Making Things Happen
Making Things Happen
Every person has the potential to make things happen by taking the actions Nehemiah took.
Automobile genius Henry Ford once came up with a revolutionary plan for a new kind of engine which we know today as the V-8. Ford was eager to get his great new idea into production. He had some men draw up the plans, and presented them to the engineers. As the engineers studied the drawings, one by one they came to the same conclusion. Their visionary boss just didn't know much about the fundamental principles of engineering. He'd have to be told gently--his dream was impossible. Ford said, "Produce it anyway." They replied, "But it's impossible." "Go ahead," Ford commanded, "and stay on the job until you succeed, no matter how much time is required." For six months they struggled with drawing after drawing, design after design. Nothing. Another six months. Nothing. At the end of the year Ford checked with his engineers and they once again told him that what he wanted was impossible. Ford told them to keep going. They did. And they discovered how to build a V-8 engine.
Napolean Hill, Think and Grow Rich, 1960.
I believe that Nehemiah felt a little like the engineers working for Henry Ford. He wanted something that seemed impossible, but still he took actions that led to the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls.
Action I. Research
A. Over the past few weeks I have talked about Daniel, and Jeremiah. These are men who lived during the exile. They were taken from their homes and made to make new homes in a new place. Nehemiah is at the other end. Nehemiah is at the end of the exile and has a passion to rebuild the walls around Jerusalem. Just like Jeremiah said this is taking place seventy years after the exile. Nehemiah has no idea of what has been happening in Jerusalem, he would not have even been in the city. His entire existence has been as an exile. His home has been in Babylon.
B. When some men return from Jerusalem he asks them for an update of what has been happening in Jerusalem. The information they give him is not very uplifting. The report he gets is laced with words like great trouble, disgrace, broken down and burned. It does not sound like the sort of place you would look forward to returning too. This causes the realization that there is a lot of work that needs to be done. The city needs to be restored. He got some information on what the city looked like. He did what research he could. This research taught him what needed to be done.
C. Imagine someone who wanted to build a house. They might find a piece of ground to build on and also identify the kind and size of house they wanted. Then they might hire an architect to draw up plans. They might want to calculate how much the house would cost. They would also identify potential contractors. They might start to get some of the necessary permits. These are all very important steps in building a house. They are not things we would want to miss out on. These are similar to Nehemiah’s research. Then imagine that the project never got any farther than this. You might consider this to be wasted time. Nehemiah could have gotten stuck here.
D. Two dangers people can fall into when it comes to research are they do too much. They don’t know when to stop the research and start the project. In essence the research becomes the project, and the original project gets lost in the research. The other danger is running into the project too quickly. This would involve going into a project without any research. When this happens no one really knows what the project is and the project can flop because of a lack of planning. It is necessary to find a balance between over planning and under planning. What is the project God has given you a passion for?
Action II. Pray
A. There are three or four months which pass from the beginning of chapter one to the beginning of chapter 2. So the prayer of Nehemiah is not all wrapped up in the last few verses of Nehemiah 1. This probably gives us a sample of what Nehemiah prayed during those months. In v. 4 we are told that he fasted and prayed after he heard what had happened. I think that the reason those bits of information are included here is so that you know how long Nehemiah had been praying for the walls of Jerusalem to be rebuilt.
B. As I look at the prayer in Nehemiah 1 I see it broken up into a few distinct parts. In vv. 5, 6 he seems to be recognizing God’s greatness and ability to rescue them from this situation. He is doing what I would call praising God. In vv. 6, 7 he begins a series of confessions for the sins that have been committed. Remember many of these are sins that had been committed 70 years earlier. It does not make sense that Nehemiah would be asked to repent of the sins of his grandparents and great grandparents. These are not his sins. He does not place the blame on past generations. He says these are things we have done, including himself. In vv. 8-11 Nehemiah makes his petition and reminds God of the promises he had made in the past. He remembers instructions given to Moses warning that unfaithfulness will lead to exile. He also remembers the promise that returning to God will lead to restoration. He is asking that God would bring his people back.
C. At the end of chapter 1 it says, “I was cupbearer to the king.” While Nehemiah is praying this prayer there is a statement at the end indicating that he has no power to make anything happen. He is serving the king of Babylon as cupbearer. This was an important position, since the king would need someone trustworthy in this position. The cupbearer would taste the king’s wine to make sure it had not been poisoned. Certainly this created a situation in which the king could be poisoned, so the king needed someone he trusted in this position. So we know that Nehemiah has been placed in position of trust, but he does not have the freedom to go and do as he wants.
D. A key here is for us to understand that Nehemiah does not have the power or the authority to do anything with the report he has received concerning the city of Jerusalem. It is something that makes him very sad, but there is nothing he can do about it. However, he can pray and so he begins to pray and fast for the situation in Jerusalem. I think that we can say that he does not try to make something happen, but he waits for God to make something happen. That is what we see in chapter 2. God opens the door and Nehemiah moves forward. He does not move before the opportunity presents itself.
E. How many times do we pray and wait for God to respond as opposed to praying that doing what we think is right? Much of the time our prayers are about getting God’s approval for what we are doing, or for what we are about to do. Rather than seeking God we are seeking for God to approve of our actions. We can learn from Nehemiah that we are powerless until God starts to do something.
Action III. Request
A. I get a sense of surprise when the king questions Nehemiah in v. 2, "Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart." This is an opportunity that Nehemiah had been praying for. I would like to remind you that he had been praying for it for three to four months. When this door is opened Nehemiah takes his fears, v. 2 and he charges through that door. He is still very sensible about how much he is going to do. He simply tells the king, that he is upset because he has learned that the city his family is from is in ruins. It is not anything he can do anything about, but it is caused him a great deal of grief. God is opening up an opportunity for Nehemiah.
B. As the king listens to Nehemiah he asks what he can do about the situation. What a magnificent gesture that came about through the prayers of Nehemiah. With this opening Nehemiah does not hold anything back. He unloads a list of things he would like to see happen. First he wants the king to send him to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall. Second, he would like letters granting him permission to pass through territories with no trouble. He would also like lumber from the king’s forest to help in the rebuilding effort. It looks as if the king granted all of Nehemiah’s requests and also sends part of his army with him. When God made this opportunity available he did it in a big way. He granted Nehemiah even more than he had requested. It seems that over the 70 years of exile the Jewish people develop a good reputation with their captors. We especially seem them in the courts of the kings and high officials.
C. Nehemiah had been fasting a praying for at least three months for the city of Jerusalem. When the opportunity presents itself he has seconds to answer the questions of the king. It seems that he had used this time to think about what he really wanted to happen, and what he needed to make it happen. Perhaps during those months he had been populating a list of steps and items to get this job done.
D. When you are seeking something like Nehemiah was seeking, do you listen for what God is saying? I believe that God was telling Nehemiah that he would be answering his prayer and he was telling him the things he should be ready to request. As you pray God can speak to you as well. He can tell you things you need to be getting ready for. Maybe he lets you in on a list of things that need to come together in order for this to happen. We need to listen for God’s guidance, and we need to be ready to act when he opens that door.
The title for this message was making things happen. It was not Nehemiah that made things happen. Things happened because of what God did. It was not due to what a man did. He acted appropriately by listening to God and by responding to God’s direction. Learn to act on the passions that God has given you. Seek God’s guidance and direction in this passion and be ready when he gives you an opportunity.