Nehemiah: The Pursuit of Vision and Purpose
Nehemiah was the cup-bearer to King Artexerxes (465-423 BC), a position of honor and responsibility. It is surprising that a captive Jew might attain such a position. But like Daniel, God’s people are often people of true quality and receive honors and responsibilities above their station. “The world has yet to see what God can accomplish through one man completely dedicated to him.” (D.L. Moody) “Not our ability but our availability is what God wants.” God can elevate us far above ourselves.
There are at least three things we see in Nehemiah and in all truly significant people: Vision, Decision, and Determination.
- He hears of the dilapidated state of Jerusalem and the down-beat condition of the people.
- He is deeply touched by concern for the cause of God.
- The king notices his agitation. He flashes a prayer to God. He envisions the restoration of the Holy City. Everyone needs a vision of something so grand, so mobile, so God-glorifying, that it will exhaust every resource. Vision beyond our means. Then we pray for the means to fulfill the vision…and then pray for even broader vision, and so on. Pity the one who has everything to live with and nothing to live for. The worst thing for us are to have goals so low that we reach them. There is no grander vision than the coming of Christ’s kingdom, the saving of souls, the obedience to God’s word and will. This is discipleship and the best of all lives.
- The king grants his request. God uses the king to establish His kingdom. “All things are yours”….to be used in Christ’s service. Radio, TV, transportation, language, science…all at our disposal for Christ. Artexerxes even places his troops in Nehemiah’s hands. So God honored the vision of Nehemiah. And so he will honor ours.
- Consider again Nehemiah’s flash prayer. No matter how his dream burned within him, he would not even speak of it until he had prayed. Beware of any decision made without previous prayer. (Jehoshaphat and Ahab). So often we decide something, then almost as an afterthought ask God’s blessing. The true disciple is a follower of God, not an arm-twister. All of life comes down at last to “Not my will, but thine be done.” One of life’s most difficult assignments is that we learn to wait for God to show us the way.
- Once the way is opened by God, Nehemiah acts at once. Many a cause fails because of an apathetic beginning. There was a godly resoluteness in Nehemiah. The thing was right, the way was open…so begin! No decision is worth anything until we act on it.
- Nehemiah acted fearlessly. He dared to believe that if his dream pleased God, and God opened the way for him, and gave him the means (timber, letters, etc.), then God would sustain him. The greatest deterrent to the coming of Christ’s kingdom is not the enemies of it but the timidity of its citizens. We sometimes feel an inferiority complex against a “macho” world. But “if God is for us who can be against us?” “Fear not little flock; it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
- His arrival at Jerusalem and the solitary night-ride. Recognize the value (even necessity), of some solitude in your life. Nothing will come of your God-implanted dream of service for him if you do not spend time alone with it in his presence. Vision cannot grow when dimmed by trivial pursuits and trivial distractions.
- Notice also his motives in making the grand decision. (For no vision is better than its motivation.) Nehemiah was concerned for God’s people, the city itself (God’s cause in the world) and for the moral decay in the city. There was nothing selfish in his vision, or in the decision to act upon it. It was all for the sake of God and his people and cause. There is nothing great or noble about a selfish person. A man all wrapped up in himself makes a pretty small package. Greatness grows out of devotion to God and others. The first step in being great is realizing that Christ saved us not to safeguard ourselves but to expend ourselves for him. We can never be right for ourselves until we are right for Christ and his program.
- Determination is proportionate to the intensity of our sense of being called to something noble, grand, godly. The more certain we are of the grandeur of our vision the more valuable we become to God and others, and of course also to self. And the more certain we also become that the vision is worth our all, which develops in us the quality of purposefulness or determination.
- Satan is a hard loser, and will oppose everything noble and godly. We will experience this in our discipleship and service to Christ just as did Nehemiah, and probably some of the very hinderances with which he had to contend, such as ridicule, physical force and threats, dissension and unrest amongst his fellow workers, a plot for violence against him and slander.
- The importance of a wholesome self-image. “Should such a man as I flee?” “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down.” This is not arrogance; it is self-respect, self esteem in the best sense of the term. A self image derived from the assurance that he was pursuing a grand, God-implanted dream and was therefore a valuable person. We all need a self-image developed out of a high sense of calling and seeing our role in life in relation to God’s grand Christ-program.
In all this, Nehemiah was God’s man of the hour. A man of vision, decision, and determination – the three qualities needed by every person, every church, every cause (Christian school, for example) that would be valuable in God’s world and work. He was a man of godly courage, clear sense of right and wrong, unfeeling devotion to the will of God, and of complete dependence upon God alone. The men the world cannot move are the men who can move the world, and under God Nehemiah was such a man, a powerful example to us. God accepted both Nehemiah and his contributions.
A true disciple is, among other things, a person of vision and purpose. Purpose that cannot fail because it derives from Christ. And Satan may be a hard loser, but never mind; Christ is a sure winner, and in him we are “more than conquerors”. With God’s blessing Nehemiah built the city, and with God’s blessing our discipleship will build Christ’s kingdom. The world may have its dreams and purposes but our dreams and purposes are those that Christ worked for and stood for, and when we have declared them to the world we can humbly but confidently cry: There! Can you beat that?