It is so fascinating to look up at the stars. They spark curiosity, right? They cause us to wonder what else is out there – other planets, galaxies, discoveries that we’ve never even considered? And to think that God spoke, and they all came into existence! Wow!
But what we know today about our universe started with someone’s curiosity. Someone looked up in wonder. They initiated, took action, and asked questions that began with a simple two-word phrase.
Asking “what if” initiates a beginning. Take a moment right now to stop and consider things that we use every day: cell phones, microwaves, vehicles, airplanes, the Internet, computers, furnaces and air conditioners, refrigerators, toilets, and yes, toilet paper! All things that didn’t exist at one time. But someone asked, “What if” and took the initiative. Someone did something in response to a need.
Nehemiah is a fantastic example of taking the initiative. Not only that, the book of Nehemiah in the Hebrew Scriptures stands unique. It’s as if you’re reading his diary. It’s pretty remarkable. I would urge you to take a few moments and read the first two chapters for yourself. I’ll give the highlights here, but they are no replacement for your own study. I’ll even put a link right here.
Let’s set the scene. At the beginning of Nehemiah, Israel is returning to Jerusalem from exile. Jerusalem had been conquered, and its protective wall has been torn down, leaving Jerusalem unprotected. The city and its people couldn’t prosper as they lived in fear of being attacked. Nehemiah, being a Jew himself, was serving as a cupbearer for King Artaxerxes of Persia. Nehemiah had never seen Jerusalem, likely being born while in exile to Jewish parents. He probably learned about Jerusalem through oral tradition from his parents.
On to the story. Nehemiah gets a visit from some men and his brother. He asks them about the state of the people who survived the exile and were returning to Jerusalem. His brother reports that the people are suffering and in distress. He continues his report, telling Nehemiah that the wall and its gates are broken down and burned up. What Nehemiah does next is remarkable for someone who’s never been or lived in Jerusalem.
When I heard this, I sat down and wept. In fact, for days, I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven. Nehemiah 1:4 NLT
The dude was heartbroken over a city he’d never seen, granted it was part of his heritage. But he’d never been there or lived there. What follows is Nehemiah’s “what if” moment. He prays to God, reminds God of His own promise to bring his scattered people together, and initiates. What did he initiate?
Nehemiah wanted God’s favor. He needed it to move forward. For the Jews to gather together again, Jerusalem would require a massive makeover. And God honored Nehemiah’s initiative. God would soften King Artaxerxes’ heart.
So during one of the times that Nehemiah was doing his normal cupbearing for the king, the king asked Nehemiah what was wrong. The king could tell Nehemiah wasn’t sick but heartbroken. (Nehemiah 2:2). Nehemiah shared what was on his heart – that the city of his fathers was in desolate ruins with its walls broken through. The king responded with something Nehemiah probably didn’t expect.
The king asked, “Well, how can I help you? Nehemiah 2:4 NLT
Consider how remarkable this is – in those days, you could be put to death if you addressed the king improperly. Going into the king’s presence sad would not be a great way to address the king! Yet the king asks Nehemiah how he can help! My point? Nehemiah initially sought God’s favor. Now Nehemiah finds favor with the king of Persia. God honored Nehemiah’s initiative and softened the king’s heart toward Nehemiah.
How Nehemiah responded is of utmost importance for today.
So I prayed to the God of heaven. Nehemiah 2:4 NASB
I have no idea if, at the time, Nehemiah fully grasped how God honored his initiative. But we can’t ignore that God did. And Nehemiah sticks close to God in prayer before he gives his next response to the king. Nehemiah asks for a leave of absence, the king’s blessing to travel through other territories, and the king to help pay for the rebuilding of the wall.
Audacious? Bold? Risky? Yep! But Nehemiah had prayed, and God honored his prayer and his initiative. So God presented an opportunity for Nehemiah to respond to the need in Jerusalem with the king’s blessing!
Taking the initiative is scary. I’m sure it was for Nehemiah. Asking “what if” does not guarantee our desired outcome, nor does it promise a problem-free undertaking. But if we never take the initiative, if we never ask “What if,” we’re guaranteed we’ll never find out. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t like looking back through my life with a different kind of “what if,” one that leads to regret.
God honors initiative. It takes prayer – getting God’s heart in on what’s breaking your heart – and letting Him lead you.
So, where can you take the initiative this week? There is no lack of need, that’s for sure. Remember, it doesn’t mean you do everything. But if no one does something, nothing gets started.
Maybe your “what if” is a little different, more personal. It might be having a difficult conversation that you’ve put off. Or it could be saying I’m sorry or I forgive you. It might be making a visit you keep putting off.
The thing is, it’s gotta start somewhere. Why not with you? Make sure to start it right like Nehemiah did. Seek God’s favor in where your heart is seeking to take the initiative. God honors initiative when we’ve sought after His heart first. Just be ready, God will move in ways you will likely never expect! That’s where the excitement is – it’s asking “What’s God going to do next?”
You are loved.