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.
• 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)?
• 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?
• 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?