Nehemiah 1

Nehemiah 1 begins one of my favorite books in the entire Bible as we see the leadership of Nehemiah impact a nation that has been wandering aimlessly for decades without direction and leadership.  We learn from the last sentence in the chapter that Nehemiah “was cupbearer to the king”.  He was the guy trusted to keep the king alive, making sure no one poisoned the food or drink.  Nehemiah wasn’t just some guy on the street, he had power and position in the kingdom.  But then one day, one of the folks from Judah came to visit.

Nehemiah is serving a long way from Jerusalem.  But when the Judeans came, he wanted to know what was happening back in his hometown.  “I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem”.  Nehemiah cared about the foundation of his faith.  They gave him an answer he truly didn’t want to hear.  “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire”.  Things were bad.  The walls are broken down. The people are without protection and direction.  It is embarrassing as people of God.

So what was Nehemiah’s response?  Just say ‘that is too bad’ and move on?  Not exactly.  “As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven”.  There was an immediate respond.  Nehemiah took the issue as his own and immediately goes to God.  He doesn’t accuse God of allowing the problem.  He takes ownership of it on behalf of his people.  “O Lord God of heaven….let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant….confessing the sins of the people of Israel….we have acted very corruptly….have not kept the commandments”.  Nehemiah confesses their sin.

He knows the situation is what it is because of the unfaithfulness of his people.  God is just.  He had told them generations earlier what would happen.  “If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your dispersed be under the farthest skies, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there”.  The bad news was that disobedience would lead to exactly what has happened.  The good news was that God had provided a way to get back to Him.  A promise of restoration if the people would only seek Him in obedience.

Nehemiah saw that and clinged to it.  He prays on behalf of his people, confessing their sin.  But he also prays about his participation in restoring the city of Jerusalem.  He wasn’t just content to pray from afar and wash his hands of the problem.  Nehemiah prays “give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man”.  He knows he has to go to the king and get permission to return home and help lead the people to success.  But before rushing off to try and make a difference, he prays and seeks God’s blessing and help.  That is what servant leadership looks like.  It wasn’t about Nehemiah and what he could do.  It was about a servant seeking what God could do through him.  That is the key to great leadership.  God at work in us and through us!

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