“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.” Now I was cupbearer to the king.” (Nehemiah 1:11).
The close of Nehemiah’s prayer is one of my favorites in all of Scripture. Up until this point in the narrative, Nehemiah’s position in the Persian kingdom is unknown, but at the end of this prayer, we discover that he was the cupbearer to the king. Nehemiah, like Daniel before him, had received great favor and promotion in a foreign empire. As the cupbearer, Nehemiah was a right-hand man of sorts to this Persian King Artaxerxes. Nehemiah was influential and positioned well to make a request of the king, his government, and his nation.
We ought to know that Nehemiah was not obligated to ask the king for anything. Over time, as this prayer grew within his heart, as the burden for Jerusalem developed within his mind, Nehemiah concluded that he needed to put his life on the line for God’s people and God’s city. His request of God is simple: “give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” Nehemiah sacrificially volunteered himself in prayer to God, becoming willing to ask King Artaxerxes to open the door for a rebuilding effort in Jerusalem to take place.
Any great work of God starts with sacrifice. It's not like Nehemiah was living the life of a common slave. He was no low man on the totem pole. Nehemiah likely lived a luxurious life and occupied a powerful role. He could have heard the report from his brother about the catastrophe in Jerusalem and turned a blind eye to the despair found there. Instead, however, Nehemiah emulates Jesus Christ by stepping out of his place of luxury and prominence and into the disaster of that city. In short, Nehemiah was willing to lay his life down sacrificially.
As I stated earlier, many people would have loved to see Jerusalem rebuilt. Few people, however, were in a position to do anything about it. Still fewer would have had the willingness to sacrifice as Nehemiah did. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1). We are a people called to lay our lives down for the cause of Christ, but will we? Isaiah responded to God’s call, and the disciples left their boats and nets to follow Jesus, but who will go today? This might lead to some discomfort and sacrifice, but no pain, no gain, as they say. Remember how Moses grew up in Pharaoh’s house, but chose “rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.” (Hebrews 11:25).
Any great work of God starts with volunteerism. Volunteerism isn’t my favorite word, but it will suffice for our purposes. At some point, someone has to step up. Like the prayer of the Psalmist who wanted to preach into his gray-haired old age, “O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.” (Psalm 71:18). Generations are rising, moving into positions of prominence, and putting down their mark. Someone has to volunteer to reach those generations. I know many Christian parents who don’t like to think of their sons entering into pastoral work, but someone has to volunteer for this all-important work. This same spirit of volunteerism must exist in families, schools, businesses, and cities. Like Nehemiah, God’s people need to step up to the plate.
Deborah and Barak were used mightily to win victory for Israel over the Canaanite King Jabin and his general Sisera. Deborah was the prophetess who told Barak to grab 10,000 soldiers, drink a can of Man-Up, and get after Sisera and his armies, ensuring victory from the hand of God (Judges 4:6-7). Barak shuffled and, in an act that surely revoked his man-card, told Deborah that he would go only if she went with him, but would in fact not go if she refused to go with him. She promised to go to war with him, ominously warning him that this path would lead to the glory of someone else. A woman named Jael who would ultimately kill General Sisera with warm glass of milk and a tent peg. With a little teeth-pulling, Barak went into battle, and God gave them the victory. Once it was all said and done they sang a song of rejoicing, as God’s people are prone to do after moments of epic victory.
The opening line of their song went like this: “That the leaders took the lead in Israel, that the people offered themselves willingly, bless the Lord!” (Judges 5:2). In other words, they were exceedingly glad because their leadership and their people had finally stepped up to the task at hand. They blessed the Lord for this, recognizing that this kind of commitment is often rare and should be celebrated when it is demonstrated.
Volunteer yourself for the work. As I said earlier, there are millions of opportunities all around us, but you likely know what your wall, your gates, your broken city is for you. You might not have Jerusalem staring you in the face, but you likely have areas you know God is asking you to role up your sleeves and get to work in. It won’t always be clean. You won’t always know the outcome of things. You might not even see the next step. But like Nehemiah who volunteered himself before the God of heaven, give yourself to him and honestly, truly, and passionately give yourself to His work here on earth.
Any great work of God starts with perspective. What do I mean by this? Well, notice how Nehemiah referred to the seemingly all-powerful King Artaxerxes. He asked God to “grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” Nehemiah was able to see this king as a mere mortal, only a man. This was no disrespect, but simply the perspective afforded to him by worshipping and praying to the one true God. After observing God for a little while in prayer, Nehemiah saw what he was dealing with. A man. Only a man. Perhaps Nehemiah had begun to think of the Proverb: “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.” (Proverbs 21:1).
In the journey of life, the fear of man is a snare that will trap you and keep you from pursuing the vision God has for your life (see Proverbs 29:25). Once you can see God for who He is and see man for who he is, however, your heart will more fully be set free for what God has for you. Nehemiah had this going for him. Part of his fearlessness was his perspective. He knew God was bigger than any man or earthly power. He saw the situation correctly.
Sacrifice. Volunteer. Gain perspective. God wills to use your life. “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him.” (2 Chronicles 16:9). God is looking for men and women to get behind. He wants to get behind you. Get God’s burden, cry out to Him, and become personally willing to execute the task at hand. Perhaps you are the answer to your prayers.