When They Prayed
FROM THE BISHOP DAVID GRAVES   I chose the theme of our 2023 Annual Conference session, “When They Prayed,” based on Acts 4:31: “And when they had prayed, the place in which they ...
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Nehemiah: God works in the delay

November 15, 2012


This is the second in a series of articles about the book of Nehemiah.  Bishop King is inviting all South Georgia United Methodists to join him in studying this book.

Sometimes we read the Bible without full appreciation of the timeline of events because we are unfamiliar with the calendar of the day.  The transition to Nehemiah 2 is a perfect example.  The first words give us a time stamp that is important to the story for several reasons.

What catches my eye is not the historical reference to the King’s reign, but that this is four months after Nehemiah learned of the distress and ruin of Jerusalem.   My question is, why the delay?  What has been going on for these four months?

In chapter one we read that Nehemiah entered into a period of grieving and prayer.  This gave birth to the vision of rebuilding the walls, but it probably didn’t take four months.  What has been going on these four months? The series of events that unfold in this chapter gives us a clue.

We learn that Nehemiah, a cupbearer to the King, is called into service.  This time Nehemiah approaches the King with uncustomary sadness, which the King recognizes instantly (2:2).

Nehemiah states his reason for being sad in such a way as to personalize the despair of those living in Jerusalem. It is Nehemiah’s kin who are in despair, not just some nameless and faceless people. The King becomes sympathetic to the plight of “those people” because they are really “Nehemiah’s people” then he asks Nehemiah to make his request (2:3-4).

Nehemiah requests permission to go rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. The King’s major concerns seem to be “how long will you be gone and when will you return.”

In the next lines we see that a date of departure is set.  Nehemiah extends his request by asking for letters of safe passage and building supplies.  The King grants Nehemiah’s wishes and takes it a step further by sending a military escort to accompany Nehemiah (2:6-9). 

The requests are made, granted and exceeded. Why the delay for four months?  God was preparing Nehemiah and the King for what was about to unfold.

As we will see in the succeeding chapters, Nehemiah has thought out his rebuilding plan very carefully.  He is a remarkable strategist.  This planning takes time and wisdom greater than the human planner. 

Also, in this interim period, Nehemiah prepares for the first steps of his journey by coming to understand what will touch the King’s heart so he can gain permission to go to Jerusalem, to gain safety for the journey and to access much needed supplies. 

Additionally, Nehemiah is being prepared to make what some people call the “big ask.”  This is a huge request.  The relationship out of which the request will be made, the timing of the request, the phrasing of the ask, the motivating link to something or someone valued by the King are all crucial elements to this rebuilding mission trip. 

God was at work the whole time preparing Nehemiah for this leadership role.

Simultaneously, God was preparing the King.  The scriptures do not report on the frequency of Nehemiah’s service to the King.  However, we do know that the King trusts his life in the hands of the cupbearer.  The cupbearer tastes the wine first to prove its safety.  As one colleague said recently, “the cupbearer is always one sip away from death.”

Imagine the bond between Nehemiah and the King.  Certainly, a servant who risks his life each time he serves is one in whom you would develop an attachment of trust and appreciation.  As such the King would be keenly aware of every habit and any change in body language or affect or step in the normal process.

These years of serving, risking, and bonding God are preparing the King for Nehemiah’s big ask.  The King will temporarily lose the trusted servant, but this servant has become more than a cupbearer.  Now, what impacts the cupbearer impacts the King. 

Most of us are rather impatient with delays, especially when we feel called by God to act.  We hear of the problem, feel some sense of urging to be part of the solution to the problem, and then are ready to act.  We do not want to just stand there—we want to do something!

So, we launch out, lacking plan or provision.  We charge ahead and then wonder why doors seem closed and why things don’t seem to fall into place.

Often times, it takes looking back after a successful project to see that the delays along the way were not purposeless. In fact, most times we can look back and see that God was working in the delay. 

Are you in a delay right now?  Trust that God is working on the circumstances and the all the personalities involved, including us.

So, seek God during this delay and be open to God’s shaping.  The delay is not wasted time!


Dr. Brad Brady is the Assistant to the Bishop for Connectional Ministries.



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