But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. –James 1:6-7
Nehemiah was a man of faith. However, his story blows the lid off what many believe about faith. In light of the verse above, how does a depressed, sad, droopy-faced, negative-confessing, fearful man receive such bountiful favor from the Lord???
When Nehemiah got the news about the ruinous condition of Jerusalem, he was initially devastated. But it didn’t stop there. Nehemiah went on to say that For some days I mourned.
How long did he mourn ? His great sorrow began in the month of Kislev and continued through the month of Nisan. After four intense months of effectual fervent prayer, how was this man of unrelenting faith behaving? What did this history-changer look like right before his prayers were answered? He was looking and behaving just like he did four months earlier. He was a very heartsick, droopy-faced man…
The king asked me, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.”I was very much afraid.” Another version says, “Why are you sad, when you aren’t sick? This is nothing but depression. I was overwhelmed with fear.” Nehemiah confesses his lengthy sorrow and says, “Why should my face not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?”
In his 1880 Homiletical Commentary On The Book Of Nehemiah, W.H. Booth said that during the four month period from Kislev to Nisan, Nehemiah’s “sorrow increased rather than diminished”.
Some of you may be alarmed and thinking, “But Brother Dan, Nehemiah is not matching up with THE WAY WE HAVE BEEN TAUGHT of how a “man of faith” should behave and look!
- Brother Dan, Nehemiah’s emotions are not lining up with faith. If he really had faith that God would come through for him, then why is he still so depressed? Wouldn’t this be a sign of a double-minded man? Aren’t fear and prevailing sadness signs of doubt?
- Brother Dan, Nehemiah’s behavior was not lining up with faith. He wasn’t practicing the “faith walk” with his head held high, a song on his lips, and a smile of victorious faith. We’ve been taught that real faith will show up on your face! As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he! Brother Dan, he must have had what faith teachers call “stinking thinking” because Nehemiah was looking down in the dumps!. Didn’t he know that all things work together for the good?
- Brother Dan, Nehemiah’s speech was not lining up with faith. He wasn’t “speaking faith” by calling those things which are not as though they were. Nehemiah didn’t confess victory but confessed his own despair. He also seemed focused on how bad Jerusalem was, instead of declaring what it could be. For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. Brother Dan, death and life are in the power of the tongue. Nehemiah is feeling bad because he obviously hasn’t been confessing victorious faith and his face shows it.
- Brother Dan, Nehemiah’s reflection was not lining up with faith. If he had real faith, he would have reflected perfect peace for those whose mind is stayed on the Lord, because they trust in you instead of looking so pitiful.
- Brother Dan, Nehemiah’s confession of fear does not line up with faith. If he had such great faith, then why is he so afraid? We’re taught that you can’t possibly have faith and have fear!
- Brother Dan, Nehemiah’s hopeless despondence does not line up with faith. Faith is the substance of things hoped for. Nehemiah’s heart was filled with sadness, not hope!
He was looking downcast, afraid, having a heart filled with sadness, confessing sorrow, and still thinking about the ruins. Nehemiah just doesn’t fit the mold of many current faith teachings. Yet, God answered his prayers and granted his requests with much favor. Why? Because during those four long months, Nehemiah operated in sound, biblical faith and never lost it. By faith, Nehemiah built the largest structure by a biblical author.By faith, Nehemiah helped lead a national revival. He was a man of faith.
Nehemiah has blown the lid off of many of our hardcore beliefs about what faith is supposed to look like. So let’s allow Nehemiah to show us how he defined and operated in biblical faith.
Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen–Hebrews 11:1
When we see the word “hoped” in this definition, we often think of a feeling. This is not an isolated feeling. Nehemiah shows us that faith is really not built on feelings of hope. Feelings are fleeting, and the heart can be deceiving. You would not build faith on something as unstable as feelings.
So what is meant by “things hoped for”?
What thing does a high school football team hope for? Some hope for a State Championship. To them, a State Championship is a “thing hoped for”. It’s a goal, not a feeling. As a football player pursuing a State Championship, you may feel pain, fatigue, and discouragement. If your hopes are down, does that mean you’ve already lost the State Championship? No. Faith for a State Championship is not dependent on how you feel, but on whether you keep going or quit. If you quit, then you have lost faith. If you keep going, then you are still acting in faith whether you feel like it or not.
I heard a very popular bible teacher on the radio say, “Believing will make you happy! I said believing will make you happy! If you’re not enjoying life, then something’s wrong with your faith.” Nehemiah would question the complete truthfulness of that teaching! While there is some truth to it, statements like this are unbalanced and do not take into consideration the stories of people like Nehemiah, David, Jesus, and other.large portions of scriptures.
Nehemiah clearly shows us that faith should not be measured strictly by feelings or emotional behaviors. Nehemiah would tell us that as a believer, you can experience long bouts of discouragement and still have a set goal in place. Faith is not there to make you happy, it is a gift from God to bring you into a purpose. You can have sorrow, speak the truth about how bad you really feel, sweat with fear, and the goal will remain immovable. You can feel hopeless, but still get up and keep going. Why? Because you’re moving towards a goal, not a feeling. As long as you don’t quit, the “things hoped for” hasn’t wavered. It doesn’t matter if you cross the finish line with a smile on your face, or a sad frown like Nehemiah. Nehemiah had a goal. Nehemiah had a “thing hoped for”. Nehemiah shows that “believing” is less about your emotions and more about what you do. Faith is not dependent on feelings.
What about the Apostle Peter? Didn’t the emotion of fear cause him to sink and stop walking on the water? When Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid”, He wasn’t telling them to stop feeling. He was telling them to take action to overcome fear. Peter took Him up on this, and He commanded Peter to come. As long as he was obeying the command to “come”, he was fine. If you read the story, he had a level of fear before he ever stepped out. But he started walking anyway! My guess is that he disobeyed the command to come by either stopping when the wind picked up the waves, or he took a step backwards. He disobeyed the command “come” and sunk. Double-minded refers to actions of going “back and forth”. It’s about actions, not feelings.
What about doubt? What if you have feelings of doubt? Doesn’t that interfere with faith? What did Jesus say about doubting in your heart? Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Is faith really so fragile that if you entertain one single doubt it just all falls apart?
I’m glad that Jesus said “heart” and not “mind”. That one word makes all the difference. I think what confuses us is that we often associate the heart as being the seat of emotions. Emotional whims are actually controlled by the mind and its perceptions. Take a drug and you can feel higher than a kite or lower than a toad. Once again, faith is less about your emotional whims and more about what you do. The champion high school quarterback says in his mind, “I don’t know if I can make that pass to win the State Championship”. But what does he do? Does he hold on to the ball and get tackled? Does he go through the motion and deliver a half-hearted pass and lose the game? Even though he has doubts in his mind, he goes forward by looking downfield and with every ounce of will, heart, strength, and energy, he gives it his all and completes the pass. Did he have doubts in his mind? Yes. Did his core action demonstrate doubt? No. His inner core (heart) went full throttle ahead. That’s the difference between doubting in your head and doubting in your heart.
I watched an Olympic swimmer go two seconds faster than his personal best time ever. He said that he didn’t know he could do that. His mind didn’t know. But he said he went past his mind and reached way down and found a way to do it. That’s the difference between doubting in your mind, or in your heart.
Given all the sorrow, fear, and the fact that God did not honor his request in chapter 1 to give him “success today”, I feel pretty certain in saying that Nehemiah had doubts swimming in his mind and all over his face. The question is, did Nehemiah doubt in his inner core? What were his actions?
- Nehemiah had been given confidence from God and stated his goal. “Send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it.” If you read my earlier posts you would know that this was a risky proposition. He was putting his neck on the chopping block. He was afraid, but he did it anyway. He felt doubt and fear, but he acted in courage. Faith is the substance of things hoped for. At Nehemiah’s core was a belief given by God in prayer (substance) to set his sight on a goal (things hoped for).
- Nehemiah had actively meditated on his goal during those four months to the point that he knew how long it would take to do the complete job. When the king asked, he didn’t have to go home and think about it. He was able to give the king an answer. How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?” It pleased the king to send me; so I set a time. We know that the time set was 12 years.
- Nehemiah took the goal in his heart and used those four months to actively develop it into a well-thought vision. A vision is a goal with plans. When you become an architect and develop sketches and plans for things that are not yet built, your plans become physical evidence of things not seen. I tend to think that one of the reasons why Nehemiah’s prayer was delayed was so that he could take his substance of things hoped for (goal) and prayerfully develop it into a written plan of evidence of things not seen (vision). Nehemiah only had a goal in the beginning when he prayed for “success today”, 4 months later he had a plan.This is clearly seen in how quickly he rattles off his plans to the king. May I have letters to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, so that they will provide me safe-conduct until I arrive in Judah? And may I have a letter to Asaph, keeper of the royal park, so he will give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel by the temple and for the city wall and for the residence I will occupy? Nehemiah had used his four month delay to develop some serious long-term plans. This is a beautifully manifested example of mature, developed faith in action.
- Nehemiah kept it real by telling how discouraged he was, but his heart had spoken clearly about who he believed God was by saying, “the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments.”
- Nehemiah was discouraged about the current state of Jerusalem and he showed it! Yet, his confession showed that he believed that a brighter day was ahead. He reminded God of His promise saying, “if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.”
- Nehemiah was heartsick and probably real discouraged that his prayer request for “success today” was denied by God. BUT he did not cut God off! He kept the lines of communication with God fully open. When the king said what do you request?, Nehemiah paused for a split second and recognized God first before answering the king. So I prayed to the God of Heaven and I answered the king. Nehemiah stayed faithful to God, even when God denied his request.
- Faith is sometimes shown through determination. Nehemiah had just enough of God’s perfect peace to keep doing what he needed to do. Nehemiah kept moving forward and served the king despite his crippling, countenance-defacing depression and won favor in spite of the odds. The woman with the issue of blood was determined to touch the hem of Christ’s garment. The Canaanite woman kept overcoming Jesus’s objections until she found a way to get her daughter healed. The Roman Centurion had a predetermined plan for Jesus to simply speak the word. The guys who lowered their friend through the roof showed determination. The thief on the cross overcame the crowd mentality and the overbearing atmosphere of unbelief to state that Christ was a king and ask him to remember him.
Did Jesus relate to Nehemiah’s style of faith?
Contrary to the faith teacher’s declaration that “Believing will make you happy!”, Jesus, the author and finisher of faith, didn’t go to the cross with a smile on his face. His countenance wasn’t glowing with overwhelming confidence. In the days leading up He said, Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour? Even later it was noticed by the writer saying, Now Jesus was deeply troubled, and he exclaimed, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me! It got so bad that eventually he wasn’t looking or feeling very good. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. Anguish in the Greek is agony, terror, great fear.
Many teachers refuse to acknowledge that Jesus was facing fear because it doesn’t fit with their theology of faith. When they see that He sweat drops of blood, they’ll just say he was stressed out. But they refuse to acknowledge that he experienced fear. They refuse to say Jesus was afraid. They will admit that he had experienced all these other emotions, but they can’t say fear. If He didn’t experience fear, then what does it mean to say, For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Like Nehemiah, Jesus experienced fear but didn’t give in to it. Jesus felt fear, but never lost faith. Jesus believed that it was for the joy set before him he endured the cross, but He didn’t have a happy face at the time. Believing didn’t make him happy, but it accomplished a purpose.
Jesus was the most emotionally healthy person to ever walk on this planet and he was a “man of sorrows”. Jesus wept twice before raising Lazarus. He wept again over Jerusalem. Jesus was in deep anguish at the Garden. Jesus was “moved with compassion” on many occasions. Jesus embraced sorrow and let the tears flow. Many of the Psalms were written in sorrow, grief, deep despair, and even mild melancholy. I’ll listen to a sad song or movie until I am overwhelmed to tears. That is when I often pray the best and deepest. I most deeply realize the Rock that is higher than I when I am at a place where my heart is overwhelmed.
God was not displeased with Nehemiah’s sorrow. He used it. Nehemiah’s sorrow opened a door for him. Jesus’s example shows us that he embraced His sorrow and openly wept. Is that what the church is showing us? Have you ever noticed that many worship services are geared towards making you feel better? Yet, the scriptures are filled with solemn gatherings, and the Psalms are often mournful. Are our worship gatherings balanced? Maybe God doesn’t always want us to feel happy, but to be emotionally healthy and better. How often do we walk away from a service and said, “that was really sad but cleansing”. We have even tried to turn funerals into celebrations. Is that honestly the healthiest way to deal with things? Jesus wept at funerals, why can’t we? We think that sorrow is something bad, yet we often feel cleansed and released after a really, really good cry. The emotion of sadness often gets a bad rap. It is often viewed as being negative. Nehemiah embraced it and allowed it to accomplish a better purpose.
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance