Links Daily Devotional

Direction and Action, Part 1

When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. (Nehemiah 1:4, NIV)

We love stories of how hard work pays off.

In the current issue of Golf Digest, writer Jaime Diaz makes note of some of the remarkable improvements in the game of Nick Watney, now a four-time winner on the PGA Tour, who is considered one of the best American competitors in the game today.

Diaz keyed in on Watney’s relationship with his teacher, Butch Harmon, and the frank challenge Harmon issued to Watney about improving his wedge play from 75 to 100 yards in. Watney responded with additional practice in this area, “focusing on matching his arm speed to his body speed.” It was hard work, and yes, it paid off. Before last year, Watney’s best result in this area had been 158th on Tour. In 2010, he moved up to 76th, and this season he led the Tour, stopping the ball an average of 12 feet, three inches from the hole.

It is because we like stories like this that many readers of the Bible grant special favor to Nehemiah—leader, builder, accomplisher.

Nehemiah, you will recall, bravely approached King Artaxerxes on behalf of the Jews exiled in Babylon and asked if he might lead a party to Jerusalem, where they could begin the work of rebuilding the ruined city. Then, with the king’s blessing and endowment, Nehemiah went forth and built, overcoming the factors and factions that said it couldn’t—and wouldn’t—be done.

If you are a student of God’s sovereign direction, however, the story of Nehemiah can make you nervous. Are we really supposed to press as hard as Nehemiah did in going about our business? Shouldn’t we consult God about the every detail?

What we must not overlook is that Nehemiah’s entire project began with tears and fasting and prayer. It began with an uncertain, knee-knocking request of a king who could have killed the whole idea (and the man who brought it!) right at the outset. In other words, Nehemiah was as unsure of his whole plan as you or I would be. He had only this to go on after that fasting and prayer session: God wanted him to step up on behalf of the Jewish people and the city of his forefathers. For all Nehemiah knew, the king would slice him in half. No need for big plans in that case!

Nehemiah’s case is a lesson in what we might call blind obedience. He was not blind to what God wanted him to do, only to what the result of each next step would be. This was not a Google Maps endeavor, where he could see the whole route from start to finish, with every turn laid out for him. Rather, God stood before Nehemiah and pointed in the initial direction, and Nehemiah started following. Yes, he proposed courageously and planned carefully and worked diligently and defended bravely. Yes, he led both sternly and specifically. And yes, he grew in faith and confidence as he went along. In fact, the more Nehemiah worked, the more God’s wonders revealed themselves. What a great lesson for the tentative side in all of us!

Jeff Hopper

October 25, 2011

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