“‘O Lord, I beseech You, may Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant and the prayer of Your servants who delight to revere Your name, and make Your servant successful today and grant him compassion before this man.’ Now I was the cupbearer to the king.”Nehemiah 1:11
Intimidation is a mean-spirited and, sadly, all-too-effective tool for silencing believers. It’s no stranger to the college classroom, the workplace, or the nightly news. Most of us, though, live rather comfortably and have never experienced outright persecution for our faith. So when we consider the qualities that characterize a godly life, courage probably isn’t our first thought.
If we’re truly committed to obeying God, sooner or later we’ll find ourselves in a situation requiring courage. The Lord’s will may involve doing something we feel inadequate to accomplish. Or perhaps it involves standing alone for our convictions in a culture that is increasingly antagonistic toward our Christian worldview. We’d like God to remove our fear so we can easily obey, but He desires that we trust Him enough to step out in the midst of our fear. It’s in the act of faith that courage becomes a reality, and the Lord’s grace rushes in to supply divine power.
As you read Nehemiah, you’ll learn he is an exiled Jew in the Persian Empire during the fourth century B.C. He demonstrated great courage in his obedience to God. Judah’s rebellion against the Lord had resulted in her conquest by Babylon many years earlier. When the Babylonian Empire was later overtaken by the Persians, Cyrus decreed that the Jews could return to their land.
Not everyone chose to go back. Nearly a century after the decree was issued, some Jews were still living in Persia, among them, Nehemiah, cupbearer to King Artaxerxes. When he heard about the distressing condition of both Jerusalem and the Jews, his heart broke. He immediately took his concerns to the Lord, but the content of his prayer reveals he was sensing a call to do more than simply intercede. What Nehemiah had in mind would require mammoth courage, so he asked God to give him success by making the king favorably disposed to grant his request (Nehemiah 1:1-11).
Four months later, an opportunity finally presented itself. Despite his fears, Nehemiah uttered a silent prayer and stepped out in faith. With bold yet respectful words, he asked permission to go to Jerusalem and rebuild the wall. God generously granted Nehemiah’s request for success. The king not only consented but also furnished all the supplies that would be needed.
Victory, though, didn’t mean an end to his challenges. After arriving in Jerusalem, Nehemiah learned three uncomfortable but valuable lessons:
- Obedience often brings opposition.
- The way to handle hostility is to stand firm in faith with full reliance on God.
- Dealing with antagonism should be a corporate effort rather than a battle fought alone.
Whenever the Jews encountered hate-filled taunts or threats, Nehemiah’s consistent response was prayer. He encouraged the team with his confidence that God would fight for them and refused to let menacing words deter his obedience.