he came across.

He didn’t stop there. Look at verse 8. We see here that he wanted permission to take some timber out of the king’s own forest — he was not asking for a gift certificate to Lowes! He had done some research to know that the keeper of the king’s lumberyard was named Asaph. This forest was also called “paradise” in Hebrew and looked like a park filled with orchards. All along Nehemiah had planned to ask for the king to help in his journey and in supplying him with materials.

 Nehemiah asked for, and received three things from the king: permission, protection, and provisions. Why? Because he had prayed for wisdom, relied on God’s intervention and planned for permission.

The Pry Bar of Proclamation

After all this was accomplished, look at what Nehemiah does next. He proclaims. He gave a testimony to the goodness of God in answering his prayers, guiding his mind, directing his speech and meeting his needs. Look at the last part of verse 8: “And the king granted them to me because the good hand of my God was on me.”

Only God could have brought about such a dramatic change in the king’s mind and the cupbearer’s destiny. Nehemiah knew that what was taking place had everything to do with God’s arranging, not human contriving. Sure Nehemiah had a responsibility to pray for God to help then to accept that help. But it wasn’t just Nehemiah doing something. NO Nehemiah, instead of planning then asking God to bless his plan, he waited for God to bless Nehemiah with a plan. Nehemiah was meticulous in his planning but it would not have been enough were it not for the Lord’s perfect timing, constant guidance and overruling provision.
So how are you doing? Are you using the tools God has provided for you in your toolbox? Or are you trying to build your way, without God’s guiding hand? If it is all you, then your end is not going to be all that good. If it is all God, then you will have a marvelous experience – one that you will remember and your will talk about.

Nehemiah was meticulous in his planning but it would not have been enough were it not for the Lord’s perfect timing, constant guidance and overruling provision.

The Toolbox

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 God is the Master builder of our lives. We may help a bit, but He is the one who brings us the tools.


When I was in the Marine Corps many years ago, I remember a saying we had: the right tool for the job is the tool that does the job. This was a nod to the improvising the Marine Corps had to do just to survive. We rarely had what we needed so we would have to figure out a  way to use something else to get  a job done.

But life with God isn’t that way. And this is especially true when our fear collides with our faith. God has given us every tool necessary to build (or rebuild) our lives, either from the rubble of our sin. Now I have to emphasize that God is the Master builder of our lives. We may help a bit, but He is the one who brings us the tools, the blocks and the mortar to rebuild the broken down walls of our lives. He not only does that, but He takes us by the hand and rebuilds our wall, our hand in His.

Nehemiah’s fear could have led him to be timid. Instead he used the tools very effectively.


Tools in Nehemiah’s Toolbox

I like tools. But I have to be careful with them because I have been injured by some. I have burned myself with a soldering iron, cut myself with a jigsaw, smashed my thumb with a hammer and cut my knee open with a chainsaw…but this didn’t happen at the same time! Anyway, just like us now, Nehemiah had the right tools for the job. Lets take a look at Nehemiah’s toolbox in the Nehemiah 2:1-3 (this will continue in my next article as well).

And it came about in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, that wine was before him, and I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. So the king said to me, “Why is your face sad though you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of heart.” Then I was very much afraid. I said to the king, “Let the king live forever. Why should my face not be sad when the city, the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies desolate and its gates have been consumed by fire?” Nehemiah 2:1-3 NASB

So what tools do we find in Nehemiah’s toolbox?


The Wrench of Waiting

The first tool Nehemiah used was the tool called waiting in verse 1. He was a man of decisive action, and when he prayed it was natural for him to ask God to provide an early, if not immediate, opportunity to speak to the king. Remember the closing verse in chapter one indicates that Nehemiah wanted success today in the presence of the king. But Nehemiah waited patiently on the Lord for an answer, just as we’re urged to do in Hebrews 6:12: “…imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what was promised.” Nehemiah could weep and pray and he could also wait and pray.

Why do I think Nehemiah had to wait? While we don’t know exactly when chapter one ended, we know when it began: the month of Chislev. That month roughly corresponds to our month of November/December. So I think it is safe to say that Nehemiah began his journey to Jerusalem in November/December. But what about when he approached the King? Well, in verse 1 the Bible states that it happened in the Month of Nisan. The month of Nisan corresponds roughly to our time of March/April. So Nehemiah waited for at least three months before he approached the king with this matter.  Did Nehemiah not see the King during this three month period? That is highly unlikely since Nehemiah was the King’s cupbearer. Although it is not stated here, I think Nehemiah waited on the nudging of the Lord before he approached the king.
Have you had to wait for God to answer a prayer? In Nehemiah’s prayer journal, nothing was entered for four months because nothing happened. Waiting time is not wasted time. Quiet reflection may have provided Nehemiah with fresh insight about how to approach the king. God wants each of us to get real familiar with this tool – we’re going to have to use it a lot.

The File of Faith

The second tool he fished out of his toolbox is faith in verses 2-3. Nehemiah was “sad” in the last part of verse 1. This word is used three other times to describe how he looked when he was in the presence of the king. The king asked him a question to find out why Nehemiah was not his chipper self. Nehemiah wigged out when Artaxerxes asked him this question because he knew the king only wanted to be around happy people. In verse 2, Nehemiah says that he was “very much afraid” which can  be translated, “a terrible fear came over me.”

I think he was very much afraid for at least two reasons. He knew that he was expected to be perfectly content just to be in the presence of the king. Subjects who were sad or melancholy around the king were usually executed for “raining on the king’s parade.” Second, he was about to ask the monarch of the Persian Empire to reverse a written policy he had made several years earlier about Jerusalem’s reconstruction. that is recoded in Ezra:

Now issue an order to these men to stop work, so that this city will not be rebuilt until I so order. Ezra 4:21 NASB

Nehemiah knew it would take the power of God to get Artaxerxes to change his mind. I think I’d be afraid too. Here is the most powerful human being on the face of the planet. He wants only happy, happy, happy people around him. He is such a hard man that if your are anything but that happy, happy, happy person, he would execute you. Wow. That would cause some fear to creep into my life. How about you?


What are you afraid of this morning? Some of you might be afraid of the past. You’re worried that something you did long ago will catch up to you. Maybe you’re afraid of the present and find yourself crippled by the fear of people, snakes, or confined spaces. Others of you might be fearful about the future and even death.

Fear is a natural human emotion. To deny one’s fear is to deny one’s humanness. But though we experience fear, we must not succumb to it. Fear can paralyze us. It can make us not move forward with what God has for us. Fear can intimidate. Fear can be a real bummer! But what happens when our fear collides with our faith? Look at our example from Nehemiah.
Nehemiah’s faith was greater than his fear. He did the right thing because he believed the promises of God. Notice what happened, “I was very much afraid, but I said…” Instead of paralyzing him, fear propelled Nehemiah to action. Months of prayer had prepared him for these crucial minutes. Courage filled him when he realized it was no longer possible to hide his grief.

The Hammer of Honesty

Then, using wisdom, he affirms his boss by saying, “Long live the king!” He honestly explains why he was sad in verse 3:

“Why should my face not look sad when the city where my fathers are buried                      lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” Nehemiah 2:3 NASB

Did you notice that Nehemiah never mentions the name of the city? Jerusalem’s history of independence might have turned the king’s thoughts toward questions of politics and national security. Instead of going political, he chose the personal route – that’s usually the better choice. What Nehemiah did say was, “I want to honor the burial place of my fathers.” This made a lot of sense to the King because the Persians honored their dead as well.

Nehemiah’s fear could have led him to be timid. Instead he used the tool of trusting very effectively. He wielded these tools effectively but doesn’t stop with these three. No, next week we’ll continue in Chapter Two and discover more tools in the toolbox we can use as our fear collides with our faith and we rebuild from the rubble that is our lives.

How are you doing using the tools God has given you to build the wall of your life? Are you using them effectively? At all? Do you even know you have these tools at your disposal? I sure hope so. While a stone mason can have all the knowledge in the world regarding his craft, that knowledge is useless if he doesn’t use his tools.

Nehemiah’s faith was greater than his fear, and propelled Nehemiah to action.

Laying Brick with Mortar and Prayer

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“Pray as if everything depends on God, then work as if everything depends on you.”  –Martin Luther


We should never ask God to use us then make ourselves unavailable. If we do that, then our prayers are mere words, devoid of conviction. We should always present ourselves for God’s use to answer prayers if He chooses to so use us. That is what Nehemiah did here in chapter one. This attitude should permeate us in our sanctification.

Do you see the progression in Nehemiah’s prayer? His concern about the problem led him to brokenness. While he was weeping and fasting, he expressed his conviction about God’s character. As he focused on the greatness and awesomeness of His holy God, he was quickly reminded of his own wickedness and therefore cried out in confession. After owning his role in the nation’s depravity, he prayed boldly and with confidence in God’s promises. This then leads him to a commitment to get involved. We see this in verse 11:

“O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man. I was cupbearer to the king.”

While Nehemiah was praying, his burden for Jerusalem became greater and his vision of what needed to be done became clearer. He didn’t pray for God to send someone else – he simply said, “Here am I, send me!” He knew that he would have to approach the king and request a 3-year leave of absence and so asked God for “success,” in his request to the king. He wanted to see God break out on his behalf when he goes in front of the king to make his request. Proverbs 21:1 states “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord; He directs it like a watercourse where He pleases.” Nehemiah was committed to get involved and not just sit on the sidelines and lament the condition of Jerusalem.

Nehemiah was a different type of guy. We should be like him. He saw a problem with Jerusalem, was burdened by it, asked God to bless him with a plan, and then acted on the plan. How often do we follow these steps in our prayer time. Far too often we treat prayer as a one-way device: we summon God to listen to us but we fail to listen to Him. We lay our requests at His feet and then walk away. Instead of waiting and listening, we just move on as if God is constrained to do as we please.

God is not at our call. We are at His.

And this is how we should approach our responsibility in our progressive sanctification. As we saw in the last article, God has promised to fully sanctify every person He calls to salvation. We can count on His promise to do that. But we do have a responsibility to participate in our sanctification. God’s plan for each of us may vary greatly. The trials we face may be different – well, they WILL be different. Their difference may be in the nature, depth, intensity, or length of the trial. But there will be differences. All trials make us more like Christ and we need to embrace them fully…wait, I’m getting ahead of myself!

In our prayer life we must be willing to commit to God’s plan for our sanctification, rely on His promises, be very honest with God, understand our problem and ask God to bless us with a plan rather than for Him to bless our plan.

Where are you in this prayer process right now? Are you concerned about your requests? Do you have a conviction about God’s holy character? Are you ready to confess your sins? Do you have confidence in God’s promises? Are you ready to make a commitment to get involved in God’s kingdom work?

The walls of our lives have been toppled by our sin nature, deafness to God’s voice, selfishness, and arrogance. We are confronted with only two choices now:

1. To learn to live in the rubble of our lives

2. To be bold enough to admit our sins, ask God for His plan for our sanctification, and then commit to be  involved in that plan.

Which way are you going to proceed? The choice you make will affect you in a monumental way.

Promises, Promises

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If God said it in His Word, you can believe it and rely on it.


While Nehemiah spends time in broken confession in vs 6-7, he doesn’t wallow in a prolonged introspective examination of his failures and those of his brothers and sisters. He owns what he did wrong and then he quickly expresses confidence in God’s promises in verses 8-10:

“Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my name.’ They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and mighty hand.” Nehemiah 1:6-7 NASB


The Promises

In this part of his prayer, Nehemiah recalls the words of Moses about the danger of Israel’s apostasy and the promise of divine mercy. His words are a skillful mosaic of great Old Testament warnings and promises, with quotes coming from Leviticus, Deuteronomy, 1 Kings, 2 Chronicles and Psalm 130. What was the promise Nehemiah was getting at? It was twofold. First, if Israel disobeyed, they would be sent to a foreign land. That had been fulfilled. The second part was that when the captivity was over God would send them back to Jerusalem. They were still waiting for that to be fulfilled. Nehemiah prayed, “Lord, the first part is true. We’ve disobeyed and we’re in captivity. But Lord, you’ve made a promise to bring us back home and protect us there – and that has not happened yet.”


The Confidence

Nehemiah is saying that since God kept His promise to scatter Israel because of he apostasy, he has confidence that Israel will be regathered because God promised to do that when Israel repented. So Nehemiah is expressing utmost confidence not only in God’s promises but also in God’s character. If Nehemiah doubted God’s character he would not have prayed the way he did.

But what about us? How does God’s promises to His people Israel relate to the Church today, who is not Israel?


The Principle

The principle here is that God keeps His promises when He makes them regardless of the passage of time. Take a look at one of my favorite promises of God found in Romans 8:

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.”


There is great comfort in knowing that the God who makes that promise to me is the One who will keep that promise to me.One day I will be glorified – made perfect – based on what God said through Paul in Romans 8. “How can you be so sure Mr. Bald Theologian?” you may ask.

In Romans 8:28-30, all those things God talks about – HE “called..justified…glorified” are in the aorist tense in Greek. The aorist is the simple past tense. So if I’m not yet glorified (and who among us is!), then why did Paul use a simple past tense here? Well, it is a grammatical thing with Greek. When one wants to guarantee that a future event is going to happen, one uses the simple past tense. This use is called a “proleptic aorist” or “futuristic use of the aorist”.

Since our glorification is yet future and Paul – under the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit – uses a past tense to describe it, we can be sure that we will be glorified one day. He who started a work in you will make sure it comes to completion.

 If God said it in His Word, you can believe it and rely on it.

The Conclusion 

Someone has calculated that there are over 7,000 promises in the Bible. The better we know the Word of God, the better we’ll be able to pray with confidence in God’s promises. 1 John 5:14 says, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” Are you as confident of God’s promises as Nehemiah was?

Nehemiah knew God would keep His covenant of love with his people. He also knew that, even though God did not need his help, he was ready to make a commitment to get involved.  So how about us? Do we care about the problems facing the Church today? Are we too fearful to even be aware of these issues? Do we simply ignore these things? Are we aware enough to care? And if we are aware enough to care, do we rely on God’s promises?

You know, when we rely on His promises we honor Him because we are stating quite clearly that our God is of perfect integrity. We honor Him by trusting Him with our fears, our hopes, and our dreams.