Today we began reading the inspiring words of Nehemiah, inspiring because they show his faith and absolute commitment to serve God, and the wondrous power of prayer in carrying out this commitment. Earlier, guided by Ezra, the Temple had been restored, but Jerusalem itself lay in ruins and the people were living in very difficult conditions.

Nehemiah is a cupbearer, a very responsible and trusted position in service to the Persian King. Visitors from Jerusalem bring him news of its “great trouble and shame” (verse 3). As a result he says, “I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying …” (verse 4). He reflects on God’s saving power in the past and prays, “O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name …” (verse 11).

We too should “delight to fear” – that is, be in awe of what God is? And as we read in Colossians 3:1, we should have that attitude toward “the Son at the right hand of God”. Nehemiah’s relationship with God was strong.

As cupbearer, Nehemiah was protecting the king from any attempt to poison him. His spirit of distress is evident as he serves. The king asks, “Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick?” (2:2). Nehemiah tells him of the news that has come to him, the King responds, “What are you requesting?” (verse 4).

Nehemiah reacts! Imagine it! “So I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said to the king, ‘If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favour in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ graves, that I may rebuild it’” (verses 4,5). How instantaneous his prayer must have been – and how he must have marvelled and felt humbled by the answer! He is sent to Jerusalem and on arrival “told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, ‘Let us rise up and build.’ So they strengthened their hands for the good work” (verse 18).

May the hand of our loving heavenly Father be upon us for good – that is the good of working in His vineyard using whatever talents we have to rebuild the walls of faith of those whose faith is weak. The tragedy is, as Proverbs says, those “without self-control (are) like a city broken into and left without walls” (25:28).