1During the month of Nisan in the twentieth year that Artaxerxes was king, I served him his wine, as I had done before. But this was the first time I had ever looked depressed. 2So the king said, “Why do you look so sad? You're not sick. Something must be bothering you.”
Even though I was frightened, 3 I answered, “Your Majesty, I hope you live forever! I feel sad because the city where my ancestors are buried is in ruins, and its gates have been burned down.”
4The king asked, “What do you want me to do?”
I prayed to the God who rules from heaven. 5Then I told the king, “Sir, if it's all right with you, please send me back to Judah, so that I can rebuild the city where my ancestors are buried.”
6The queen was sitting beside the king when he asked me, “How long will it take, and when will you be back?” The king agreed to let me go, and I told him when I would return.
7Then I asked, “Your Majesty, would you be willing to give me letters to the governors of the provinces west of the Euphrates River, so that I can travel safely to Judah? 8I will need timber to rebuild the gates of the fortress near the temple and more timber to construct the city wall and to build a place for me to live. And so, I would appreciate a letter to Asaph, who is in charge of the royal forest.” God was good to me, and the king did everything I asked.
9The king sent some army officers and cavalry troops along with me, and as I traveled through the Western Provinces, I gave the letters to the governors. 10But when Sanballat from Horon and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about what had happened, they became very angry, because they didn't want anyone to help the people of Israel.
Frequently in our lives there seems to be a “disconnect” between prayer and action. Those who are inspired by action have little time for prayer, while those who focus on prayer never get around to doing anything. Nehemiah gives us a beautiful example of prayer leading to action.
It has been four months since his first prayer in chapter 1 but his prayers for help are finally answered. The king asks him why he seems downcast, and he responds that it is natural when his people and city are in such dire straits. Then he prays a short “arrow” prayer that the king will show favour. Nehemiah has already devised a plan to help his people but that plan must meet with the king’s approval. He prays for this and when he receives it, the plan is put into action. It is not a haphazard disorganized scheme. He needs letters, building materials, government support, and official documents. With these in place he heads for Jerusalem, where unbeknownst to him he will meet further opposition.
I wonder, when we pray, do we persevere in prayer? Nehemiah’s first prayer preceded its answer by four months. Then when we do pray, do we see ourselves as having anything to contribute to that answer? Perhaps we are like Moses who says to God, “Send someone else!” But Nehemiah is the better example. Pray, but also have a plan of action which includes personal involvement when the prayer is answered.
O God of Heaven, Help us to persevere in prayer but also not to be so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good, nor to be so earthly minded that we do not see your vision for the world. Let us pray and act. Let us be your hands and feet in building your kingdom in this world. For Jesus’ sake, Amen.