Here in the West we should be thankful that our faith is not a risk as it is in many countries, but we do need to take the risk of sharing the gospel, and standing up for what we believe in.
We are not on our own, we join a host of witnesses throughout history. Like Nehemiah. A senior civil servant, the king trusted Nehemiah with his life and he had great influence.
I was cupbearer to the king. (Neh.1:11b)
The cupbearer was no menial servant. The king trusted him that the wine was not poisoned. 100 years earlier Cyrus had allowed the Jews to return to Israel, but some had stayed. There are Jews in Iran (Persia) today who can trace their lineage to the exile.
Like Nehemiah, we are called to be the best that we can be:
Godly lives can lead to earthly success. Employers value honesty and hard work. Actions speak louder than words.
Like Nehemiah, we are called to live righteous lives in a hostile world:
There are Christians today who are in prison for their faith. Arrested, sentenced, beaten, starved, kept in solitary confinement, but their testimony is bright.
The words of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah: In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem. They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.” When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. (Neh.1:1-4)
Like Nehemiah, we are called to be informed:
Are you aware of incidents in the news – gay marriage, Nigerian persecution etc? Do you ask God what you should do about them? Even if it is just to be available to listen to people’s pain & grief. Nehemiah spent 5 months seeking God and his timing.
Like Nehemiah, we are called to be burdened, to be moved, to serve:
Jesus said we should have compassion, pray, then go.
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matt.9:36-38)
Nehemiah did not merely sympathise, he sought God about what he should do.
“O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.”
In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before; so the king asked me, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.” (Neh.1:11-2:2)
The king knew Nehemiah so well he picked up on his sadness. The king could have ordered his death. Before he asked the king for anything, Nehemiah offered up an arrow prayer.
I was very much afraid, but I said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my fathers are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” The king said to me, “What is it you want?” Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my fathers are buried so that I can rebuild it.” (Neh.2:2-5)
The king agreed, and provided him with letters of introduction and an escort. Nehemiah was not a builder or carpenter, but as He did with Nehemiah, God raises us up and equips us. Hudson Taylor said: God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply.
The cost to Nehemiah was that he gave up his high position and comfortable life to go and do what God had commanded. When we follow Jesus it costs us everything.
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters–yes, even his own life–he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple… In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.” (Lk.14:26,27,33)
Wearing a cross, symbol of death & execution, means you are dead to yourself and your life belongs to Jesus.
Are we willing to live for Jesus, to go, to die to ourselves?
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (James 1:22)
The call goes out to us all.