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Nehemiah’s Mind 7:What If


Issue 435

You may have noticed that forecasting the future is fiendishly difficult. Observe weather reports, economic indicators or political manifestos and compare them with actual outcomes, and the point is made.

Would you be able to have predicted, even five years ago, what you are doing now? Can you imagine even a few years down the line?

But predicting possible futures is not such a mystery. The discipline of asking “what if?” questions, opens up a mental map with numerous potential routes to definite or distinct destinations.

So we now travel back to the past where you can have a look into the style of Nehemiah’s predictive mind.

You have seen him spend four months in prayer, fasting, weeping, mourning and thinking. You have observed that he knew, if he looked sad in the company of his King, he would be noticed.

Now this has happened, his mind goes into overdrive. First, full of fear, he has predicted that if he displeases the King he could be in trouble. But he has also predicted that if he does not displease the King and gets his chance he’s been longing for, he could also be in trouble for not taking his opportunity.

If you’ve ever played sports you will know that, if you do the hours of background training, you can rise to an acute challenge. Hours of prayer made his mind quick enough to fire off a quick prayer then handle the conversation.

The content of the conversation you can read for yourself (see Bible Section). It is the style which concerns us because it lets us see how Nehemiah was thinking. Here are a few style suggestions.

Nehemiah had predicted that questions were safer than statements. So in reply to “why are you sad” he gently explains “why could I not be because…” How many times in the Gospels do you find Jesus using questions for teaching, handling difficult moments or provoking others to prayer?

Nehemiah had predicted that deep respect was better than demands. Nehemiah’s was the language of the humble servant to frame his replies. It takes a great deal of high self-esteem to have the confidence to adopt the spirit of a servant. When inside of you, you realize it doesn’t matter whether you are seen as significant or small, then you can have the confidence to adapt yourself to the higher purpose of achieving your aims.

Nehemiah had predicted that an appeal to the history of his fathers would resonate with a King steeped in the history of his own fathers. Part of Nehemiah’s predictive skill involved making sure he had understood the person to whom he was speaking. It may not have been extra research, but certainly some time of observation had helped Nehemiah bring out of his storehouse the right approach to this King.

Yet still he prayed.

The King’s response was the dream response of “what do you want?” Nehemiah would have hoped for this. Indeed he may have predicted that with the queen (or at least with the harem favourite) sitting next to the King, this was a good moment.

Either way Nehemiah’s predictive mind had prepared his answers and he lays out specific requests. Knowing what you want makes results much easier to measure and celebration much easier to arrange.

Here is a fine mind at work. The cupbearer had come empty to his King and gone away full. He had his letters, his supplies and his guards. He had a sabbatical and a mandate. His months of prayer had requisitioned for him a full tool-kit and a large team. The king had granted his requests.

Make no mistake, this was a highly skilled, well prepared deftly handled encounter. It illustrates the power of mental preparation and provides you with a model. How many activities struggle because some possible outcomes had not been considered? Nehemiah provokes you to do into deeper preparation, whatever your job.

But before you clap your hands and let Nehemiah take his bow, look one more time into his mind. He had been down every possible road and for sure most scenarios would end in disaster. Most of his thought processes would have led him to predict he would lose his job, his head, his position or fail before he had even started. Anyone with half Nehemiah’s brain could see that the likelihood of a cupbearer being allowed to embark on this project was very small. Nehemiah had predicted one more thing.

If God’s gracious hand was upon him, it would happen and he would not forget it.

It was, it did, and he didn’t.

Bible Section

Nehemiaih Chapter 2:1-8

2 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, 2 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, 3 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? ”

4 The king said to me, “What is it you want?”

Then I prayed to the God of heaven, 5 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.”

6 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.

7 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? 8 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.

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Series: Nehemiah's Mind
Module: 7
Season: -
Daily Guide: No

Tags: favour, opportunity, prediction, preparation, respect, strategy, wisdom

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Geoff Shattock

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