Today, we lay the foundation for 2022 with one of my favorite stories from the Bible. It’s all about choices, priorities, focus, and laying the foundation for what God will do in and through us this year.
One of my favorite books in the Bible is Nehemiah.
Not much is known about Nehemiah, but we do know that he held the position of the king’s cupbearer, and did possess influence.1
We know from biblical history that the cupbearer and other key members of a king’s court were there to protect a king. During Joseph’s work in Egypt, he ministered to the cupbearer and breadmaker of Pharoh’s court while being in prison. It ended well for the cupbearer, but not so well for the breadmaker.
We also know that Nehemiah was serving during King Artaxerxes' reign, and there was some relationship between the two men.
Let’s pick up the story here…
Nehemiah was serving in the king’s court and had found favor with the king when he heard that Jerusalem was in ruin. The city was without gates or a wall to protect the city.
City walls and gates were the only defenses that a town or city had against invaders, without these defenses a town or city would surely fall.
Speaking with some people who had just returned from Jerusalem,
“They said to me, “Things are not going well for those who returned to the province of Judah. They are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem has been torn down, and the gates have been destroyed by fire.” – Nehemiah 1:3
“When I heard this, I sat down and wept. In fact, for days I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven.” – Nehemiah 1:4
Nehemiah’s heart was broken for his people. God placed in his heart a vision to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem.
He spent time praying and seeking the answer from the Lord. Nehemiah closed his prayer with the following:
“O Lord, please hear my prayer! Listen to the prayers of those of us who delight in honoring you. Please grant me success today by making the king favorable to me. Put it into his heart to be kind to me.” – Nehemiah 1:11
Nehemiah laid out his petition of wanting to go and rebuild the wall and gates of Jerusalem before the Lord. He also asked for forgiveness where he and the other Israelites had sinned. And then, he asked for favor grace.
In those days, asking the king for permission was risky. In Esther, we saw that going before the king without permission (even if you were the queen) was risky, and could end up in death.
During one of his serving opportunities, Nehemiah appeared before the king sad.2 The king picked up on something and asked:
“Why are you looking so sad? You don’t look sick to me. You must be deeply troubled.” – Nehemiah 2:2
“Long live the king! How can I not be sad? For the city where my ancestors are buried is in ruins, and the gates have been destroyed by fire.” – Nehemiah 2:3
The king replied,
“Well, how can I help you?”
Isn’t this what Nehemiah had prayed for? Favor grace from the king? Why does he appear shocked when the king wants to help?
Do you ever act surprised when you ask for something from God, and He delivers for you? I imagine Him in Heaven saying, “what am I going to do with you? You asked me for this or that, and you are surprised when I come through for you? Why?
But, that’s how it is, I think. We ask, ask, ask and God delivers when the timing is right, and then we are shocked when He gives us what we have been asking for.
Nehemiah asked the king for permission to go and rebuild the wall and gates of Jerusalem. He also asked for materials to help achieve this vision.
He set out on the journey and took time to survey the city and how they could achieve such a vision.
Nehemiah went out in the middle of the night to inspect the city walls and gates. I would think his heart was more grieved as he circled the city.
Once his survey was complete, he called on the inhabitants and the Jewish leaders for action.
“Then I told them about how the gracious hand of God had been on me, and about my conversation with the king. They replied at once, ‘Yes, let’s rebuild the wall!’ So they began the good work.” – Nehemiah 2:18
Nehemiah reminded the people of Jerusalem that there was a God who loved them and saw their struggles. He saw their pain and sent help for them. He reminded them of how God had gone before them with the king. The city of Jerusalem would be built with the help of the king of Persia.
Rebuilding the Wall & Gates
Nehemiah mobilized the teams, and they began working on the walls and gates near them. They worked, and the gates went up. They worked, and the walls went up. In order to be successful, they worked directly in the place in front of their homes.3
Over time, the opposition closed ranks and wanted to prevent them from completing their task.
Fear began to take root in the Israelites, as it would in most of us when we encounter a task so big, we need help to complete. They went to Nehemiah and voiced their concern.4
So, Nehemiah put in place a plan. Each day, half the group worked on the wall while the other half protected the city. However, fear still existed. People were concerned about their livelihoods. How would they pay for stuff? How would they…you fill in the blanket?
It is a natural reaction to the circumstances they faced; however, they forgot one thing, God was on their side. God had put in motion a plan to save them, and protect them.
Much like us, when we encounter trials so insurmountable, we lose sight of Jesus. Just like when Peter took his eyes off Jesus while walking on the water, we lose our way. We try to go at it alone. We think we’ve got it when in reality, we don’t have it.
Opposition and distractions continued as their work on the wall and gates continued. Day after day, the attacks came. Each day, Nehemiah leaned on the Lord for strength.
As they neared completion, the distractions increased.
As the voices grew louder, Nehemiah had, had enough. He fought back and proclaimed,
“I am doing a great work and I cannot come down.” – Nehemiah 6:3
In 52 days, the walls and gates were rebuilt, and the city was protected. This was a miraculous achievement that could only have been orchestrated by God.
What Good Work Are You Doing?
Each year, we set goals and layout big dreams. Maybe you want to start a business or grow your business. Perhaps this is the year, you go back for your education. Or maybe it’s a job change.
It might be something with greater significance like starting a family, fostering a child, or even adopting one.
What good work is God laying on your heart in 2022?
As you drive towards your vision or dream or goal, undoubtedly you will encounter opposition. You will get tired, discouraged, disillusioned, and wonder if the dream you working towards is worth it any longer.
When God puts a dream in your heart, He provides the means and opportunities to accomplish it. However, it doesn’t mean that you won’t face trials or that it may take longer than expected.
There is a reason why God wants you to accomplish the dream that He has placed in your heart. When we encounter these trials, let us stand and proclaim with boldness, like Nehemiah,
“I am doing a good work and I cannot come down.”
There is something for living a purposeful, focused life that lets us proclaim with boldness Nehemiah’s phrase.
What is it that God has placed in your heart for this year? I challenge you to write it down, think on it, explore it and drive to completion what He wants you to accomplish.
It may mean for a short period that you have to say “no” to a few things so that you can say “yes” to the tasks and items to help you achieve your dream.
Andy Stanley says,
“It’s a no for now, but not forever.”
Sometimes we have to say “no” right now, but it doesn’t mean it’s a no forever. God has a dream for each of us. Your dream looks different than mine, because of who we are, and the gifting He has given us.
When we choose to focus on executing the dream God has for us, we make choices, shift our priorities, and live with intentional focus to accomplish this dream.
I encourage you to declare today, just as Nehemiah did,
“I am doing a good work, and I can’t come down.”
Banish the distractions, and live a focused life in pursuit of what God has laid on your heart for 2022. And when you lose focus, and it’s inevitable that it will happen, take a few moments, and ask God to bring you back around and re-commit to the dream He has placed in your heart.
Lord, thank you for your servant Nehemiah, who followed you. I ask that you would instill in each one of us a dream, and passion for achieving what you have laid on our hearts. May we boldly declare throughout this year, “I am doing a great work, and I cannot come down.” Help us to make wise choices, prioritize effectively, but still leave space for the leading of the Holy Spirit. Please help us to not become so rigid in our pursuit of the task that we push people aside. Thank you for showing us how to live a focused life. Amen.
- Book of Nehemiah
- Devotionals on Nehemiah for all walks of life
- I was the king’s cupbearer—This officer, in the ancient Oriental courts, was always a person of rank and importance; and, from the confidential nature of his duties and his frequent access to the royal presence, he possessed great influence. Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 1, p. 294). Logos Research Systems, Inc.↩︎
- Nehemiah 2:1 ↩︎
- Nehemiah 3 ↩︎
- Nehemiah 4:1-12 ↩︎
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