Initiative, Week 1
Nehemiah Hears About The Wall
Be on the lookout for what needs to be done.
Though he had done it many times before, Nehemiah always took a deep breath before stepping into the high-ceilinged room where King Artaxerxes and his queen ate their meals. He carried a heavy cup across the floor until he stood directly before the king and queen of Persia.
“Your majesty!” he said, bowing.
As the king watched, Nehemiah tasted a sip of the sweet drink. He was trained to discern if someone had placed poison in the cup to harm the king. “All is well, your majesty,” he assured the royal couple.
Nehemiah smiled at the king, and placed the jeweled chalice on the table. The king took a drink. “Grapes and garlic, that’s fine!” he exclaimed. “Now, I hear a group of men have arrived from Judah. Isn’t that your homeland?”
“My family comes from Jerusalem,” Nehemiah agreed. “But . . . I’ve never seen it.”
The queen raised an eyebrow. “Home sweet hovel, I’m sure. The city was destroyed a century ago.”
“Some Jews were allowed to return and rebuild the Temple, your majesty,” Nehemiah reminded her.
“Ah, yes,” said the king. “To honor your gods.”
“One God,” Nehemiah told him. “The one true God.”
Artaxerxes took another drink and laughed. “Chariots and cheese! Just one god. What a strange idea.”
After serving the king, Nehemiah returned to his rooms, hungry for his own dinner. When he opened the door, he was startled to discover someone at the window. The man turned quickly.
“Hanani!” exclaimed Nehemiah.
It was his brother, whom he hadn’t seen for a very long time. Nehemiah rushed across the room to hug the man. Then he stepped back to take a look. Hanani’s robes were dusty and worn.
“You’ve just made a long journey,” Nehemiah said. “All the way from Jerusalem!” Hanani told him.
Nehemiah was full of questions. “You’ve seen the city? What’s it like? Do any of our people still live there?”
“Slow down! Slow down,” laughed Hanani. Then his voice became serious. “Brother, some of the Israelites who came back are still there. But they’re struggling and sad. The city walls are broken down. All the gates were destroyed by fire.”
Nehemiah shook his head. “That means enemies can attack at any time!”
“Yes,” agreed Hanani. “It’s not good.”
“Someone should do something!” Nehemiah declared. “It’s a big job,” warned Hanani.
After Hanani left, Nehemiah sat down to his dinner—but quickly realized he wasn’t hungry. He stared out the window over the moonlit city of Babylon, but in his head, he saw the ruins of Jerusalem. Falling down on his knees, he cried out to God.
“Lord, you are the God of heaven,” he prayed. “See how your people are suffering. We Israelites have committed sins against you. . . . We haven’t obeyed the . . . laws you gave your servant Moses. [But] remember what you told him. You said, ‘If you people are not faithful, I will scatter you . . . But if you return to me, I will bring you back.’”
For days and weeks, Nehemiah continued to call out to God, even as he served the king. While he prayed, an idea began to form in his heart—an amazing, outrageous, difficult plan.
“Lord, please pay careful attention to my prayer. . . . Give me success today when I bring my request to King Artaxerxes.”
At last, Nehemiah knew the time was right. He grasped the king’s cup in both hands. This time, as Nehemiah approached the king and queen, he didn’t smile. He didn’t try to hide the sadness deep within as he tasted the wine.
“All is well, your majesty,” he told the king.
The king studied Nehemiah in surprise. “Swords and swine! Why do you look so sad? You’re not sick?”
“Why shouldn’t I look sad?” Nehemiah asked. “The city where my people come from lies in ruins.”
“Rats and rubble, that’s true. What do you want?”
As Nehemiah faced the king and queen, he cried out to God in his heart, praying for wisdom to choose the right words and for favor with the king.
“If you’re pleased with me, send me to Jerusalem,” he requested. “I want to rebuild it.”
“Tarts and toffee . . . you?” wondered the king.
“You?!” echoed the queen.
“Me,” said Nehemiah.
“How long will your journey take? When will you get back?” demanded the king.
“When the ladybugs swarm,” said Nehemiah. “Give or take a few months. Or years.”
After a long moment, the king nodded. “Fair enough. You may go.”
“Just one thing more?” Nehemiah asked. “May I take some letters to the governors west of the Euphrates River? Then they’ll help me travel safely through their territory.”
“Done,” said the king. “You may go.”
“Just one thing more?” dared Nehemiah. “You said that last time,” grumbled the king.
“May I also have a letter to the caretaker of the royal park? I want him to give me logs to use for the fort and city wall and a house.”
“Granted,” barked the king. “Have a good trip!”
The king even ordered army officers and horsemen to travel with Nehemiah to keep him safe. After months of prayer, Nehemiah was ready to tackle the biggest job of his life.
Can you remember a time when you did something that needed to be done . . . without being asked?
Both of you share an instance, if you can think of one. Initiative means jumping on board and getting ahead of the game, like Nehemiah. He didn’t wait for someone to ask him to go. He kept his eyes open for an opportunity and asked God for help and wisdom. You may not see a city wall to be rebuilt, but there are lots of ways you can take action in your life. For example, there might be a kid at school who needs a friend, folded laundry that needs to be put away, or the dog’s water dish is empty. Share with each other some things you see that need to be done. Then pray together. Ask God to help you follow through this week to take initiative in at least one new thing.
Initiative, Week 2
Nehemiah Plans To Rebuild The Wall
Don't wait for someone else to do what needs to be done.
Nehemiah tugged his cloak more tightly about him as the group of horsemen plodded across the rough ground. It seemed as though they’d been traveling for years instead of months on the long journey from Babylon to Jerusalem.
Though Jerusalem was the home of Nehemiah’s family, he’d never actually seen the city. The Israelites had been taken captive over a century before. Though some had been allowed to return and rebuild the Temple, Nehemiah knew his hometown was in rough shape. He had even gained permission from King Artaxerxes to travel to Jerusalem and rebuild the walls. And at last, he was nearing the home he’d never seen.
“There it is!” he cried out.
In the distance, they could see rough piles of rock and stone. One of the men traveling with Nehemiah raised an eyebrow. We’ll call him Jake.
“You call that a city?” Jake wondered.
“Just needs a little work,” Nehemiah assured him.
Night was falling as they finally reached the broken gates. It was too late to examine the damage to the city walls.
“Better to check everything out in daylight, anyway,” Jake pointed out.
“No, my friend,” said Nehemiah. “I don’t want our people here to see what I’m planning until I discover how bad the wall really is.”
“Aha!” said Jake. “I see what you’re doing.”
“What am I doing?”
“You’re giving yourself a chance to back out of this whole wall-building gig.”
“No! I’m not. I don’t want people telling me it can’t be done,” explained Nehemiah.
Jake looked up at the charred beams and scattered stones that had once been a broad, high city gate.
“It can’t be done,” he said.
“We’ll circle the city at night,” Nehemiah decided. “Soon. After we’ve had a rest.”
Inside the ruined walls, the men found more devastation. While the rebuilt Temple stood high on the ridge, streets and houses were in shambles. Firelight flickered from a few scattered homes that had been repaired.
“Where’s the Welcoming Committee?” grumbled Jake.
Nobody responded—except a scruffy, knobby-kneed donkey who wandered up to chew on Nehemiah’s saddlebag.
“I think this little fellow’s it,” said Nehemiah.
Over the next few days, Nehemiah greeted the priests and officials living in Jerusalem. But he didn’t tell them why he’d really come. At night on the third day, he gathered Jake and a few other friends to check out the wall.
“You wanna ride the donkey?” Jake offered.
“It’s probably more sure-footed than I am,” said Nehemiah. “So . . . sure.”
The small group snuck out through the nearly destroyed Valley Gate in Jerusalem’s western wall.
“What wall?” asked Jake. “All I see is rubble.”
By moonlight, the men picked their way over small stones and around huge boulders that had once been part of the wall.
Nehemiah pointed. “That’s the Jackal Well ahead. And there . . . the wall starts to curve back north at the Dung Gate.”
The men followed the remains of the wall around the southern end of the city and doubled back north. Nehemiah’s heart sank as moonlight outlined the jagged mounds of charred rock just ahead.
“That must be the Fountain Gate,” he said.
“Can you still call it a gate if you can’t actually get through?” wondered Jake.
The donkey balked and brayed. “Let’s go around, little fellow,” prompted Nehemiah, but the donkey still refused.
“If the donkey can’t make it through, I don’t think any of us can,” Jake pointed out.
Finally, Nehemiah turned back to return the way they had come. He stared at the jagged wall rising to their right—more gaps and holes than actual wall.
“The wall is so long,” he said. “And thick! And tall! Taller than several of you standing on each others’ shoulders!”
“Haha,” laughed Jake. “You actually thought you could rebuild it!”
“I still do,” said Nehemiah. “With God’s help.”
“My friend,” said Jake, “this is a fantastic job . . . for someone else.”
“I’ll tell everyone our plan tomorrow,” said Nehemiah. “Let the officials know.”
“What, you’re serious?” asked Jake in disbelief. “No!”
Nehemiah must have known the job was nearly impossible. But the next day, he shared his plan with the priests and nobles and officials who gathered before him.
“You can see the trouble we’re in,” he told them. “Jerusalem has been destroyed. Fire has burned up its gates. Come on. Let’s rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. [If we have walls,] then people won’t be ashamed anymore.”
The people were surprised and amazed, but Nehemiah didn’t give them a chance to doubt. “God is gracious,” he assured them. “He’s already helped by giving me favor with King Artaxerxes. We have his permission, and we can even use trees from the royal park for beams! The God of heaven will give us success!”
The people cheered, excited to begin. Nehemiah grinned as he gathered several of the officials to start planning. The job was big—but Nehemiah knew that God had chosen him for the work and would give him the strength to carry through.
You see a kid sitting alone at a lunch table. Do you think, “Hey, someone should sit with him”?
Or . . . do you take your lunch and go sit beside him? It’s really easy to see something that needs to be done and assume that someone else will take care of it. But if everyone thought that way—nothing would get done! It’s up to you to take initiative instead of waiting for someone else. Brainstorm some things you’ve seen that need to be done that your family could do together. Maybe it’s inviting a new family in the neighborhood for dinner, or cleaning up the trash in an empty lot. Then . . . don’t wait for someone else to do it. Instead, plan a time this week for your family to jump into action. Pray together and ask God to help you follow through.
Initiative, Week 3
Nehemiah Helps The Poor
Don't wait for someone else to help people in need.
Nehemiah grinned as he stared up at the wall of Jerusalem, where men and women lifted heavy stones into place.
He called out to one of the workers, who was actually a priest, not a stone mason. “Well done! It’s starting to look like a wall instead of a heap of rubble!”
The entire city had been destroyed many years before, but some of the captive Israelites had been allowed to return and rebuild God’s Temple. Now, Nehemiah had traveled from Babylon to oversee the reconstruction of the city walls and gates.
Nehemiah might have examined the work with a friend we’ll call Jake. “Just look at them,” Nehemiah pointed out. “Priests, goldsmiths, scholars. I think there’s even a perfume maker. And they’re actually building this wall!”
“Yeah, well it ain’t done yet,” grumbled Jake.
“Isn’t done,” pointed out Nehemiah.
“That’s what I said. You ain’t listening.”
As Nehemiah and Jake clambered over rubble to reach the next section of the wall, a small group of men and women in ragged robes approached.
“Nehemiah! Please help us!” cried one of the men.
“Help? What’s wrong?” asked Nehemiah.
One of the women tried to calm the crying toddler she carried on her hip. “There are so many of us here now, but not enough grain,” she told him. “We’ve hardly got enough to stay alive.”
Another man stepped forward. He was so thin his robe hung on him like he was a clothes hanger. “We’ve been forced to sell everything to our friends and neighbors,” he said. “Our fields, vineyards . . . even our homes. And we’re still starving.”
Nehemiah listened intently, his heart breaking for these people as they pleaded for something to change.
“The king’s taxes are so high, we had to borrow money from our relatives.”
“We even had to sell our children to work for them! We had no choice.”
“What does some wall matter when we’re fighting to survive?”
As Nehemiah studied the desperate faces of the men and women before him, he felt hot anger rising in his throat. These people were hurting because their own relatives and friends were using their troubles to make money.
“Don’t worry,” Nehemiah assured them. “I’m going to do something about this!”
As Nehemiah continued along the wall, Jake shook his head. “This ain’t good!” he exclaimed.
“No, it ain’t,” agreed Nehemiah. “I mean—isn’t.”
Nehemiah couldn’t get the haunted faces of the men and women and children out of his mind. Later that day, he spotted a group of officials laughing and joking as they shared a whole roasted sheep for dinner.
“Hey, what do you get if you cross an angry sheep and a moody cow?” joked one official.
“A messy barn?” laughed a second man.
“An animal in a baaaaaaaad moooood!” said the first man. They all laughed, but quickly stopped as Nehemiah marched right up to them, his face grim.
“I need to see all the nobles and officials right now!” he announced.
“Make it happen!”
“Okay, okay. You don’t need to have a cow,” mumbled the first official.
When all the nobles and officials had gathered, Nehemiah faced them down. “Our Jewish brothers and sisters were captives in other nations and we did everything we could to bring them home,” he reminded them. “But now you’re doing the same thing! You’re charging interest and selling them as slaves!”
“And it ain’t right!” agreed Jake. “Isn’t,” corrected the first official.
“What it is,” pointed out Nehemiah, “is wrong. You’re not showing that you respect God at all! What you’re doing will make our enemies say bad things about us. I’m lending money and grain, and I’m not charging a bit of interest. And you must give back the fields and vineyards and homes you’ve taken.”
There was silence for a long moment as the nobles and rulers began to realize what they’d done to their own people.
“Okay, okay,” they said at last. “We’ll give it back. . . . We’ll do exactly as you say.”
“Now ain’t that great?” Jake grinned. “It sure is,” said Nehemiah.
The Jewish leaders followed through on everything they had promised. Nehemiah himself had the right to take taxes from the people, just like the governors before him had done. But instead he put the needs of others ahead of his own and chose not to take any taxes or land for himself. Once everyone had what they needed to live, Nehemiah was able to continue his work on the wall.
What does it look like when someone needs help?
Take a few minutes and share with each other. There are so many different ways the people around you need help. Some may have physical needs, like needing food to eat, or help to get around after breaking a leg. Others might be sad or lonely and need encouragement or a friend. Together, brainstorm a list of people you know or know about who need help in some way. Then choose at least one person to help this week—even if it’s as simple as a smile and a hug. Pray for each other, that God will give you eyes to see the needs around you and help you do something about them.
Initiative, Week 4
Nehemiah and Sanballat
Nehemiah 2:19-20, 4, 6
Stay focused on what needs to be done.
When Nehemiah traveled to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls, the Jewish people were excited to get started. Though few of them were trained builders, they set to work with enthusiasm.
Their enemies from the surrounding lands, however, were not so thrilled. Sanballat, a Horonite, and Tobiah, an official from Ammon, skulked up to the huge piles of rubble around the ruined gates to see what was going on.
“Aww . . . look at the itty bitty Israelites working on their wittle wall,” lisped Sanballat.
“Like a pack of fleas trying to be Hercules,” quipped Tobiah.
The two men called up to Nehemiah, who was shifting a heavy stone. “What do you think you’re doing?” demanded Sanballat.
“Yeah. You got a thing against the king?” added Tobiah.
“The God of heaven will give us success,” declared Nehemiah. “We serve Him.”
Nehemiah encouraged the Israelites to ignore the taunts of their enemies. Instead, he focused on dividing up the work between families. Priests and goldsmiths, officials and merchants—everyone set aside their own work and put all their energy into repairing the walls and gates.
“All together now,” cried Nehemiah. “One, two, three . . . heave!” More huge stones were shifted into place, and day by day, the work progressed.
Sanballat and Tobiah snuck up once again to survey the wall. They were quick to tell their friends all about it.
“What are those Jews trying to do?” grumbled Sanballat. “The stones from their wall are piled up like the town dump.”
“If they think that’s a town, then I’m a clown.
Who can take ’em down?” muttered Tobiah.
“It’s like they think they can make it all new again!” exclaimed Sanballat.
“Their wall is so shaky a little fox could make it . . . break-y!” crowed Tobiah.
The words of Sanballat and Tobiah spread quickly through the Israelite grapevine. Nehemiah heard what they were saying and called out to God. “Please listen to our prayer. Some people hate us. They’re saying bad things about us. . . . Don’t hide your eyes from their guilt.”
Nehemiah and the Israelites worked with all their heart. Soon, the wall neared half its height.
Sanballat neared boiling point when he heard the news. “Halfway there?!” he thundered.
“When they’ve filled the gaps, it won’t collapse!” moaned Tobiah.
Sanballat paced the room. “If they finish the wall, they’ll be a strong nation. A forceful enemy.”
“If we push them around, they’ll just gain ground!” agreed Tobiah.
“We’ve got to do something,” Sanballat decided.
“Let’s get ’em back and plan an attack!” Tobiah gloated.
“They won’t even know what hit them!” said Sanballat.
The men and women working on the wall were alarmed when they heard the rumors. “We’re so tired. And our enemies could sneak up and get us any time!” they worried.
“Stay strong!” Nehemiah told them. “Don’t be afraid.”
Nehemiah stationed men armed with swords and arrows along the lowest part of
the wall. “Remember the Lord! He is great and powerful. So fight for your families.” “Um . . . if we spend all our time on the lookout,” wondered one of the workers, “how do we actually, you know . . . build?”
“Half of you stand guard, half of you work,” said Nehemiah. “Hold a sword in one hand and lift stones with the other!”
Nehemiah and the Israelites continued their work, beginning at the first sign of sunrise and working through the entire day until at last the stars appeared. Within weeks, all the gaps in the wall had been repaired!
When Sanballat and Tobiah prowled around the city under cover of darkness, they saw that only the damaged gates still gaped wide.
“That blasted Nehemiah! Nothing stops him!” growled Sanballat.
“Let’s get him down
and out of town!”
We’ll say we want to chat,
but then we’ll knock him flat!”
Sanballat and Tobiah sent a messenger to Nehemiah. “They say, ‘Come. Let’s talk with one another. Let’s meet in one of the villages on the plain of Ono,’” explained the messenger.
“Well you can give them this message for me,” replied Nehemiah: “‘I’m working on a huge project. . . . Why should the work stop while I leave it? Why should I go down and talk with you?’”
Five times Sanballat sent messages to Nehemiah filled with threats and lies.
“They just want to scare us! Don’t stop now!” Nehemiah encouraged the people. Then he cried out, “God, make my hands stronger.”
Sanballat and Tobiah were growing desperate. “All the people trust Nehemiah. Our last hope is to take him down some other way,” said Sanballat.
“Let’s make him lose his cool,
so he’ll look just like a fool,”
The two men hired a trickster to frighten Nehemiah into running away and looking weak. “Nehemiah,” shouted the sneak. “Men are coming at night to kill you! Run! Hide! Get outta here!”
“Should a man like me run away?” asked Nehemiah. “No! I won’t go.”
Nehemiah stayed put. And so did the other Israelites. They continued to work day and night until the entire wall and all its gates were finished . . . in just 52 days!
Sanballat and Tobiah stared up at the imposing, solid walls of Jerusalem in disbelief.
“They’ve won. Nehemiah just. Won’t. Quit,” groaned Sanballat.
“You’d think he’d crack.
Or get off track.
Or maybe step on a tack
and get out of whack,”
“Hmph. Must be that god of theirs,” admitted Sanballat.
Nehemiah had seen the work to be done, and refused to allow even threats to distract him. After more than 100 years, Jerusalem and the Israelites were once again protected from their enemies.
What are some things that distract you?
Ask the other person if you need help making a list! There are so many ways we can get off track from doing what needs to be done, even if our distractions are good things. Think of one thing each of you needs to take initiative and do. Now—list for each other some things you think might distract the other person and stop them from finishing. Pray for each other, asking God to help you to focus so you can finish the work that He calls you to do.
Initiative, Week 5
The Wall Is Rebuilt
Nehemiah 3-4, 6:15-16, 8:1-17
Look for ways to celebrate what God has done.
Nehemiah led his brother Hanani and a friend we’ll call Jake around the city walls of Jerusalem.
“Look how high our people have raised this wall!” he marveled.
Hanani stared up at the towering stones in amazement. “When I rode up to Jerusalem on my last trip, this was all just a heap of rubble. Gaps everywhere. Gates completely burned up and destroyed.”
Jake grinned and patted the neck of the donkey he rode. “Yeah, this little fellow couldn’t even get through!” he exclaimed. “Sanballat and Tobiah, they laughed at you for even thinking you could do this.”
“Well, I didn’t build the wall alone,” Nehemiah pointed out. “We did it. With God’s help. He’s the One who’s given us success.”
“Remember Tobiah said a fox could knock it down?” Jake crowed. “I’d like to know what a fox would say about our wall now!”
“It’s clear that God has been fighting for you, brother,” said Hanani.
“He made my hands strong,” Nehemiah told them. “He’s the reason we finished the whole thing in just 52 days!”
Jake grinned. “Sanballat and Tobiah and all of them . . . shaking in their sandals, I bet!”
“They’d be fools to attack Jerusalem now,” agreed Hanani.
Nehemiah slowed down and smiled at his brother. “I want to make sure they don’t. That’s why I’m putting you in charge of the city!”
“Me?” Hanani asked in surprise.
“If you hadn’t brought me news of the ruined walls while I was in Babylon, I never would have come to Jerusalem in the first place!”
Nehemiah pointed out, as the three men rounded a curve in the wall and saw the gate ahead. “Now that we have a safe place,” he added, “we’ll honor God by reading His law.”
A short time later, Nehemiah called all the people together. Men and women and children gathered near the Water Gate at sunrise to hear the prophet Ezra read from God’s Word.
“The Lord is the great God!” he cried out. “Amen! Amen!” responded the people.
Everyone bowed down, faces to the ground as they praised God for all He had done for them. Ezra read God’s Word all the way until lunchtime, and the Levites taught the people what God’s laws meant.
The people were troubled. “We haven’t followed God’s rules,” they said. “We haven’t done a good job of loving God and loving others!”
Mothers and fathers, boys and girls began to weep as they realized how far from God they had wandered. But the Levites encouraged them, “This day is set apart to honor the Lord your God. So don’t weep. Don’t be sad.”
Nehemiah called out over the crowd, “Go and enjoy some good food and sweet drinks. Send some of it to people who don’t have any. This day is holy to our Lord. So don’t be sad. The joy of the Lord makes you strong!”
Tears turned to laughter as the people learned that it was time to celebrate one of God’s feasts—the Feast of Booths!
“The Feast of Booths. It’s a way to remember how God took care of our people in the wilderness,” explained Nehemiah, “after He led them out of slavery in Egypt. Everyone lived in tents and booths.”
“I wanna make a booth!” cried a young boy near the front of the crowd.
“We need to go out and collect olive branches and build shelters to live in during the feast,” Nehemiah told the crowd.
So all the people went out into the hill country. They cut branches from olive and myrtle and palm trees, and brought them back into the city. There, they built shelters everywhere—on rooftops and before the gates and even in the courtyards around God’s Temple. Everyone lived in the shelters for an entire week while they celebrated what God had done for them.
Each day, Ezra read more of God’s laws to them. And the people were filled with joy as they began to understand all that God had planned for them.
Where have you seen God at work in your life lately?
Together, come up with a list. It may be anything from healing you of a stomach bug to helping you adjust to a brand new school. Now, brainstorm ways that you could celebrate these things. Pick one thing to celebrate together this week, whether it’s with a five-minute dance party or a trip for ice cream. Pray together and thank God for all the ways He is at work in your lives. Ask Him to give you the eyes to see everything He does for you.