Lessons from Nehemiah: The Response Phase

This blog has been written by Ceri and Simon Harris, leaders of Burlington Baptist church in Ipswich. Ceri leads the Accessible Prophecy UK team.

We are experiencing tumultuous times.  We know that times of great disturbance or disaster follow three broad phases:

Response:  the immediate emergency response to the situation 

Recovery: the long slow period of getting back to a new normal

Reconstruction: the long term rebuilding and protection from a future reoccurrence

We see that Nehemiah went through these same stages.  In this series of three blogs we will explore his journey and see what lessons we can draw in being attentive to the voice of God.

In the midst of the disaster facing his people, Nehemiah heard the voice of God.  Chapter 1 of Nehemiah helps us understand the environment that enables him hear.

1. He was attentive with his mind

I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem. Nehemiah 1:2

Nehemiah was quick to seek out news.  To understand what was happening.  To connect with the world around him.  We are reminded of how connected the prophets were with their culture and context.  Hearing God speak is never in a vacuum.  

What are we enquiring after?  

2. He was attentive with his heart 

This current crisis has caused many of us to shut out the daily news as its impact can be overwhelming.  But here are we are gently reminded that Nehemiah not only enquired but that he also engaged his heart.

When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. Nehemiah 1:3

We must be appropriate of course, and guard becoming overwhelmed, however for Nehemiah it was as he enquired his mind and engaged his heart that he began to hear the voice of God.

What are we weeping about?

3. He was attentive in prayer 

This seems obvious.  It is.  But it’s not easy.  The time stamp of chapter 1:1 and chapter 2:1 is a period of 4 months.  

For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. Nehemiah 1:4

The voice of God can be a quick and instant reality, but at other times it is a growing conviction borne out of days, weeks, months of prayer.

What are we praying for?

4. He was attentive to God

We all have a history, a context, a reality.  Nehemiah certainly did.  Even though he was serving in a foreign land he kept his faith & God’s faithfulness at the centre of his focus.  This seems really important.  His prayer didn’t focus on the disaster, but rather on God.

Then I said: “Lord, 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 1:5

God was all powerful and able (v5)

God’s love was dependable (v5)

God’s promises were certain (v5)

God is merciful (v6)

God keeps his promises (v8-9)

Where is our focus?

5. He was attentive to God’s timing 

Four months!  That’s waiting.  That’s patience.  That’s a careful, poised, God is in control wait.  When exactly did he know that God was asking him to return to do the rebuilding? We might suspect pretty early on, although we don’t know.  God’s word though is never rushed.  We do well to sit with it, meditate on it and pray over it.  A little seed, a quiet whisper begins to grow.  God’s word grows in clarity, in depth, in richness as we wait. 

How long do you wait when we think we have heard God speak?

6.  He was ready to take action 

So at the right moment he jumped into action.  Looking sad in the King’s presence (risking his life if the king was displease) the thing was perfect.  God had gone ahead of his word, and may the way ready.  The king asked what Nehemiah wanted:

The king said to me, “What is it you want?” Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favour in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it.” Nehemiah 2:4-5

He was an active responder.  Poised, ready to act on what God was saying despite the challenge and obstacles ahead, despite the ridicule and moments of self doubt. 

Such is the posture of those who faithfully hear the word of the Lord.

When we hear God speak are we passive receivers or an active responders?

Why We Love Prophecy- Part One

By Joanna Millward

Before joining St Thomas’ Church Philadelphia I had a limited understanding of prophecy. It was used very occasionally on special occasions to encourage someone at something like a baptism, but other than that I rarely saw it used. However, since being at Philadelphia, I have discovered that not only is prophecy a great gift which blesses people, it is actually an essential tool which is vital for the church.

Prophecy is essential, as it says in 1 Corinthians 14:3, because it strengthens, encourages and comforts people. This is probably the most common way I have seen prophecy utilised as a gift: God talking to us about ourselves and each other in order to encourage us. Most of the prophetic words I have received from other people fall under this category. One of my favourite words that I have been given was from a speaker who told me he saw Jesus sitting in a garden with me, and he said that he heard God say that Jesus loved spending time and simply being with me. This came at a time in which I was struggling with striving, so this word really encouraged, strengthened and comforted me to just be with Jesus and not do. It was exactly what I needed to hear at that time of my life and I still find it to be beautiful and encouraging to this very day, two years on. Prophecies like this are essential as in addition to strengthening, encouraging and comforting us, through them we hear God’s heart for us. This builds up hope and leads us to a place of thanksgiving and praise.

Another reason prophecy is essential is because it helps us know how to pray. I often used to find myself praying to God and running out of things to pray for, meaning that my prayer life became very repetitive, short, and if I’m completly honest, not particularly heartfelt. However since listening to God in prayer I have found that prophecy provides us with an agenda for prayer. Hearing what God says when we pray means that we are able to agree with Him and say Amen to His will. When we ask God what to pray for and align our prayers with Him, we are letting the Holy Spirit lead our prayers rather than our own minds. This is helpful in our personal prayer lives, and also when praying for other people. By listening to God whilst praying for others, we hear God’s viewpoint on their situation and are able to pray from a heavenly perspective, speaking right into the heart of the issue. Not only does this mean that we pray more effectively because our prayers are aligned with the Holy Spirit, but praying in this way gives us confidence in prayer and therefore builds our faith for answered prayers.

When we dig deeper into this, we can see that prophecy and intercession go hand-in-hand. Prophecy is a powerful tool in counselling and personal ministry situations as it brings God’s insight. When we use prophecy to help us intercede and hear God’s insight we are humbling ourselves and ridding our prayers of our own agenda. It is very easy to judge a person’s situation ourselves and decide what it is they need praying into, however if we listen to God we know what it is that God wants us to pray into, and therefore we pray far more effectively. This saves us a lot of time as it means that we don’t have to figure out for ourselves what the root of the issue is. Prophecy is also essential in counselling situations because it helps us to focus our eyes on Jesus. It is often easy to get caught up in the issues and problems of a situation, however prophecy leads us straight to Jesus the deliverer.

These are just a couple of the many reasons why prophecy is an essential tool for the church; we will be looking at some others in upcoming posts. The main reason we love prophecy however is because it is how we hear from God Himself, and there is nothing better than hearing from the One who loves us.