Observation: Nehemiah, the trusted cup-bearer to King Artaxerxes (say that five times fast!) of Persia, learns that his people, who had spent decades in Babylonian exile and recently returned to their homeland of Judea, were experiencing great trouble. He immediately began to pray and intercede for his people, asking God’s favor to return to them and lead them. After prayer and months of waiting, he approaches the king to ask for permission to go back to Jerusalem, and the king honors his request.
Application: I hate waiting. I hate waiting for something to load on my phone, I hate waiting in traffic, I hate waiting for meetings to start, I hate waiting in line for the women’s restroom. Patience is a fruit of the spirit that I am so far from mastering it’s almost comical. Sometimes, my complete inability to be patient causes me to do some crazy things – like cut people off in traffic as I devise a new shortcut to my destination and scheme about how I can sneak into the guy’s restroom just so I can avoid the crazy long lines in the women’s bathroom. I’m a mess. (Pray for me.)
Waiting is courageous. It’s a spiritual discipline, allowing us to cast aside our own “get it done” attitudes and instead trust in the God that has a timeline all his own.
Nehemiah knew how to wait. After hearing that his people were facing “great trouble and disgrace,” he immediately began praying for them – for days.
“When I heard this, I sat down and wept. In fact, for days, I mourned, fasted and prayed to the God of heaven.” (1:4)
He didn’t start devising a plan. He didn’t start scheming about how to leave the king’s service and go help his people. He didn’t even pray right away for God’s direction. He praised him (1:5), confessed his sins (1:6-7), proclaimed God’s promises (1:8-9), and then asked God for his provision (1:11).
After days of praying and fasting, he waited some more. In fact, he waited four months before approaching the king. And just before he asked the king to return to Jerusalem, he prayed to God as the request left his lips (2:5).
His patient prayers led to God’s provision. The king agreed to his request – and his agreement was more than a simple approval; he wrote a letter on Nehemiah’s behalf so he could safely travel through the region and sent army officers and horsemen along to protect him.
What would have happened if Nehemiah asked the king for permission four minutes after he heard what was happening in Judea? Four hours? Four days? Four weeks? We don’t know exactly. But, if I had to take a guess, I’d say those four months were essential preparation for the next stage of Nehemiah’s journey.
It’s in times of waiting that God prepares us for what’s next. He never lets a single second of waiting to go to waste; he simply uses that time to strengthen us, humble us, prepare us, and sharpen us. Our patience leads to his provision.
Prayer: God, waiting seasons can be so difficult. But our willingness to wait often correlates with your willingness to provide, so I pray for the courage to wait today. Amen.