Courageous Obedience

Many times, instead of removing troubling circumstances from our lives, God will use them to build our faith—and with faith comes courage.

Intimidation is a mean-spirited and, sadly, all-too-effective tool for silencing believers. It’s no stranger to the college classroom, the workplace, or the nightly news. Most of us, though, live rather comfortably and have never experienced outright persecution for our faith. So when we consider the qualities that characterize a godly life, courage probably isn’t our first thought.

If we’re truly committed to obeying God, however, sooner or later we’ll find ourselves in a situation requiring courage. The Lord’s will may involve doing something we feel inadequate to accomplish. Or perhaps it entails standing alone for our convictions in a culture that is increasingly antagonistic toward our Christian world-view. We’d like God to remove our fear so we can easily obey, but He desires that we trust Him enough to step out in the midst of our fear. It’s in the act of faith that courage becomes a reality, and the Lord’s grace rushes in to supply divine power.

READ Nehemiah 1:1-11; Neh. 2:1-11, Neh. 2:18-20; Neh. 4:7-20

Nehemiah—an exiled Jew in the Persian Empire during the fourth century B.C.—was a man who demonstrated great courage in his obedience to God. Judah’s rebellion against the Lord had resulted in her conquest by Babylon many years earlier. When the Babylonian Empire was later overtaken by the Persians, Cyrus decreed that the Jews could return to their land.

We’d like God to remove our fear so we can easily obey, but He desires that we trust Him enough to step out in the midst of our fear.

Not everyone chose to go back, however. Nearly a century after the decree was issued, some Jews were still living in Persia—among them, Nehemiah, cupbearer to King Artaxerxes. When he heard about the distressing condition of both Jerusalem and the Jews who had returned there, his heart broke. He immediately took his concerns to the Lord, but the content of his prayer reveals he was sensing a call to do more than simply intercede. What Nehemiah had in mind would require enormous courage, so he asked God to give him success by making the king favorably disposed to grant his request (1:11).

Four months later, an opportunity finally presented itself. Despite his fears, Nehemiah uttered a silent prayer (2:4) and stepped out in faith—with bold yet respectful words, he asked permission to go to Jerusalem and rebuild the wall. God generously granted Nehemiah’s request for success: The king not only consented but also furnished all the supplies that would be needed.

Victory, though, didn’t mean an end to his challenges. After arriving in Jerusalem, Nehemiah learned three uncomfortable but valuable lessons:

1. Obedience often brings opposition.

2. The way to handle hostility is to stand firm in faith with full reliance on God.

3. Dealing with antagonism should be a corporate effort rather than a battle fought alone.

Whenever the Jews encountered hate-filled taunts or threats, Nehemiah’s consistent response was prayer. He encouraged the team with his confidence that God would fight for them and refused to let menacing words deter his obedience.

REFLECT

• When Nehemiah sensed God calling him to help rebuild Jerusalem’s walls, what excuses might he have offered?

• Why do you think God allowed four months to pass before providing an opportunity for Nehemiah to speak to the king? When God delays, we may be tempted to think He’s inactive on our behalf, but what do Isaiah 64:4 and Ecclesiastes 3:1 indicate about timing?

• When the appointed time finally came, Nehemiah seemed unprepared. His first reaction was fear, which is understandable, as sadness in the king’s presence was strictly prohibited (Neh. 2:1-2). What was his second response (v. 4)?

• What similarities do you see between the way Nehemiah spoke to the king of Persia (vv. 3-8) and Paul’s recommendation to believers (Col. 4:2-6)?

• What kinds of opposition did Nehemiah face when rebuilding the wall? How does 1 Peter 4:12-14 tell us to respond when we’re mocked because of our faith? What promise is found in Luke 6:22-23? In times of conflict, how can we help and encourage each other (Heb. 10:32-39)?

RESPOND

• What events or circumstances—perhaps witnessing, standing alone on an issue, or stepping outside your comfort zone some other way—cause you to be afraid? What have you learned from Nehemiah that will help you move from fear to faith? If the Lord is calling you to a task that makes you feel inadequate or fearful, what encouragement does 2 Corinthians 3:4-6 offer?

• Have you ever pressed forward to obey God in spite of fear? What happened?

• Do you know someone like Nehemiah who has bold confidence in God? If so, how can this person’s courage inspire you to walk by faith?

REVISIT

• Throughout the month, be attentive to God’s leading as you pray and read Scripture—and as challenges arise. If you feel Him nudging you in a certain direction, pray for the strength to obey.

• When reading the Bible, look for verses that strengthen your faith and inspire courage. Write them on note cards so they’ll be easily accessible whenever you’re facing a challenging situation.

• To reinforce your courage, memorize Joshua 1:7-9. These were the Lord’s instructions to Joshua as he stepped up to lead Israel into the Promised Land. What importance does God place on full obedience? What benefits come to those who meditate on Scripture?

Related Topics:  Obedience

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What happens to my notes

1 The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah. Now it happened in the month Chislev, in the twentieth year, while I was in Susa the capitol,

2 that Hanani, one of my brothers, and some men from Judah came; and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped and had survived the captivity, and about Jerusalem.

3 They said to me, The remnant there in the province who survived the captivity are in great distress and reproach, and the wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates are burned with fire."

4 When I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.

5 I said, I beseech You, O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who preserves the covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments,

6 let Your ear now be attentive and Your eyes open to hear the prayer of Your servant which I am praying before You now, day and night, on behalf of the sons of Israel Your servants, confessing the sins of the sons of Israel which we have sinned against You; I and my father's house have sinned.

7 We have acted very corruptly against You and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses.

8 Remember the word which You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, `If you are unfaithful I will scatter you among the peoples;

9 but if you return to Me and keep My commandments and do them, though those of you who have been scattered were in the most remote part of the heavens, I will gather them from there and will bring them to the place where I have chosen to cause My name to dwell.'

10 They are Your servants and Your people whom You redeemed by Your great power and by Your strong hand.

11 O Lord, I beseech You, may Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant and the prayer of Your servants who delight to revere Your name, and make Your servant successful today and grant him compassion before this man." Now I was the cupbearer to the king.

1 And it came about in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, that wine was before him, and I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence.

2 So the king said to me, Why is your face sad though you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of heart." Then I was very much afraid.

3 I said to the king, Let the king live forever. Why should my face not be sad when the city, the place of my fathers' tombs, lies desolate and its gates have been consumed by fire?"

4 Then the king said to me, What would you request?" So I prayed to the God of heaven.

5 I said to the king, If it please the king, and if your servant has found favor before you, send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers' tombs, that I may rebuild it."

6 Then the king said to me, the queen sitting beside him, How long will your journey be, and when will you return?" So it pleased the king to send me, and I gave him a definite time.

7 And I said to the king, If it please the king, let letters be given me for the governors of the provinces beyond the River, that they may allow me to pass through until I come to Judah,

8 and a letter to Asaph the keeper of the king's forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress which is by the temple, for the wall of the city and for the house to which I will go." And the king granted them to me because the good hand of my God was on me.

9 Then I came to the governors of the provinces beyond the River and gave them the king's letters. Now the king had sent with me officers of the army and horsemen.

10 When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about it, it was very displeasing to them that someone had come to seek the welfare of the sons of Israel.

11 So I came to Jerusalem and was there three days.

18 I told them how the hand of my God had been favorable to me and also about the king's words which he had spoken to me. Then they said, Let us arise and build." So they put their hands to the good work.

19 But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official, and Geshem the Arab heard it, they mocked us and despised us and said, What is this thing you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?"

20 So I answered them and said to them, The God of heaven will give us success; therefore we His servants will arise and build, but you have no portion, right or memorial in Jerusalem."

7 Now when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repair of the walls of Jerusalem went on, and that the breaches began to be closed, they were very angry.

8 All of them conspired together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause a disturbance in it.

9 But we prayed to our God, and because of them we set up a guard against them day and night.

10 Thus in Judah it was said, The strength of the burden bearers is failing, Yet there is much rubbish; And we ourselves are unable To rebuild the wall."

11 Our enemies said, They will not know or see until we come among them, kill them and put a stop to the work."

12 When the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times, They will come up against us from every place where you may turn,"

13 then I stationed men in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, the exposed places, and I stationed the people in families with their swords, spears and bows.

14 When I saw their fear, I rose and spoke to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people: Do not be afraid of them; remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives and your houses."

15 When our enemies heard that it was known to us, and that God had frustrated their plan, then all of us returned to the wall, each one to his work.

16 From that day on, half of my servants carried on the work while half of them held the spears, the shields, the bows and the breastplates; and the captains were behind the whole house of Judah.

17 Those who were rebuilding the wall and those who carried burdens took their load with one hand doing the work and the other holding a weapon.

18 As for the builders, each wore his sword girded at his side as he built, while the trumpeter stood near me.

19 I said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, The work is great and extensive, and we are separated on the wall far from one another.

20 At whatever place you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us."

4 For from days of old they have not heard or perceived by ear, Nor has the eye seen a God besides You, Who acts in behalf of the one who waits for Him.

1 There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven--

1 And it came about in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, that wine was before him, and I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence.

2 So the king said to me, Why is your face sad though you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of heart." Then I was very much afraid.

4 Then the king said to me, What would you request?" So I prayed to the God of heaven.

3 I said to the king, Let the king live forever. Why should my face not be sad when the city, the place of my fathers' tombs, lies desolate and its gates have been consumed by fire?"

4 Then the king said to me, What would you request?" So I prayed to the God of heaven.

5 I said to the king, If it please the king, and if your servant has found favor before you, send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers' tombs, that I may rebuild it."

6 Then the king said to me, the queen sitting beside him, How long will your journey be, and when will you return?" So it pleased the king to send me, and I gave him a definite time.

7 And I said to the king, If it please the king, let letters be given me for the governors of the provinces beyond the River, that they may allow me to pass through until I come to Judah,

8 and a letter to Asaph the keeper of the king's forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress which is by the temple, for the wall of the city and for the house to which I will go." And the king granted them to me because the good hand of my God was on me.

2 Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving;

3 praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned;

4 that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak.

5 Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.

6 Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.

12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you;

13 but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.

14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.

22 Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man.

23 Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven. For in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets.

32 But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings,

33 partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated.

34 For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one.

35 Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.

36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.

37 FOR YET IN A VERY LITTLE WHILE, HE WHO IS COMING WILL COME, AND WILL NOT DELAY.

38 BUT MY RIGHTEOUS ONE SHALL LIVE BY FAITH; AND IF HE SHRINKS BACK, MY SOUL HAS NO PLEASURE IN HIM.

39 But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.

4 Such confidence we have through Christ toward God.

5 Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God,

6 who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

7 Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go.

8 This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.

9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go."

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