Praying Through the Bible project
Does your passion match God’s will?
So we prayed to our God, and set a guard as a protection against them day and night.
When we are passionate about something, we don’t want to wait around for it. We want to move ahead, make plans, take action. For a believer, there is a time to do that, rather than “waiting on the Lord.” But our “passion” should not be the driving force of our actions. Prayer should play a significant part of anything we do, and Nehemiah’s prayer here shows us the right way.
The opposition from external and internal forces did not stop the work on the wall. The construction reached the halfway point, and this progress further enraged the opposition. Several foreign groups banded together and harass Jerusalem to cause confusion. These groups literally surrounded Jerusalem: Samballat in the north in Samaria; the “Arabs” and Edomites to the south, the Ammonites in east, and the Ashdodites lived to the west.
Rather than panic at this encircling alliance, Nehemiah’s response is two-fold: he prays with his people, and then appoints a guard to a 24-hour patrol to protect the wall and the workers.
The structure of the scene here is one we have seen, and continue to find, in Nehemiah. God’s people make progress (the halfway point of the wall), but meet with opposition (the foreigners plan an attack). Nehemiah addresses the issue with prayer and then with action.
Likewise, some of the language here is like the language found in the “holy war” aspects when Israel was first given the Promised Land. In Deuteronomy, enemies came together against God’s people. The people prayed before they prepared their defense, and their own defenses were minor compared to the enemy. They had no real army, but Joshua reminds them that it doesnt matter because God is on their side.
We might wonder at the actions of these foreigners—after all, the Persian king ruled the land, and he had given Nehemiah authority to rebuild. But they are far from the Persian capital, and perhaps they thought they could get away with it.
Still, Nehemiah’s authority and the language of holy war is part of his boldness. God had led him to believe the wall should be rebuilt; He had moved the king to grant Nehemiah the authority and given him resources; and once there, the work had progressed to the halfway point despite prior opposition. This all comes together to give Nehemiah the conviction that what he is doing is God’s work, and he will move ahead until God shows him otherwise.
For our purposes, Nehemiah always includes prayer at every stage and every crisis. Because it is not his passion, it is God’s work.
The concept of one’s “passion” is popular today: “follow your passion,” “find your passion,” “it’s my passion.” Nehemiah had a passion, too: to protect God’s people in Jerusalem and rebuild the wall. But as we have seen, he doesn’t place his passion over God’s will. He sought what God wanted—and if God had said, “no, stay, in Persia,” Nehemiah would have stayed. He would not have argued, “But it’s my passion!”
We see this same view here. The wall is making progress though there had been opposition. Each time, like here, Nehemiah stopped and sought God’s direction and protection. Once he was sure, he moved ahead with concrete actions to fulfill the goal.
This is genuine Christian leadership. It does not seek its own goals, its own view of “how things need to be,” its own “passion.” God’s will stands above all that. That means being constant in prayer, both in private and together with others.
Through our studies on prayer, we’ve read about many leaders of Israel who assumed they spoke for God, and acted without heeding or seeking Him first. Some didn’t care; others thought they already knew. Others prayed and “waited on the Lord.”
Nehemiah’s prayers cannot be divorced from his actions. While “waiting on the Lord” can be proper, sometimes we must act after the prayers are answered. When we engage in a project that we are passionate about we should first seek God’s will on the matter (and be willing to give it up). Then we should continue to seek His will and take the human action necessary to make sure His will is done.
Surely Nehemiah was tempted to give up. He could have said, “these oppositions show that God wants me to stop.” But he knew it was more complicated than that. Just because we meet difficulties does not mean it is not God’s will.
Prayer is the avenue through which we seek God’s will, seek His guidance, and gain the strength to act on it.
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