Nehemiah is one of my favorite Bible characters, if not my most favorite! The book of Nehemiah is just 13 chapters but it gives an example of a step-by-step Biblical life and has so many lessons about living Christ-focus.
This year, I started working through the Bible three chapters a night. I had never really read Nehemiah all the way through before. But as I was reading, I just kept writing more and more down. If you’re a teenager, you’re probably trying to figure out what to do with your life. And especially if you’re in school, you’re attempting to show Jesus to others at your middle or high school. Sometimes it’s hard to understand how to do that.
My answer? Living like Nehemiah. If you’re not familiar with his backstory, Nehemiah is a servant, specifically a cupbearer, meaning he served wine to the king. He inquires about the Jews who survived the exile and learns that Jerusalem’s wall is torn down and the city is in shambles. He cries, prays, and fasts for days. I won’t spoil the story for you, but you’ll discover during the story that Nehemiah’s prayers are powerful.
Are you trying to live a more Christ-centered life? Do you want to learn humility, wisdom, courage, powerful prayer, and godly leadership? Then take this journey with us! Over the span of the next month, we’ll be reading about three chapters of Nehemiah a week. If you’re trying to get into reading your Bible on a weekly basis, this is perfect! It’s a very short passage but contains powerful and applicable lessons. I’ll delve deeper into the reading, explaining things in Nehemiah and why they’re important in Christian life, and showing you how you can apply them to yourself.
These posts will be released on Saturdays, as always, but you can also sign up for a weekly email sent out on Wednesday. These emails will give you specific verses in the passage to memorize, a challenge, and a reminder to live like Nehemiah that will keep you on track each day. To sign up for these, make sure you are signed up for my site and comment below “sign me up!”
Without further ado, let’s get into this week’s first reading.
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Nehemiah’s Praiseful Prayer
The first thing I noticed about this passage was how Nehemiah prayed. First of all, it wasn’t a “popcorn prayer.” I feel like I do these kinds of prayers all the time without really thinking about God's answer. Nehemiah didn't pray in a crowded room or in the midst of another activity. He kneeled and gave the Lord his full attention.
Nehemiah begins his prayer with thanksgiving. He has just learned that God’s holy place was destroyed and he is anguished. He weeps and won’t even eat. But he still begins his prayer of distress glorifying the King.
“O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments…” ~Nehemiah 1:5
This stuck with me. When you are anxious or upset, do you start by praising the Lord? I don’t. When I begin praying, I often jump right into telling God that I don’t know what to do, I’m so tired, etc. But this isn’t how Nehemiah prays. He begins by acknowledging God’s awesomeness and what his “steadfast love” has already done for him. He doesn’t begin by trying to figure out what God will do for him, rather what God has already done for him and who God is.
The next thing Nehemiah does is humble himself before the Lord. By listening to a few sermons or reading a couple of passages in the Bible, I bet you already know that humility is a big thing in the Bible. You just have to look at when Jesus died on the cross. Being crucified was the most humiliating, painful thing he could have done.
So Nehemiah humbles himself.
“I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father's house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses.” ~Nehemiah 6-7
Nehemiah doesn’t just say that the people he’s praying for have sinned against God. He admits that he too has sinned against God at times. Then Nehemiah begins to plea.
“They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” ~Nehemiah 8-11
Nehemiah begs the Lord to be merciful toward himself and the Jews. He completely gives himself over to the Lord. He doesn’t come to God with a to-do or a grocery list of the things he needs. He begs that God will hear his pleas and do the work God wants to do.
Do You Delight in Serving the Lord?
One of my favorite lines in Nehemiah’s prayer is “O Lord...be attentive...to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name.” Here’s the thing: I really don’t like authority. I don’t like being told what to do, I don’t like being scared of anyone, and I really don’t like it when I think an authority figure could be making a better decision.
But what Nehemiah is saying in this prayer is that while we need to fear, love, and respect God, that’s not enough. We have to delight in serving the Lord.
Serving Him was Nehemiah’s number one purpose in life. He didn’t just do the things the Lord asked him to do grudgingly. He went to the Lord, seeking Him out. Then he asked God to lead his life and tell him what things He wanted him to do. Do you relish in serving Jesus?
Nehemiah doesn’t just serve the Lord, he serves others. The last line in Nehemiah 1 says that he was a cupbearer to the king. The king needed to trust his cupbearer very much. Otherwise, someone could easily slip poison into his drink. While Nehemiah was probably respected by the king, he was still a servant. And he was a servant who served faithfully, without complaining or looking for recognition.
How are you serving others?
Are you finishing the dishes or the laundry for your sibling/parent/spouse even though it’s not your turn or you have other things on your plate?
Are you adjusting your budget so you have room to tithe and/or give to charities?
Are you doing greater things with your time? Do you clear things out to spend time with your family, volunteer, or meet with someone who needs a disciple? Do you engage with people on the streets, in stores, and in your day-to-day life, or do you hurry to get to your next destination?
Galatians 5:3 says “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” The Lord has made it clear that serving and discipling others is our biggest goal. This trumps anything else on our to-do list! So look for ways you can lovingly serve others all around you. (Check out 50 Ways to Serve Others)
Most importantly, serve with the right heart. Don’t seek acknowledgment or for someone else to serve you. Serve with a full heart aimed to help others and spread the love of Christ.
Nehemiah Sets Out
After praying and asking the king, Nehemiah sets out to Jerusalem. There are a few key ways Nehemiah does this.
He does it with zeal.
Nehemiah is enthusiastic. He recognizes the call the Lord has put on his heart and follows it without reservations.
You’ll notice that Nehemiah does not march into the throne room and proclaim that, if the king is a good person, he’ll send him to Jerusalem. He repeats the phrase “if it pleases the king.” Nehemiah is not so reserved that he refrains from asking others for help, but he asks humbly.
He praises God every step of the way.
When the king answers Nehemiah positively, Nehemiah credits it to the “gracious hand” of God. He doesn’t stop glorifying Jesus even when things go well.
He recruits many other people.
First, he gets help from the king. The king allows him to travel, provides him with letters that will allow him safe travels, and timber for building the gates. He also gives Nehemiah army officers and cavalry. Of course, Nehemiah does not begin proclaiming what he believes he has heard right away. The passage says “I had not told anyone what God had put into my heart to do for Jerusalem.” But when he sees the disarray, he recruits more brothers and sisters of Christ to help him. Don’t underestimate the power of brothers and sisters in Christ working together for the Lord!
Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, fellowship will be life-giving when it is done for the glory of the Lord. Don’t be tempted to keep something God wants you to share to yourself because of the prestige you think you’ll get. God wants you to have a support system and he wants others working for Him.
That is it for this week! Here’s a cheat sheet for you:
Begin your prayers with thanksgiving. Stop immediately thinking of what God can do for you, and think of what he’s already done.
Don’t come to God with a to-do list.
Humble yourself, before the Lord and before others.
Delight in serving others and God.
Don’t underestimate the power of Christ-like fellowship.
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