Preparation and Equipment for Service
“Neither will I offer burnt offerings unto the Lord my God, of that which doth cost me nothing,” (2 Samuel 24:24).
The burnt offering is the Old Testament picture of entire consecration. It was voluntary. It was all upon the altar. It was made by fire, a sweet savor unto the Lord. I want to use this text as the basis for what is recounted in Nehemiah 2, for the principle of the burnt offering is the principle behind the preparation and equipment of this man, and all others, for the service of God.
The Burden He Carried (Nehemiah 2:2)
The exact record of dates here is not simply of historical interest. A comparison between the opening verse of chapter 1 and the corresponding verse of chapter 2 reveals that there is a time lag of four months between the moment when Nehemiah learned of the tragic condition of Jerusalem, and the moment when God opened the way for him to act. The moment he knew the desperate need, the burden of it all became intense: he sat down and wept, and mourned, and fasted, and prayed. But he carried that burden in secret and alone, until four months later, the king into whose presence he came daily, observed it and said, “Why is thy countenance sad, seeing thou art not sick? This is nothing else but sorrow of heart” (verse 2).
What took place in those four months is not told us, but we may well read between the lines. Nehemiah did not rush impetuously to the task the moment the need dawned upon him. He knew that before he could be successful he must have the favour of the king on the one hand, and be sure that God was calling him to it on the other. How constantly he must have sought the Lord alone during that time, asking Him either to remove the burden or so to deepen it that it would be impossible for him to do other than respond.
How he must have pleaded with God concerning his position at court. It was hard enough to get into a Persian court, but harder still to get out of it. To appear sad in the king’s presence was an unforgivable sin, punishable with death. Should he speak to the king and risk this, or should he wait and trust God? After all if God was calling him, then He was surely able to work a miracle, and grant him favour with the king. So Nehemiah wept, prayed, fasted and waited until one day God opened the door. He didn’t have to speak to the king at all!
The burden of his heart, the deep conviction now upon him concerning the will of God became so tremendous that it could no longer be hidden, and at the moment when this man couldn’t keep the burden to himself any longer, God acted. The initiative was not in Nehemiah’s hands at all—it was in God’s.
Now there is a deep principle which we can draw from this story and which is essential for everyone of us to grasp in relation to our service for God. It is only the man with a crushing sense of burden and responsibility whom God can trust with His work. And it is only the burdened heart which leads to fruitful service.
The need never constitutes the call. Yet how many hear of appalling conditions in some distant land and immediately respond out of deep sympathy and the result is disastrous. Our Lord says, “Come unto Me all ye that labor and are heavy laden,” but we relegate those words to the close of an evangelistic service instead of remembering that they were spoken primarily to disciples. To us, in all the consciousness of a multitude of needs which no one can meet, He says, “Come unto Me.”
Recognition of need must be followed by earnest waiting upon God until the overwhelming sense of world need becomes a specific burden for one piece of work. Nobody should begin teaching a class, preparing for the ministry, training for missionary work until as the outcome of prayer the burden for a particular sphere of service has become so intense that it is impossible to bear it any longer. When that happens, God acts, and the initiative in opening doors is His and not ours.
His first preparation of all His servants is burden. When we’re willing to accept that, and He sees we are, then He opens doors. If that principle was recognized there would be fewer resignations from church work when it becomes difficult; fewer failures to stick the pace of training for ministry; few collapses on the field after only one term of service; fewer attempts to push open a door of service before God sees that we are willing to pay the price! “I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord of that which hath cost me nothing”—and before I venture upon any task for Him, I want to know the price of real travail of soul. The burden he carried.
The Blessing He Coveted (verse 5)
“If thy servant have found favour in thy sight…send me unto Judah, unto the city of my Fathers’ sepulchers that I may build it.” Nehemiah wanted to know he was sent. Verse 7—“Let letters be given me to the governors beyond the river, that they may convey me over till I come unto Judah.” Nehemiah wanted to know he would be safe. Verse 8—“And a letter to…the keeper of the king’s forest that he may give me timber…for the gates and the wall and the house.” Nehemiah wanted to know he would be supplied.
Was he asking too much? Certainly not. The king was well able to give him all he asked, and all of these things were essential if the task once begun was to be completed. Was it not an immense source of strength as he began the rebuilding task, and as he faced all the opposition and discouragement to look back upon this interview, and to remember his commission and the promised supply of every need? The fact that the good hand of God had been upon him there assured him for all the future days.
Here again is a vital lesson—sent-safety-supplied. All these factors are supremely important for any service for God. The dominating factor in all service is not the need of others, but the command of the Lord Jesus Christ. If that is forgotten, the needs are so great and conditions so perplexing that we are sure to falter and fail. A missionary is someone sent by the Lord, as He Himself was sent by our Father. “As the Father hath sent me, even so send I you.” Consequently the true source of inspiration for service is always behind us, never in front. The challenge is always before us—in full view. The call is always behind us—the command of Jesus Christ to go which is only given to those whose hearts carry the burden. It is only that conviction which keeps our hand on the plough when the going is hard. To be in any service for God and to lack assurance of being sent by Him is a tragedy indeed.
The “show-business” which is so incorporated into Christian work today, is causing us to drift very far from our Lord’s conception of discipleship. It is instilled into us that we have to do something exceptional for God—be a kind of show-piece—an example of courage and sacrifice. We do not need the grace of God for that. Human nature and pride will take us through many crises, and make us do what seems the big thing in volunteering for missionary service.
But it needs all the grace of God to go through drudgery, poverty, ignored existence as a saint, unnoticed by anyone. We have to be exceptional in ordinary things, among mean people surrounded by sordid circumstances. Only the man sent by the King can face that. And only the man with a true burden will ever be sent. At the end of three years of intimate fellowship with Christ, all disciples forsook Him and fled. They came to the end of themselves, and their self-sufficiency and realized if ever they were to be different, it must be by receiving His Spirit. “Jesus breathed on them and said receive ye the Holy Spirit. As the Father hath sent me, even so send I you.” Have you been sent to the work you are doing now?
Nehemiah also wanted to be kept safe. Have we a right to ask for that? Certainly not in a physical sense. We are to hazard our lives for the Gospel, if need be. The sentence of death will often be in us as it was in Paul. But we are entitled to safety in the spiritual sense. Nehemiah had men who went with him on the journey to protect him. Nobody should ever go to the field, or to any service for that matter, alone. He must have those who will pray, those who in spirit are at his side constantly. He will be subjected to perils never before experienced, temptations hitherto unknown, loneliness never imagined, homesickness of which he thought himself incapable. But he is entitled to spiritual protection in all this, and he will get it from men—from men who know how to pray, how to write, how to enter into his needs and share them at the throne of grace. It is said that once a missionary has his valedictory, he is forgotten—out of sight, out of mind. God forbid! You may never sail from these shores in God’s service, but you may be the instrument in God’s hand of keeping some missionary safe from spiritual loneliness and depression because he knows he is in your heart always. It’s because we fail in this at home that so many fail on the field and become casualties.
Then we need to be sure of supplies. I know there are some who believe that all that is needed is to be dropped into an African jungle by parachute and God will look after you—Faith? No! More like murder!
Do you have some share in keeping a missionary on the field? Do you give your substance, send food and clothing, medical equipment, and other things of which so many are in need? This is a world-wide enterprise in which everyone of us is called to share. But rebuilding for God demands even more than material things, spiritual resources.
Tell me, are you being supplied in your service for God? What do you mean, you say? Just this: Is God meeting your need? Have you got what’s required for the job? Unto everyone of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ (Ephesians 4:7). Yes, He promises grace for everything that is in His will, but for nothing that is outside His will for you.
If you’re teaching a class, it isn’t only the ability to teach, but to impart knowledge. Has God given you that? If you are training for the ministry it isn’t only the ability to learn the Bible as a textbook, but grace to proclaim the truth of it to others in your own words. Are you being supplied, or are you living at such tension and strain that it is quite evident you are out of God’s will?
Sent-Safety-Supplied—“I will not offer burnt-offerings to the Lord of that which hath cost me nothing.” Before I venture into His service, whatever it may be, I must know I’m in it because I’m sent, that I’m safe because I’m truly prayed for, that I’m being supplied now by His grace, for if I don’t know how to draw on His supplies now, I need never expect to prove them in circumstances that are different—the blessing Nehemiah coveted.
The Battle He Caused (verse 10)
“It grieved them exceedingly that there was come a man to seek the welfare of the children of Israel.” We shall meet Sanballat and Tobiah again. All I want to observe now is that they knew perfectly well what Nehemiah was after—the welfare of Israel. Here was a man with no other motive than that. He had no axe to grind, no selfish interests, no vain ambitions, no desire for personal glory. Therefore he was a marked man, and as soon as such a man says, let us arise and build—the enemy says, let us arise and oppose.
It was this man who caused the battle to begin, who drew the enemy fire and aroused his hatred. There were plenty more Jews in Jerusalem, but they had no concern for a broken wall, a ruined testimony. They were perfectly satisfied with the way things were going and never thought it a reproach to the Name of God. They were no menace to Satan. But here was a burdened man—a sent man—a supplied man. A man with a vision and a vocation. This man’s whole attitude was a declaration of war against things as they were, and a determination of will to retrieve lost ground. The enemy is at once aroused to oppose.
There is no battle until the Christian pitches into it. There is no concern in the mind of Satan until he sees a selfless Christian seeking only God’s glory, determined to challenge his satanic grip upon men’s hearts and lives.
Tell me, does your service for God cause Satan any worry? Are you disinterested in anything save the welfare of the people? Have you no ambition except to please God, no concern for any reputation but His? Then, and only then is Satan aroused to oppose. Hard questions—only to be answered on your knees.
“I will not offer burnt-offerings to the Lord of that which has cost me nothing,” and the costliest preparation of all is to look into the face of you Lord and be able to say that you seek only His glory and the blessing of souls.