After hearing about the condition of Jerusalem, how bad did Nehemiah feel?
When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.
I personally believe that scriptures like this are just not meant to be read and glossed over! They were written in such a way to challenge you to think, unpack, and find a way to emotionally relate to the whole picture. Nehemiah’s packing a LOT into one sentence.
The scriptures say that he sat down and wept. What is that telling you and me? He didn’t simply dust off a chair, straighten out his robes, sit erect in a chair, and hold a hanky to dab his tears. No! Brother Nehemiah didn’t have the will to stand anymore. I believe he just sank down and wept hard. The language suggests that he rarely got up during those days. Can you see it in your mind? Can you relate to it?
I remember the morning my niece walked into the room after hearing that her 16-yr. old brother had been killed by a car. She faced me and collapsed forward into my arms and slinked down to the ground. She just sat there and wept. It was heartbreaking. That’s what I see Nehemiah doing. This sinking of his soul went on for days.
He was in deep mourning. He didn’t even eat. He fasted and prayed. When we read his prayer, we see his heart was broken, contrite and overwhelmed with an awareness of his own guilt and sin. He was also struck with the guilt of his family. His heart was suffering with a heavy weight. He cried out to God.
Out of this grief came an outstanding prayer that moved heaven and changed history. This prayer was answered in every way except for ONE very obvious exception. What was it?
Give your servant SUCCESS TODAY by granting him favor in the presence of this man.” I was cupbearer to the king.–Neheniah 1:11b
Nehemiah prayed for success to be fulfilled TODAY! Again, the key phrase is SUCCESS TODAY. When Nehemiah asked God to do it today, he wasn’t asking for a process to begin. He was asking for INSTANT SUCCESS and instant favor to PROSPER NOW. The Hebrew Bible specifies hay-yō-wm meaning “this day”. Again, Nehemiah was looking for a miracle RIGHT THEN.
Maybe Nehemiah was hoping the king would come running right in, and begin exclaiming how he had experienced a vivid dream telling him to send Nehemiah back to Jerusalem with all the supplies he needed to build a wall! But it didn’t happen that way. The clock struck, the sun came and went, and the king never showed up. Nehemiah did not experience success today, the next day, the next week, or the next month. That part of his prayer didn’t happen. Not only did he not experience “success today”, the scriptures show that after he prayed, the burden of sorrow was not lifted from him. Wow. He had to wait and wonder if his prayer was heard at all.
What does the very next verse say? In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes. Paraphrased that says, “four months later”. In other words, the two verses put together tell us that Nehemiah prayed that success would happen today, but it didn’t occur until four months later.
Why did God delay Nehemiah’s prayer? Peter Osagie in his book The Way To Glory Land says that Nehemiah “asked God to grant his request immediately. It is not clear why God did not answer him immediately. Four months later, God answered his prayer.” According to the Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary, “The reasons for so long a delay cannot be ascertained”. Frankly, I believe that there is a reason and it is staring us in the face as we read Nehemiah. Nehemiah provides the clues and we just have to connect the dots. What I will say is that something needed to be completed first. We will do that in a later post on Nehemiah’s Faith. Like Nehemiah’s prayer, you’ll just have to wait.
Nehemiah suffered the effects of delayed prayer. You don’t think he did??? AFTER FOUR MONTHS OF WAITING, Nehemiah confesses to us that he was still sad. After having prayed, it was taxing to still be burdened with something you can do nothing about. The burden never lifted and it wore on Nehemiah. His sadness is showing to the point that the king says, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart. What do the scriptures say about this emotional condition? Proverbs 13:12 tells us that Hope deferred makes the heart sick. Another translation says, Delayed hope makes the heart sick”. This great saint of faith suffered from delayed hope. Some well-meaning preachers will tell us that we haven’t prayed enough because we are still carrying the burden. They’ll say that you’ve got to give it to the Lord and let it go. Maybe that’s true in some cases, but try telling that to Nehemiah.
Is it possible that we have some unbalanced teaching concerning faith? Some teach that people of faith should just get up, start smiling, and start acting like they’ve got the victory. Some preachers will tell you that “real faith” will show up on your face and will change your feelings. You’ve been taught by certain preachers that this is what faith looks like. Did Nehemiah lack faith? NO.
Nehemiah exhibited great faith during his time of sorrow. I will explain this in detail in an upcoming post. Scripture says, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”. Many preachers do not understand that the hope referred to in this passage is not an emotional feeling. This type of hope is not related to the fleeting feelings of the heart. You cannot depend on the ways of the heart.Nehemiah demonstrates that a saint can be experiencing great sadness of heart yet have God-pleasing faith. Nehemiah demonstrates that a saint can possess unshaken faith and still openly confess feelings of sorrow and hopelessness. Nehemiah didn’t go around dancing, speaking only positive confessions, or doing everything in his power to “stay up”. Nehemiah didn’t depend on conjuring up “emotional atmospheres of faith”. He was real, he was sad, and he wasn’t hiding it in order to be a good witness of letting your light shine. Letting your light shine is not necessarily related to your emotional state. Nehemiah understood how real faith worked. Nehemiah demonstrates that real faith doesn’t always show up on your face and relieve you from heartsick behavior.
Jesus WEPT before raising Lazarus. This wasn’t some momentary quivering lip. In fact, it got so bad that folks were talking about it saying, “Look how much he loved him!” We think it stopped after that, but the bible says differently. It says later that “Jesus, ONCE MORE DEEPLY MOVED, came to the tomb”. Jesus was torn up and deeply heartsick. This was not an “atmosphere of faith”. The faith of Jesus was not hindered by His deep, heartsick pain. The faith of Jesus was not dependent on His current state of emotion. The faith of Jesus was not dependent on the emotional atmosphere around him. We’ve got to stop affiliating faith with feelings, behaviors, and euphoric atmospheres. Those things are fleeting components.
Now let me be clear: There is a place for pulling yourself up and not loathing in self-pity. Self-pity is a trap where you need to do like King David and tell your soul it is time to stand and bless the Lord! I’m sure that Nehemiah’s sorrow had some evidence of self-reflection, but Nehemiah’s sorrow was not centered around self-pity or self-loathing. That makes a difference. Nehemiah’s burden was primarily focused on things that matched the heart of God for His people.
If you are waiting on the Father for an answer, Jesus understands your feelings and the sometimes long delays. In fact, He encourages us by telling you this story in Luke 18:
Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. 3And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’ 4“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’ ”6And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
Don’t beat yourself up if your feelings or expressions don’t match up with your faith! Nehemiah had faith, and had answered prayer to prove it, but neither his feelings or his face showed it. At the same time, he never let his feelings overwhelm his faith. When the opportunity for favor came 4 months later, he was quick to pray one more time, “So I prayed to the God of Heaven”. All the prayers that went before were like putting gunpowder into the colonial musket and preparing the gun and getting the sight right for the shot. This last prayer was a simple, quick pull of the trigger. This time God answered faster than a speeding bullet.