You know - those times when God has shown you something that's coming for your life….a little window into something that will be…but the door to it hasn't opened yet.
As Christians we often celebrate and highlight walking by faith. But what about waiting by faith?
Sometimes it takes just as much faith to wait as it does to walk.
There's a time when not moving ahead as God directs is disobedience. But there's also a time when moving ahead prematurely – by not waiting on the Lord - is disobedience. Just ask Saul (1 Samuel 13:8-14) or Abram & Sarai (Genesis 16) or Aaron & the Israelites (Exodus 32).
Many of us have knowledge of this physically, if not spiritually. We know what happens when a baby is born prematurely, before they are fully developed. They have days, weeks, months ahead in the NICU because their fragile little body was not quite ready for the intense environment outside of the protection of the womb. It is the same with faith.
There is a type of faith that you will need when you get there - that can only be developed here - in the dark womb of the unseen. Yes, you know in your heart what's coming. Birth, new life is coming. But there is growth, preparation, formation that must happen first. It’s integral even, and unnecessary complications will be avoided if you just wait out the pregnancy until the arrival of God’s delivery day that is marked on His Kingdom calendar.
I used to think that it didn't take any faith to believe in something that God has already shown you is going to happen. But the thing is, that on the way to it happening the circumstances and what you see with your eyes often don't match up to what He has said. The doubts start weighing in, and you begin to think you must have heard God wrong. In the wait of what is - to what will be - you can lose hope. Just ask the disciples in the middle of Friday and Sunday.
Even 3 days wait is enough time to lose hope.
"The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel." (Luke 24:21)
But this place. Where your hope once was. Where the thing you thought was going to happen looks dead...is dead...lifeless…unmoving…ruined. These conditions are actually quite right….for resurrection.
The prerequisite for something to be resurrected is for that something to be dead.
Just ask Nehemiah.
The words of Nehemiah son of Hakaliah:
In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem.
They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.”
When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. (Nehemiah 1:1-4)
When you are staring at the destruction, the rubble, the ruins, the ashes…you are really staring at a stage perfectly set…for resurrection.
In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before, so the king asked me, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.”
I was very much afraid, but I said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?”
The king said to me, “What is it you want?”
Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it.” (Nehemiah 2:1-5)
Where others saw rubble and ruins, Nehemiah saw the hope of resurrection.
But he had to wait.
Nehemiah chapter 1 opens in the month of Kislev in the 20th year. This is when Nehemiah hears the disturbing news of the troubled exile survivors and of the destruction in Jerusalem. In his distress Nehemiah mourns and cries out to the Lord about the situation “for some days”.
He mourns. He fasts. He prays. He cries out. For some days.
In the following scene in chapter 2 we are told just how much time has elapsed over the course of “for some days”. Chapter 2 opens in the month of Nisan in the 20th year. Between the month of Kislev and the month of Nisan on the Jewish calendar is approximately 4 months as we would know it by our Western (Gregorian) calendar.
We receive a hint later in chapter 2 that it was throughout this 4 month process of Nehemiah crying out to the Lord about the situation, that the Lord showed him what was coming. A little window into what would be – that God was appointing Nehemiah to spear-head the rebuilding of the wall.
I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem. (Nehemiah 2:12)
We can also see from the scriptures that the Lord gave Nehemiah insight into what the open door would be to initiate this rebuilding. The end of Nehemiah’s prayer in chapter 1:
“Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.” I was cupbearer to the king. (Nehemiah 1:11)
“This man” that Nehemiah was referring to and requesting the Lord’s favor for - was the king.
In order to go and rebuild the wall, Nehemiah first needed permission from his employer – the king. Not only that but we will see later that Nehemiah would also need resources and traveling protection from the king for the journey. But Nehemiah doesn’t just charge ahead by his own means and agenda to try and make this happen with the king. He waits on the Lord. Although the Lord had already shown Nehemiah what would be – that he would spear-head rebuilding the wall, he had to wait until the Lord opened the door into the opportunity via the king. And he did, and He did.
The king said to me, “What is it you want?” (Nehemiah 2:4)
Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king… “send me to the city in Judah…so that I can rebuild it.”
Then the king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked me, “How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?” It pleased the king to send me; so I set a time.
I also said to him, “If it pleases the king, may I have letters to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, so that they will provide me safe-conduct until I arrive in Judah? And may I have a letter to Asaph, keeper of the royal park, so he will give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel by the temple and for the city wall and for the residence I will occupy?” And because the gracious hand of my God was on me, the king granted my requests. So I went to the governors of Trans-Euphrates and gave them the king’s letters. The king had also sent army officers and cavalry with me. (Nehemiah 2:4-9)
When you wait until God opens the door, you will find that the pathway is graced.
God moves slowly, but when it’s time, He acts swiftly.
So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days. (Nehemiah 6:15)
From the time the rebuilding started, to the time it was completed, it took 52 days. The 4 month time period that Nehemiah spent praying, and seeking, and waiting on the Lord was twice as long as the time it actually took for the thing to happen.
In physical pregnancy there is a 9 month wait, yet the labor comes suddenly, and typically is over within a day, hours, minutes. And all that was once hidden - what you could only view through a window via an ultrasound, is now tangibly in sight. Formed and prepared for the life that lies ahead.
And so it is with faith. There is a time of growth, of strengthening, of gaining confidence in what God has put in your heart before you physically see it come to life - that can only be formed to maturity through the test of the wait.
We don’t like the wait. But we need the wait. Lest our faith not be able to sustain us when we get on the other side of it.
There are things you will face on the other side of the wait, that God is preparing you for now, in the wait.
After the door opened and Nehemiah began the process of rebuilding the wall, he faced opposition at every turn.
Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.” I also told them about the gracious hand of my God on me and what the king had said to me.
They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work.
But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official and Geshem the Arab heard about it, they mocked and ridiculed us. “What is this you are doing?” they asked. “Are you rebelling against the king?”
I answered them by saying, “The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.” (Nehemiah 2:17-20)
Nehemiah’s 4 month wait had taught him how to trust God for the unseen – for the plan put in his heart by the Lord that had not yet come to pass – to the point that he could now boldly refute the voices of doubt coming up against it. God coming through with the open door at the end of Nehemiah’s 4 month wait of praying and fasting and crying out had given him confident assurance that God would come through again. This time on an even bigger scale.
When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, “What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble—burned as they are?”
Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, “What they are building—even a fox climbing up on it would break down their wall of stones!”
Hear us, our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders.
So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart.
But when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the people of Ashdod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem’s walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry. They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat. (Nehemiah 4:1-9)
Nehemiah’s 4 month wait had taught him how to pray to God for help in the midst of trouble and fear, and to rely on Him to provide it.
Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, “The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.”
Also our enemies said, “Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to the work.”
Then the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over, “Wherever you turn, they will attack us.”
Therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows. After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.”
When our enemies heard that we were aware of their plot and that God had frustrated it, we all returned to the wall, each to our own work. (Nehemiah 4:10-15)
In the 4 month wait Nehemiah had learned to trust that God would intervene into desperate situations.
When word came to Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies that I had rebuilt the wall and not a gap was left in it—though up to that time I had not set the doors in the gates— Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: “Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono.”
But they were scheming to harm me; so I sent messengers to them with this reply: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?” Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer.
Then, the fifth time, Sanballat sent his aide to me with the same message, and in his hand was an unsealed letter in which was written:
“It is reported among the nations—and Geshem says it is true—that you and the Jews are plotting to revolt, and therefore you are building the wall. Moreover, according to these reports you are about to become their king and have even appointed prophets to make this proclamation about you in Jerusalem: ‘There is a king in Judah!’ Now this report will get back to the king; so come, let us meet together.”
I sent him this reply: “Nothing like what you are saying is happening; you are just making it up out of your head.”
They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.”
But I prayed, “Now strengthen my hands.” (Nehemiah 6:1-9)
Time after time, Nehemiah was put in situations on the other side of his wait in which he needed to employ his faith in the Lord that he had learned - that was grown in him - during the wait. If the wait would have been skipped, Nehemiah’s faith would have crumbled at the first entry of opposition when he went about his assigned task from the Lord. His faith would not have been able to sustain him through to the completion of the task.
I’ve wrestled with why Nehemiah only had to wait for 4 months. In the big picture of things, that doesn’t seem like a lot of time, and other characters in the Bible had to wait a lot longer for what God had put in their hearts to come to pass. As I wrestled with this, I felt the Lord pointing me to focus not on days, or weeks, or years - but on proportions. Specifically that the length of the wait is proportional to the amount of faith you will need when you get on the other side of the wait. Nehemiah’s wait was twice as long as the time it actually took for the task to be completed. This shows me that God is much more interested in developing my faith then in just getting the thing done and over already – because He will do that part in the blink of an eye.
So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days.
When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God. (Nehemiah 6:15-16)
Glory to God, dead things can come alive.
And there too will come a time when that unseen thing that the Lord has put in your heart will become sight. And when that day on the Lord’s calendar comes, maybe you will in fact find that the wait birthed a newborn baby with flesh and blood, or a rebuilt pile of rubble. But no matter what tangible thing you are waiting for, at the end of your wait you can be sure of this: you will be holding a developed faith – of greater worth than gold.
When Nehemiah’s faith became sight, his enemies lost their confidence. But one thing is for certain: Nehemiah had gained his.