The Burden

Doing a Great Work for God

Lesson 2 - Nehemiah 1:4-11

Thesis: To do a great work for God, we must see things the way God does.

Key Verses:

Nehemiah 1:4
And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven.


Having shown the great opportunity to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem in the opening verses of the Book of Nehemiah, the remainder of the first chapter reveals Nehemiah's great burden in the form of prayer and fasting before God. In this prayer, we literally see a dramatic change in Nehemiah's life as he surrenders himself to leave his old way of life in order that he might take part in a great work for God. He grasped firmly to the opportunity that had been presented to him with a great burden and desire to see the walls of Jerusalem rebuilt.

Many Christians have seen the opportunity for God's work and surrendered their lives to do it only to fail soon after. During a revival, they may make a decision to start going soul winning or reading their Bible, but a few weeks later they fall back to their old ways of life. Nehemiah was successful in his work for God. What makes the difference? As we shall see in this lesson, Nehemiah saw the work the way God did. The reason so many Christians fail in their service to God is that they never saw the work with the same vision as God. In order to do a great work for God, you must see things the way He does. This is the difference between mere excitement and having a burden.

I. The Vision

Let us begin by considering how Nehemiah's vision had become more like that of God's. In his prayer, Nehemiah reveals that he now saw several things the way God saw them.

A. Israel's Sin

In verses 6 and 7, Nehemiah confessed the fact that both he and his ancestors had sinned greatly against God. He recognized that they had failed to keep God's covenant and had dealt wrongly with their God. Nehemiah knew what God's intention had been for Israel and how far short they fell of it. No doubt this vision was a great part of the cause behind his weeping and mourning mentioned in verse 4. Our understanding of just how close this realization was to that of God's becomes clearer when we consider that Nehemiah was not the only one to weep over Jerusalem. Jesus, too, wept over that city and for the loss of potential (Luke 19:41).

B. Israel's Future

In verses 8 and 9, Nehemiah dared to remind God of His promise to restore Israel if they repented (Leviticus 26:40-46), showing that he saw Israel's future just as God did. In God's plan for Jerusalem, the walls would be called salvation and the gates called praise (Isaiah 26:1-2, 60:18), though these emblems of salvation and praise at the time lay in ruin. What was the intent of Nehemiah's prayer? Though it is not expressly stated, verse 11 could leave little doubt that Nehemiah was asking God to allow him to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the walls. Clearly Nehemiah shared God's vision for Israel's future, for he wanted to see to it that Jerusalem would become what God had planned her to be.

C. Israel's Sovereign

Nehemiah began his prayer in verse 5 with true declarations about the character of the God of Israel. These were not Nehemiah's opinion of God, for no man knows about the nature and attributes of God except they be revealed (Job 11:7, Isaiah 55:8-9). All that Nehemiah said about God he learned from God Himself. At the end of his prayer, he again turned to the proclamation of God's character by recognizing His power and sovereignty. It was the hand of God that had redeemed Israel, and it would be the same hand that would restore them. Nehemiah did not presume that he could act on the opportunity to rebuild the walls of his own will. He recognized clearly in verse 11 that only by God's will could he take on the work, and it would be impossible to leave his position in Persia without the direct intervention of the Sovereign God of Israel.

II. The Work

The reason so many Christians set out to do a work for God only to fail soon after is because they never saw the work as God did. They did not feel the burden as God did, nor did they have the heart for the work as God had. There is an old saying that the only way to get a job done right is to do it your self. When we see the work as God does, His desires and burdens become ours, and we do the work as He would. Notice the effect on Nehemiah's life that came from seeing things the way God did:

1. The Burden

We do not know how long Nehemiah fasted and prayed. In chapter 2, he appears before the king of Persia sometime in March/April (Nisan), almost four months after Hanani's visit. It is possible and quite probable that he prayed throughout that entire time period. Nehemiah had not made a hasty show of emotions: This was a burden. He had poured out his soul to God pleading for the rebuilding of the walls and gates. His desire for this is expressed in such a way as we would expect God to have shown.

2. The Passion

As the king's cupbearer, Nehemiah had a position of great honor in the Persian court. Being daily in the presence of the king, no doubt Nehemiah enjoyed many favors that might be denied to others. Yet, he was willing and even desirous to leave that life of pleasure for a life of hard work. As we shall see throughout the book of Nehemiah, he labored hard in his great work for God. In addition to this, there was some measure of fear in requesting a leave of absence from the Persian monarch. This is hinted at in verse 11 and very evident in chapter 2. Nehemiah might well be risking his life with such a request. All of this points to the fact that Nehemiah now had a great passion and yearning to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Christian, if you want to be successful at bringing people to Christ, you will have to see the work as God does. You must be able to look on the multitudes with compassion (Matthew 9:36)

III. The Path

If sharing God's vision is such a significant prerequisite to doing a great work for God, how is such a thing to be accomplished? How can we catch God's vision for the world? Perhaps your vision has been dimmed and the fire that once burned within you has cooled. How can we rekindle the fire and set our sights again on the matters most significant to God? We can glean much about this from Nehemiah.

1. Knowledge

How did Nehemiah know so much about the character of God? How did he know about God's promise to Israel which he mentioned in verse 8? How did he know who it was that made Israel to be a nation? Nehemiah had knowledge about God that he had to have acquired either through reading Scripture or from being taught. If you want to see the work the way God does, you need to find out what God thinks. The Bible is full of this kind of information. As the Holy Spirit reveals truth either through reading or hearing, you will increase in your understanding of the ways of God.

2. Fellowship

Nehemiah's prayer does not indicate a distant relationship to God, but rather shows that he was on intimate terms with his Lord. Prayer seems a normal and consistent aspect of Nehemiah's life. No doubt this fellowship with God had its proper effect on Nehemiah, bringing his vision more in line with God's. Consider as well why it was that Hanani and his friends singled Nehemiah out as one with whom to share their heavy tidings. Whenever we spend time with people who have a burden, soon that burden will naturally become ours as well. If you desire to see things the way God does, hang around and fellowship with other Christians that have the vision of God.

3. Involvement

Another great way to catch the vision of God is to get involved in His work. Go out soul-winning, and you will start to get a burden for souls. Get involved with some ministry, and you will begin to see many things in a different way. Nehemiah had already shown some signs of involvement when Hanani made his visit, for it was Nehemiah that asked about the condition in Jerusalem. Nehemiah wasn't just interested in the welfare of the Jews; he wanted to have a part in the work of restoration. No doubt he would later get a great glimpse of the feelings of God when, after working hard to rebuild the walls, he found the Jews again falling into the same sins that had previously brought their own destruction.