Before anything can change in our lives, we have to be willing to be honest with ourselves: honest about our shortcomings, honest about the nature of our circumstances, honest about who we are and who God is, honest about what God is asking of us. The amazing story of Nehemiah hinges on his honesty and integrity––he was willing to acknowledge not only the amount of work it would take to rebuild Jerusalem after Babylonian captivity, but to admit his sins and the sins of his people. He came clean before God and led his people back to pure and honest worship––the beginning of true restoration (for them and for us).
1. Start with what breaks your heart.
- All change in our lives starts with honesty––we have to get honest with ourselves about who God is, who we are, what God’s asking of us, and what’s holding us back.
- When Nehemiah opens, the children of Israel are in exile in Babylon. Nehemiah served in the courts of the king of Persia. Nehemiah was grieved by the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the devastation of his people, and he petitioned the king to let him go back to Jerusalem and lead the rebuilding of the city’s walls. God used Nehemiah to rebuild the walls and to rebuild the people.
- When we walk with God, our heartbreak is often a reflection of his own. So if we are moved by our holy grief to act, we can be confident that we are moving in accordance with the heart of God.
What are the things that break God’s heart? What are the things that grieve you in this season of your life? How is God directing you to act based on your grief?
2. Bring your cares to God in prayer.
- Confronted by what broke his heart, Nehemiah took the first step to rebuilding his city and his people: praying about his concerns. All works of restoration and redemption begin with prayer. When we run out ahead of God, instead of waiting to be led by him, our work will be fruitless because we will be attempting it in our own strength. Nehemiah waited on the Lord. He fasted and prayed and sought his direction and empowerment from the Holy Spirit.
- Nothing is too hard for God, but if we try to do things on our own, we will eventually reach a point where we encounter work that is beyond our strength and ability.
- Humility is born in the presence of God, when we see accurately who he is and who we are in comparison––both our weakness and the way the Lord esteems us as his people.
Describe a time you rushed out ahead of the Lord, instead of waiting for his direction. What happened? What is something you are facing right now that you can approach with prayer and fasting, waiting on the Lord?
3. Step out in faith.
- Nehemiah’s role as the king’s cupbearer was incredibly important. It was his job to taste the king’s food and make sure it wasn’t poisoned. If somebody wanted to kill the king by poisoning his food, the cupbearer would die instead. So for Nehemiah to go into the king’s presence and be honest about his grief was a huge step of faith in and of itself.
- Nehemiah demonstrated faithfulness both to God and to the king. When possible, this is how the people of God should walk: honoring God by honoring the people we’ve made commitments to.
Reflect on your life right now. What does faithfulness look like for you (to God and the people in your life)? What has God put before you that requires you to trust him and walk by faith even though you don’t know what’s next?
4. Seek to understand.
- Before Nehemiah did anything drastic––taking action or announcing his presence in Jerusalem––he surveyed the situation to really understand the depth of the damage to the walls.
- Even when we know God has called us to something we should be ready to take our time and really understand all the angles of something. Fools neglect understanding, but people of wisdom take their time.
Make a list of your important relationships. How can you practice listening and seeking understanding in those commitments this week?
Optional Follow-up Questions:
- What makes you say that?
- How do you feel about that?
- How would you explain your answer to a non-Christian friend or neighbor?
- Why did God design it to work that way? Why not just do (whatever else) instead?
- What would you say to someone who disagrees with that?
- Why do we really have to do it like that? Why can’t we just go (some other route) instead?