This week, we kick off a new series called “The Unwasted Life”, which focuses on the book of Nehemiah. When examining our lives, no one wants to look back and think, “I wasted my life”. No, we want to live lives full of purpose. This week as we look at the first two chapters of Nehemiah, we’ll learn about 5 keys to an unwasted life.
Before diving into our text, let’s look at the historical background of the book of Nehemiah. In 587 BC, Babylon had destroyed Judah, whose capital was Jerusalem, and exiled most if its people. This was crucial for the Jewish people because their role among the nations hinged on having their own land. Now the text we’re reading is being written 140 years later, and Persia now rules over Judah. The text is written by a Jewish man named Nehemiah, who serve as cupbearer to the king of Persia. A cupbearer tasted the wine before the king drank it, to make sure it was not poisonous.
5 Keys to an Unwasted Life
1. Pay attention to what burdens you
- Read Nehemiah 1.1–4
When Nehemiah hears that Jerusalem is an absolute disaster, it breaks his heart. How does he respond? He sits down and weeps. He doesn’t try to ignore his burden by busying himself with distractions. Rather, he takes the time to notice the burden he feels.
Like Nehemiah, we too must pay attention to what burdens us. It’s easy to ignore the burdens that God gives us. Often, we’d rather ignore the pain that we see in our world, or we would prefer to go about our everyday lives without interruption. However, in order to have an unwasted life, it’s crucial that we make space to sit down and really process—and even grieve— the burdens that God has given us. Burdens may be for a particular person, a certain kind of ministry, or some sort of cause. The key is that when God gives us a burden, we make time to sit with it.
Question: Take a few minutes to reflect. What burden(s) has God placed in your life? What people, places, events or injustices break your heart? How have you responded to these burdens?
2. Saturate your burden with prayer
- Read Nehemiah 1.5–11
The second key to an unwasted life is to saturate our burdens with prayer. There’s a difference between saturating and sprinkling. Sprinkling is just a quick, fleeting prayer here or there; saturating means taking intentional time to speak and listen to God. In Nehemiah 1.1, we find Nehemiah starting to pray during the Persian month of Kislev. In chapter 2, we find that he didn’t stop praying until the month of Nisan, which is 4 months later. Nehemiah didn’t just pray; he prayed with perseverance! Rather than a quick, “Hey God, it’d be great if you did something about this” prayer, Nehemiah prayed day–after–day, sustained prayers that constantly brought his burden before God.
Question: What does your prayer life look like? How do you typically bring your concerns to God? How have you been praying over the burdens God’s given you?
3. Name Your Burden
- Read Nehemiah 2.1–5
In chapter 2, we find Nehemiah doing his job—bringing wine to the king. However, he does so in such a manner to show the king that he’s upset about something. Noticing his distress, the king asked Nehemiah why he’s looking so depressed, and Nehemiah shares the burden that God has given him.
Naming our burdens means publicly proclaiming the burdens that we believe God has given us. This can be a scary step—it was for Nehemiah. Even though God’s given us a burden, we’re still not sure if we’ve got what it takes to really make a difference. We don’t know if people will reject or criticize our ideas, and we don’t want to risk failure.
Regardless of these unknowns, there has to come a point at which we’re willing to say out loud: “This is what I believe God is calling me to do.” While we can pray about something for months and seek wise counsel regarding it, it becomes something completely different when we publicly announce our intentions and goals. We need to make a public declaration about what God’s calling us to regardless of the nervous emotions that we may be feeling, because in doing so we may discover the thing that makes life worth living.
Question: What does it feel like to announce the burden that God’s given you publically before knowing all of the logistics of it? What can you do to overcome the fears and hesitations of doing so?
4. Count the Cost of Addressing the Burden
- Read Nehemiah 2.6–16
In verse 11, we see that the king granted Nehemiah permission to rebuild Jerusalem. In response, Nehemiah goes throughout the city to assess its damage. After speaking publically the burden that God’s given him, Nehemiah doesn’t rush out and jump to action. Rather, he takes time to count the cost of addressing the burden. He gains an understanding of what his burden is going to involve so that, when he sets out to do the work, he can do it effectively.
Notice that Nehemiah doesn’t count the cost before naming his burden—he counts it after naming it. Sometimes we want to know what something’s going to cost us before we tell others that we’re going to do something about it. This isn’t what Nehemiah does. He’s confident in what God’s called him to do, goes public with it, and then figures out just how to get it done.
When God gives us a burden for something, it isn’t wise to rush into things without forethought. We want to spend time counting the cost so we can accomplish our goals effectively and efficiently.
Question: What does it look like to count the cost for the burden that God’s given you? What information do you need to successfully address your burden?
5. Invite Others into the Burden
- Read Nehemiah 2.17–20
After counting the cost, verse 17 tells us that Nehemiah invites others into the burden, and he does so brilliantly.
Highlight the need
First, Nehemiah highlights the need. He says, “Guys, look around. This whole place is a disaster!” He gives concrete examples of the burden God’s given him and educates those around him. By sharing information about our burden with others, we can help them clearly see the problem at hand.
Share Your Own Heart
Next, Nehemiah shares his own heart for the burden God had given him. He wants the people to know that this isn’t just some cool project that he’s intrigued by, but something that’s deeply personal for him. By sharing our hearts we show that our burden isn’t some trendy cause, but something that holds deep, personal meaning.
Call People to Action
Finally, Nehemiah calls people to action. He tells them: “Now that we understand the problem, let’s do something about it. Let’s rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.” When we give people specific ways that they can get involved in responding to our burden, we open the door to them to make an impact. We give them direction for how to get started in a seemingly overwhelming project.
Question: Who could you invite to join you in your burden? Who do you need to share the need and your heart with? What are some specific ways that they can get involved?
Here’s something encouraging about these 5 steps: Nehemiah wasn’t the only one to take them; as we study his life, we see that Jesus used each of these steps Himself. Jesus paid attention to the burden that God gave Him. In Luke 19.10, we see Jesus saying, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost”. We see Jesus praying over His burden when He prayed and fasted for 40 days in the desert (Matthew 4). After praying, for 40 days, Jesus named His burden (Luke 4.18–19). Jesus counted the cost of giving up His life to pay the penalty for our sins when He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26.26–46). Finally, Jesus invites others to join Him when He tells His disciples “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28.19–20). As we realize that Jesus not only practiced these 5 keys, but did so for us, we can be motivated to do the same for Him.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]