Written and preached by David P. Nolte


Nehemiah had become aware of the distress and reproach of his Jewish brothers back in Jerusalem. He was in Susa, the Persian capital serving king Artaxerxes as cup bearer. When he wane into the presence of the king, Artaxerxes noted his downcast appearance and asked "Why is your face sad though you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of heart." At that question, Nehemiah said, "Then I was very much afraid." He had reason to be afraid. Persian subjects were expected to appear happy and content in the presence of the king. If they registered sadness or depression they were subject to severe penalty, even unto death for bringing unhappiness into the king's presence. Besides, Nehemiah, a mere servant, was going to ask if he could leave Susa and the king's service to go to Jerusalem -- unheard of! On top of that, some time prior to that Artaxerxes himself had issued a decree forbidding the continued rebuilding of Jerusalem (Ezra 4:7-23) and now Nehemiah wants to go and resume it! No wonder he was afraid! Have you ever been afraid? Have you ever faced a challenge or problem or complication so enormous and significant you shuddered at the thought of it? Little 5 year old Mary was. She was being treated for a brain tumor, she had suffered a stroke that left half of her body paralyzed, she had recently lost her father and her mother. Now she was compelled to have an MRI. She went into the MRI machine without the slightest protest and the exam began. At that time, each imaging sequence required the patient to remain perfectly still for about five minutes. This would have been difficult for anyone -- and certainly for a five-year-old who had suffered so much. Being still was vital, though, as any movement of her face, including talking, would result in image distortion. For the exam, and for life itself, the little girl needed an extraordinary patience and endurance. When we are faced with formidable odds, when we are afraid, when we face difficulty, what can we learn from Nehemiah and from Mary? Let me suggest a few things from the text. When you are faced with difficulty:

    1. Notice in 1:1 that the news came to him in Chislev: that's our December; then he went to the king in Nisan: that's not a Datsun, that's part of our April. That means that about four months had passed and nothing had happened! Jerusalem was still in languor; the walls still down; the people still in reproach.
    2. Nehemiah is concerned but exercises patience and steadfastness.
      1. Nehemiah was urgent, but did not leap into a panic or hysteria.
      2. Nehemiah would not act impetuously, or go off half-cocked and careless.
      3. Nehemiah wanted to formulate a plan, to fast and pray, to approach the king wisely, and then to act.
    3. We could learn a good lesson here: Though the Proverb says, "Also it is not good for a person to be without knowledge, And he who makes haste with his feet errs," Proverbs 19:2, often when we are faced with an unpleasant situation we act too quickly. We are often rash and foolhardy.  We make haste with our feet and we err.
      1. We get hurt and we immediately think of revenge; we act hotly and hastily in the emotion of anger.
      2. We have a need and buy thoughtlessly and impulsively, incurring a lot of needless debt and financial pressure.
      3. Things don't go well in the home, and we are tempted to jump rashly into a separation.
      4. Something happens we don't like and we rush into a confrontation.
      5. The job is a pain so we act impetuously and quit.
      6. Some tragedy comes along and we lose all sense of control and balance, flying off to all sorts of extremes.
    4. We ought to have patience and steadfastness and we will if we follow the advice of the Psalmist: Psalms 37:7, 38 "Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him; Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, Because of the man who carries out wicked schemes. Cease from anger, and forsake wrath; Do not fret, it leads only to evildoing."
Mary, though only 5 years old, and faced with difficulties many of us will never face, had an adult-size faith in Jesus Christ and was able to trust Him without fretting. She prayed that He'd take care of her.  Nehemiah, also, had a great faith and was able to turn things over to God when they were too big for him. When you are faced with difficulty do the same thing:
    1. As Nehemiah was afraid, and as the kings' questioning continued, he prayed.
      1. His prayer was immediate. As soon as he sensed the need, prayer ascended like an arrow shot from a bow.
      2. His prayer was spontaneous. This is evidence that he was a man given to prayer as a primary resource and first recourse.
      3. His prayer had to be brief. He didn't have much time to remain silent in the face of the king's questions. He dared not say, "Hold on a minute, Buster; I'm praying!" Maybe his prayer was similar to "Help me Lord.  Give me wisdom and make me successful today."
      4. His prayer had to be urgent. He had much at stake: his own welfare and that of Jerusalem hung in the balance.
    2. This just reminds me of my son John when he was about 7 or 8. We had gone to California and were visiting a petting zoo. There were pygmy goats there and John had an ice cream cone full of food for them. They climbed all over him. There was a heap of pygmy goats and a little arm sticking up out of the midst of them and a piping little voice calling, "Dad! Dad!" Short, quick, urgent -- and promptly answered!
    3. Nehemiah was prayerful and dependent and God answered his prayer: the heart of Artaxerxes was favorable to his request.
    4. We need the prayerful dependence on God Nehemiah manifested and spoken of by Moses in Exodus 33:13-15 "'Now therefore, I pray Thee, if I have found favor in Thy sight, let me know Thy ways, that I may know Thee, so that I may find favor in Thy sight. Consider too, that this nation is Thy people.' And He said, 'My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.' Then he said to Him, 'If Thy presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here.'" I.e., "With you we can go, without you we cannot for we depend on you!"
Mary was dependent on Jesus as she went into the MRI. She was persuaded of His care. She was confident that He love dher.  So Nehemiah was sure of God's benefits in his life when he needed them. When you are faced with difficulty have the same assurance:
    1. What was Nehemiah's confident persuasion?
      1. He was sure that the good hand of God was upon him. The words mean the prosperous and benevolent power and strength of God.
      2. He was God-confident, not just self-confident or luck-confident or idol-confident. He recognized that neither he nor Artaxerxes, neither fate nor fortune, neither an idol nor any false god, was the sole determiner of the events to follow. God got the credit!
      3. He knew that God was acting favorably toward his prayer and the need of Jerusalem.
    2. Nehemiah was persuaded and confident that God's hand was on him.
      1. God's hand gave him protection from wrath that might have fallen on him from the king.
      2. God's hand gave him prudence in his approach to the monarch.
      3. God's hand gave him providence of what he'd need to succeed in his venture.
    3. Two characteristics of the overcomer are firm persuasion and unshaken confidence:
      1. The tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh had it "for they cried out to God in the battle, and He was entreated for them, because they trusted in Him." 1 Chronicles 5:20.
      2. David experienced it: "Though a host encamp against me, My heart will not fear; Though war arise against me, In spite of this I shall be confident." Psalms 27:3.
      3. So did Paul: "For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day." 2 Timothy 1:12.
    4. What do you trust? A crystal? A horoscope? The Ouija board? A psychic reader? A good-luck charm? Or do you trust the God of heaven? Do you trust His word? Do you rely on His counsel as it is recorded in the Bible? Do you have Nehemiah's confidence when you are in difficulty that the Good hand of God is on you? Remember the words of Isaiah 30:15 "For thus the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, has said, 'In repentance and rest you shall be saved, In quietness and trust is your strength.'"
Mary went into the MRI in quietness and trust. About two minutes into the first sequence, the technicians noted on the video monitor that Mary's mouth was moving. They heard a muted voice over the intercom. They halted the exam and gently reminded Mary not to talk. She was smiling and promised not to talk. They reset the machine and started over. Once again they saw her facial movement and heard her voice faintly. What she was saying wasn't clear. Everyone was becoming a little impatient, with a busy schedule that had been put on hold to perform an emergency MRI on Mary. They went back in and slid Mary out of the machine. Once again, she looked at them with her crooked smile and wasn't upset in the least. The technologist, perhaps a bit grumpy, said, "Mary, you were talking again, and that causes blurry pictures." Mary's smile remained as she replied, "I wasn't talking. I was singing. You said no talking." They looked at each other, feeling a little silly. "What were you singing?" someone asked." "Jesus Loves Me,"' came the barely perceptible reply. "I always sing 'Jesus Loves Me' when I'm happy." Everyone in the room was speechless. Happy? How could this little girl be happy? The technologist and the doctor had to leave the room for a moment to regain their composure as tears began to fall. The doctor said, "Many times since that day, when feeling stressed, unhappy or dissatisfied with some part of my life, I have thought of Mary and felt both humbled and inspired. Her example made me see that happiness is a marvelous gift -- free to anyone willing to accept it." So is forgiveness of sin, newness of life, and eternal hope a free gift through Jesus Christ to all who obey Him as Lord and trust Him as Savior. I hope you have learned by now that facing life alone is both futile and unnecessary. You can face whatever comes and overcome it with Him. You can face the certainty of death with the assurance of life. But it takes patience, it takes prayer and it takes persuasion. When we face life with those components of faith, we can endure what we need to, we can do what we have to, and we can go wherever He leads us. He is ready to lead you today to abundant, purposeful, overcoming and eternal life, if you are ready to follow.

Adapted from a story by James Brown, MD In "A 5th Portion of Chicken Soup for the Soul!" Canfield and Hansen, Health Communications, Inc., Deerfield Beach, Florida

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