“Keys to Serving”

Nehemiah 2:11-20


36 Jesus replied, “My kingdom is not of this world [nor does it have its origin in this world]. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would be fighting [hard] to keep Me from being handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this world.” 37 So Pilate said to Him, “Then You are a King?” Jesus answered, “You say [correctly] that I am a King. This is why I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth [who is a friend of the truth and belongs to the truth] hears and listens carefully to My voice.” 38 Pilate said to Him [scornfully], “What is truth?” (John 18)


Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. (John 17:17)


Irrespective of the motive in behind Pilates question I think it represents today the state of the world in which we live, largely. Confused, misunderstanding, morally bankrupt. It is because of what I observe that I have a huge concern for my kids and my grandchildren. My concern is not just what they’re growing up into, it’s actually what they’re facing today, in their schools, at the playground…they are confronted with opposition to the truths and values of Jesus. (we need no other motivation to pray…).


“When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven…

We, are salt and light into this ‘brokenness’, there is an urgency to get what we say and how we lives our Christian lives, on point…

Studying Nehemiah reminds us that serving God and doing his will do not come with any guarantee that it will all be smooth, rosy and pain-free. As if the more faithful we are to serving God the less likely we are to have issues. It takes nothing away from God being present in our circumstances, he is…I would suggest however the opposite is true.

Nehemiah teaches us something about our vulnerability to disillusionment and discouragement, particularly when faced with opposition – something we’re all prone to – and ways of mitigating that. We are human; we are affected by circumstances out of our control.

And right there I think is one of our greatest battles, that we are not in control, but trusting Christ is…our maturity determines our ability to keep our eyes focussed on Christ

What is true of God is his will, will be done. What is true of God is his faithfulness to accomplish what he wants accomplished. What is true is his Lordship, in and over any situation.

We’re looking at Nehemiah 2 today, what can we expect to see, that serving God requires a response to opposition…before that though we’ll talk briefly about waiting, preparation and the value of community…practical insights on the realities of serving God

  1. Serving God requires waiting and preparation

11 I went to Jerusalem, and after staying there three days 12 I set out during the night with a few others. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem.


Nehemiah had got through the first challenge, gaining the favour of the king, reversing a policy previously set by this same king to stop the rebuilding of the wall.  Due to the fact there had been previous efforts and opposition prior to this point with the building, Nehemiah had come into an environment of despondency, discouragement and setbacks.


“How will it be different this time? ….the people may have been asking themselves… “We’ve tried so many times and failed at each attempt”


He had all the necessary resource for the re-building efforts, the hand of God was on and in the work, though humanly speaking the enormity of the task was overwhelming. Slightly more than “get a few blokes in to build a retaining wall mate” sort of job. Think about the sort of expertise, man and woman power required, let alone the pulling together of a despondent community, and having everyone doing their part, to complete the job…? What was required, first, in the quest to get everyone on board and moving in the same direction?


Remember Nehemiah wept, mourned, fasted and prayed as he heard from Hanani about the state of the city, and then as he was riding into Jerusalem I wonder what Nehemiah felt as he saw the city in person…


There may be a number of things we might otherwise have expected Nehemiah to do when he first arrived in Jerusalem, hold a committee meeting with all the city leaders, and stakeholders, hiring some equipment, conduct a few interviews with contractors

…but for three days he waits, does nothing. Except Nehemiah was a man who knew how to get alone with God, that’s doing something

….Then, on the third day, at night, he takes a few trusted men and starts his preparation.


What I have imagined, is Nehemiah riding throughout the city…praying as he went, ‘how would you have me do this Lord…who do I involve Lord, what’s the best way of mobilizing these people Lord, thank you Lord for this opportunity’. Talking, walking and relying on God.

…And when the time was right Nehemiah didn’t want to bring some loosely-cobbled-together-ambiguous plan to the people, but to put something in front of the people that endeared, encouraged and communicated to the people, the WHO, WHAT and the WHY . But most importantly that “God was with them, God was/is in this”….

WHAT God had put in (his) heart to do for Jerusalem started way back before he left Persia, weeks earlier! That’s where the Vision seeded and began to take shape. The time Nehemiah took in prayer initially, waiting on God, his preparation and then the inspection, was like a ‘proving’ of the vision…not behind God, not in front, but in step with God!

WHAT God had put in (his) heart to do for Jerusalem started way back before he left Persia, weeks earlier! That’s where the Vision seeded and began to take shape. The time Nehemiah took in prayer initially, waiting on God, his preparation and then the inspection, was like a ‘proving’ of the vision…not behind God, not in front, but in step with God!

There’s only one Nehemiah, but fast forward 2500 years, there are others like him, in this room…who God is speaking to, God is and has equipped you..

Waiting on God for any vision or plan that he may want you to lead or be involved in…is not about anyone of us doing more and more stuff and getting more busy but it is surrendering everything we do before God and asking him to show us the one thing (or 2…) he wants us to do, being willing and prepared to do it! What are our “these things” we need to respond to?

God laid something on Nehemiah’s heart and if you’re open and prepared to listen, God will lay something on your heart. Here’s what the apostle Paul, said which I think aligns with Nehemiah’s heart

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:13).

  1. Serving God requires working together

17 Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.”

18 I also told them about the gracious hand of my God on me and what the king had said to me. They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work.

The vision may have started in the heart of Nehemiah, but it was going to be a community effort

….These verses are about the value of working together to a common purpose, and the attitude involved.

…In this sense despite the practical reasons, this was less about the wall and more about restoring the ‘pride’ and integrity of the city and confidence as a people and a city that belongs to God.

…they were in trouble and in disgrace…the state of the city and its people reflected negatively on God; it was his name and his honour at stake. Nehemiah represented God as a prophetic voice into their circumstances, for such a time as that was, and they were won over.

Note the pronouns we and us in the text…Nehemiah was saying to the people ‘we’re in trouble, we’re able to do something about that, let’s go on with it’. He identified himself with them in the problem. It wasn’t their problem; it was our problem.

It wasn’t his or their ministry, it was our ministry…corporate ownership is the word that comes to mind. “This disorganised, unmotivated, nationally un-inspired lot, became a team in every sense of the word”

For the church today I want to suggest one of the greatest challenges is denying ourselves (and the church in the process) of the opportunity to serve, to be part of the “US”, particularly in areas we are gifted in, not believing it is the vision and voice of God.

How? In our rational (what we can convince ourselves of when necessary): “Surely God wouldn’t ask me to do that or this, I don’t feel comfortable doing that…he wouldn’t ask me to sacrifice all that…I don’t have the resources for that” Wouldn’t he, doesn’t he?!

This life in Christ is not for me to do what I want, it is for me to do what God wants, it is for God to do what he wants in me…God is building his church, we, must decide where and how and to what extent we’re on board.

What is the Holy Spirit asking/calling us/you, to do? Where is this city broken, where the Lord needs us to say “let us start rebuilding”?

In order for us to respond to a broken city, we need to see a broken city (hence Nehemiah’s reconnaissance). Yes the brokenness and the need is immense, we cannot do it all, but we cannot do nothing…and the gracious hand of God is on us, too! We must work together that what we do doesn’t reflect negatively on God; it’s his name and his honour at stake

  1. Serving God requires a response to opposition

19 But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official and Geshem the Arab heard about it, they mocked and ridiculed us. “What is this you are doing?” they asked. “Are you rebelling against the king?”

We already know from verse 10 that trouble was brewing and now in verse 19 that materialises.  These were not just random individuals, but a united strategic front against the work; men of significant influence and power.

Together, they represented the contempt of the nation’s surrounding Jerusalem, physically and geographically—Samaria to the north, Ammon to the east, and Arabia to the south. Jerusalem threatened their political position, ambitions and prospects.

What Jerusalem stood for did not align with their agenda/s… But Nehemiah’s authority carried greater weight and was a greater threat to their influence.

In terms of a bridging comment to apply these verses, the three opponents…represent political, spiritual, ethical and moral threats to the advancement of what God is building and the truth of Christ…

This same theme comes up a number of times in Nehemiah so today I’ll make just a few remarks.

The issue in our Christian lives is not that we have, do or will face opposition, in different ways we all will.

In John 16:33, Jesus said to His own disciples: “I have told you these things so that, IN ME, you will have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart I have overcome the world” Past tense!

Did we note the two most important words in the scripture? “In Me”!

If we were to do a quick self-assessment of how equipped we are in facing opposition, what would the results be? Remember the issue is not that we have or face opposition, because we all do…the issue is how do we manage, whatever our modern day equivalent is of “mocking and ridiculing” and moral, ethical and spiritual threats, etc? Here’s a clue: “In Me”

What do the personalities in Nehemiah and what they attempted to do represent today and in terms of the push-backs and how does Nehemiah’s response represent what our response to opposition (in all its forms) looks like? 

Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem represent a voice, that is a deviation and distraction away from the vision God places before us. What are the ‘voices’ we pay attention to that, pollute our perspective, hinder our serving, that cast doubt on who God is and potentially get in the way of God’s mission for us?

They represent the voice today that says “you can’t do it, you won’t do it, you’ve got better things to do with your time”…etc, it is a voice that greys the truth and it is not the voice of the Spirit, because the Holy Spirit only leads us into truth.

How should we deal with those ‘voices’? Sanballat, Tobiah and represent today what is a persistent and consistent persuasion away from the truth. “In Me”…the person of Jesus is the only reference for truth.

What Nehemiah stood for, uncompromisingly, was what he believed to be the truth, the values of God we could say. What and who he was up against did not. We could take dozens of avenues in applying in this, I’d like to suggest four…in forming a response to opposition

  1. Knowing the truth
    1. my sheep… My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. (Jn. 10:27)
  2. Standing for the truth
  3. Living the truth
  4. Speaking the truth


There has never been a more vital time than to be secure in the truth.

We may have at a time in history been a Christian nation. This is not the case anymore. My commentary is we are an increasingly secular nation. Look at what has become normal now morally and ethically, but far removed from what the values and truths of Christ and scripture are.  This is the brokenness we must respond to…

“When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven”….(remember, not just the wall but the state of his people and city)

The erosion or dismissal of biblical truth has led to us being a society where our moral compass is wonky because it’s reference point is relative to what I think is right and alright, it is what I want it to be, it is my happiness and pleasure that comes first.

Are we prepared for those situations and conversations where we know we need to stand, etc the truth, but we feel the pressure to remain silent, in the process conform to something that isn’t aligned with Jesus?

What we can do is ensure we’re standing for the truth, speaking the truth, we’re salt and light, above reproach, not lowering our standards, because we’re representing Jesus.

…The God of heaven will give us success, we’re rebuilding”…Nehemiah says to those opposing the work.

…He was sending a strong and unambiguous message; this was about protecting what was God’s, valuing what was God-ordained

…Nehemiah stood for the truth; he was not going to subject the city to the risk of sabotage or compromise. That’s what I believe God requires of us the church today!

Though this a secular world we live in it is still Gods world and it is a world that believes its own truth, largely, as opposed to the truth of Christ, but because it is Gods world and we represent him we must respond the way Christ did and does in love and grace but in truth

….this is the basis on which the God of heaven will give us success. Think about Nehemiah’s attitude, his prayerful posture, and his obedience. When men and women are willing to make audacious, costly sacrifices for what God has placed in front of them, the God of heaven will bring success.

That God will give success is not our motivation. Sacrifice and obedience is, because that’s what he asks of us. Our success, is in God being honoured, that is the motivation for our serving…

Rom. 12:1. Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.



  • Wait on God and be prepared to do what He wants us to do
  • Work together
  • Respond to Opposition with the truth
  • His Glory, is the motivation for serving