Summary: Building God's people requires both dependent praying and deliberate planning
Our mission as a church is to develop mature disciples who follow, serve and proclaim Jesus as Messiah. And since that mission statement was developed based on a careful consideration of the Scriptures, it ought to be something that we all agree on. But when it comes to how to actually accomplish that mission, we probably all have different ideas about how to do that. And those ideas often tend to gravitate toward one of two extremes:
• At one end of the spectrum are those who would say let’s just pray about this and then we’ll just go wherever God leads. This is what we would call more of a spontaneous approach to discipleship.
• At the other end of the spectrum are those who say “Let’s sit down and develop some detailed plans on exactly how we’re going to accomplish discipleship in our church. And so they would develop all kinds of programs, classes and other elements that are designed to accomplish our mission. This is what we call a more planned approach to discipleship.
As we might expect, the Biblical approach lies somewhere between those two extremes, and this morning as we look at chapter 2 of Nehemiah we’re going to get some help finding that proper balance. As we study that chapter together this morning we need to remember that even though on the surface, the book of Nehemiah is about rebuilding walls, it is, at its core, a book about God rebuilding His people. That is a task that God is still carrying out today. And just like He used Nehemiah in that process over 2,500 years ago, He wants to use all of us in accomplishing that same purpose today.
I’m going to begin this morning by giving you the overall principle that we’ll find in Nehemiah 2 and then we’ll develop some important aspects of that principle as we go through the chapter. Here is that overall principle:
Building God’s people requires both
dependent praying AND deliberate planning
We’re going to see that as Nehemiah assesses the situation he faces, he employs both of those elements. Chapter 1 focused primarily on the aspect of dependent praying. There we saw Nehemiah seeking God’s heart in continuous prayer.
This morning in chapter 2 we’ll focus more on the second aspect of deliberate planning. So with that in mind, go ahead and turn to Nehemiah 2 and follow along as I begin reading in verse 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 sad in his presence. 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.
(Nehemiah 2:1-2 ESV)
As we discovered last week, when Nehemiah heard about the condition of the walls and the people in Jerusalem, he wept and mourned and he spent four months in prayer seeking God’s heart about this situation. And now God is going to give him the opportunity to act based on what God revealed to him as he prayed.
In his role as cupbearer, Nehemiah does as usual and takes wine to the king after he tastes it to make sure it hasn’t been poisoned. King Artaxerxes immediately notices that Nehemiah isn’t his usually cheery self. And when the king notices that, Nehemiah is afraid – with good reason. In that culture the people in the presence of the king were expected to be in a good mood and those who were sad and melancholy could even be executed for “raining on the king’s parade”. But in Nehemiah’s case there was even more reason to be afraid. As the cupbearer whose job it was to protect the king from anyone who would try to harm him by poisoning his food or drink, a sad countenance would raise suspicion that Nehemiah might be involved in some plan to harm the king.
Nehemiah is quite wise in his response:
I said to the king, “Let the king live forever! Why should not my face be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers' graves, lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?”
(Nehemiah 2:3 ESV)
Notice that Nehemiah is very respectful to the king. Although he is confident that God is in control, Nehemiah doesn’t know exactly how the king is going to react to his request. Jerusalem had frequently been a thorn in the side of the Persian kings and there was a decree in place that prohibited the Jews from rebuilding the walls of the city without a new decree from the king. So you’ll notice that Nehemiah doesn’t even mention Jerusalem yet. He only mentions the place of his fathers’ graves knowing that in the Persian culture, honoring one’s dead ancestors was very important.