And it came about in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, that wine was before him, and I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. So the king said to me, “Why is your face sad though you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of heart.” Then I was very much afraid. I said to the king, “Let the king live forever. Why should my face not be sad when the city, the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies desolate and its gates have been consumed by fire?” Then the king said to me, “What would you request?” So I prayed to the God of heaven. (Nehemiah 2:1-4, NASB)
This short section is quickly becoming one of my favorite parts in the Bible, because it is probably my greatest weaknesses. For many years I operated under the lie that I needed to be strong, or at the very least, appear strong. It was not until the Lord opened my eyes, through a few humbling experiences, to the fact that in my weakness, He is strong (2 Cor 12:10). This is when I found a lot of freedom in my faith and journey. When we come to this place and submit to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, a burden is lifted and freedom is realized. My weakness…forcing things to happen, taking control and forcing the outcome to be what I think it should be. This is something of which Nehemiah did the exact opposite. He prayed, fasted, and trusted the Lord to take action in His timing.
From chapter 1, when Nehemiah wept over the wall not being rebuilt to chapter 2, about 4 months took place. Nehemiah had been fasting and praying for God’s direction during that 4-month span. At this point, Nehemiah is before the king serving him his wine, when he makes the statement, “Now I had not been sad in his presence.” This is important, because it was dictated that no one would show sadness in front of the king, under penalty of death. I believe it set up Nehemiah (and us) to experience a miracle of God. I believe the Lord quickened a pagan king (divine intervention) to see Nehemiah’s heart and understand that Nehemiah was sad. The king said, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of the heart.”
Let me sum up what occurred here. Nehemiah was broken for his people. He fasted and prayed, seeking God for wisdom but never taking things into his own hands. He was a trusted and high employee of the king, having an audience with him every day, but never asking him for help. The burden for his people wore heavy on him, yet he knew that he could NEVER show sadness in front of the king, so he put on his best face. And then one day, God intervened and quickened the king to the knowledge that Nehemiah was carrying a burden, of which the king had the resources to address that very burden. Nehemiah was patient. He was persistent in his prayers and fasting. And God honored His faithful servant by providing.
Lastly, after the king recognized Nehemiah’s sadness, what was the first thing Nehemiah did? In front of the king he “prayed to the God of heaven.” This is equally amazing to me, because what would my response be if the king asked me what it is I wanted? Most likely I would list everything I thought I needed to accomplish the desire on my heart. Not Nehemiah. He was so aware of his need of God that he stopped and asked his Heavenly Father for guidance. It is obvious from the generosity of the king in the next few verses that God was in this situation, and I cannot help but believe, much of it was due to Nehemiah’s humble heart of a servant. I have said this many times, but we look at Nehemiah as this great leader, but the leadership qualities we admire are simply a byproduct of a man fully submitted to God. Nehemiah’s strength came from his ability to submit to God’s plan.
So my challenge to you…
- What areas of your life do you need to fully submit to God?
- Where is pride preventing you from understanding that in your weakness, He is strong?
- How can you remember to put prayer first, prior to taking action in your life? (This doesn’t mean we stay stagnant and take no action, it means we seek God first.)
- What areas of your life have you forced the outcome with mediocre results?
- How can you discipline yourself to simply wait upon the Lord?
Recognizing our weaknesses is one of the most difficult things to do, especially in the United States, where the culture is one of independence. We were not designed to be independent, we were designed to function as a body, some being the arms, some the legs, but God always being the head. There is freedom, there is community, and there is true success when we realize this life was not meant to be journeyed alone.
Much love and many blessings to you!