Saturday, January 12, 2013

Nehemiah 2: Prayer & Practicality

Neh 2:10-20 When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about this, they were very much disturbed that someone had come to promote the welfare of the Israelites. I went to Jerusalem, and after staying there three days I set out during the night with a few men. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem. There were no mounts with me except the one I was riding on. By night I went out through the Valley Gate toward the Jackal Well and the Dung Gate, examining the walls of Jerusalem, which had been broken down, and its gates, which had been destroyed by fire. Then I moved on toward the Fountain Gate and the King's Pool, but there was not enough room for my mount to get through; so I went up the valley by night, examining the wall. Finally, I turned back and reentered through the Valley Gate. The officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, because as yet I had said nothing to the Jews or the priests or nobles or officials or any others who would be doing the work. Then I said to them, "You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace." I also told them about the gracious hand of my God upon me and what the king had said to me. They replied, "Let us start rebuilding." So they began this good work. But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official and Geshem the Arab heard about it, they mocked and ridiculed us. "What is this you are doing?" they asked. "Are you rebelling against the king?" I answered them by saying, "The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it."

Though leadership begins with prayer and is permeated by prayer, it is also practical. We pray that God might reveal to us his wisdom. We see this practical aspect of leadership at work in Nehemiah. After he got his leave of absence from the king to return to Jerusalem, he asked for letters of transit to go through the provinces and  a letter of procurement to Asaph, the keeper of the king's forest for the timber needed to rebuild the temple gates and walls, including timber to build himself a house to live in. Furthermore, he accepted the calvary detachment the king sent along with him for his protection. Unlike Ezra who was too spiritual to ask the king for military protection, Nehemiah saw no contradiction to his faith in God in having a military detachment accompanying him to protect him.

The other practical aspect of Nehemiah's leadership style is his assessment of the situation before he decided on his next action plan. While the local officials Sanballat and Tobiah were unhappy that Nehemiah had come to promote the welfare of the Jews, they were in the dark as to what he was doing because Nehemiah in his wisdom did not tell anyone "what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem" (2:12). He was wise enough not to announce his plan prematurely so that his enemies could start creating troubles. He kept his cards close to his chest. Instead, he first surveyed the walls and the gates surreptitiously in the night in order not to attract any attention to what he was planning to do next. Faith is not presumption. He did all his assessments and preparations before letting anyone know what he had in mind to do: "The officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, because as yet I had said nothing to the Jews or the priests or nobles or officials or any others who would be doing the work" (2:16).

Once he had seen the ground and had conceived of an action plan, he told the Jewish leaders: "You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace" (2:17). He also told them about "the gracious hand of my God upon me and what the king had said to me" (2:18)--the divine and human dimensions of this work - God and king. Even though Nehemiah believed that his work was entirely a result of God's grace, he nevertheless worked within the limits and powers of Artaxerxes' royal authority.

There is a tendency sometime for the church to teach: "all we need is prayer." We all like magic bullet, and prayer seems to be that for some Christians. Yes, we will always need to pray, but we pray in order to bring God's wisdom, power and presence into the situation we are facing. Paul's prayer for the Ephesian church is that they might have "the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better" (Eph 1:17). We need wisdom and revelation in order to know God and His ways better. In some situations where we have no control, God works for us, often without our help; but there are many situations where God chooses to work with us and through us, and that's when we need His wisdom and revelation. Revelation tells us what we should do but wisdom tells us how to do it.

Father, may You grant us Your Spirit of revelation and wisdom so that we might know what to do and how to do it. Amen. 

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