In the summer of 2000, I was preparing to move to Northern Ireland and begin a new ministry there. It was a busy summer for me with my final weeks of youth ministry in Indiana, planning an auction to sell my possessions, and doing my farewell tour to family and friends. So when I was asked to consider speaking at a youth conference in Colorado the week before I moved to Ireland, I hesitated. I almost didn't go.
But I did.
And while there, I met this beautiful blonde woman. I married her three years later.
Some would say I was at the right place at the right time. I'd like to believe our meeting was more than coincidental; it was orchestrated!
Random or orchestrated? These two world views are deeply opposed to one another. Is the universe random, or is it orchestrated? Is everything just a string of coincidences, or is there some planning and order to life?
For the Christian, we see God as the Orchestrator of the Universe, the One who directs our path. So I wonder, was it just lucky Nehemiah was a Jew in exile who just happened to be cupbearer to King Artaxerxes? Or was Nehemiah called by God for such a time?
Nehemiah was God's guy who would secure safe passage to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city and its walls. And God's guy was not a builder or architect. He served wine to the king. I've often found myself serving in places I had no business being: living in Ireland as an American, Hoosier boy who gets the California girl, country boy teaching inner city high school without a teaching license, pastoring a church in the PNW with no experience in building projects. How did I get there?
Just like Nehemiah, I've often found myself positioned in places and wondered how I got there. Why was he going to rebuild Jerusalem? Nehemiah 2:1-10 helps us get some answers to that question.
1] Nehemiah's character was good. He had already earned the trust of the Babylonian king. You had to be trustworthy to serve as a cupbearer. After all, there were plenty of people who wanted the king dead. Death by poisoning was always an option, so the cupbearer had to be part of the king's circle of trust. Artaxerxes trusted Nehemiah, and that trust was earned by his character.
2] Nehemiah trusted God. He was terrified of Artaxerxes. He knew anyone who served the king was disposable, so it was his duty to put on his happy face and please the king at all times. Despite his fear, he trusted God and took a risk to give the king an honest answer to his question (2:2-4). Nehemiah put his life in God's hands at that moment, and God gave him the faith to move Nehemiah past his fears. If there's any journey with God worth traveling, it will require faith in God!
3] Nehemiah acted faithfully. He developed a strategy, set a timeline, planned ahead, secured permissions and protections, and went to Jerusalem. He did what he needed to do in order to be faithful to what God had called him to. If our faith doesn't move us into action, it is not faith we have but wishful thinking! Nehemiah wasn't a man of ideas but a man of action who took risks because he trusted God.
When I was in high school and was wrestling with this "calling" from God to pastor and preach, I masterfully disqualified myself. [I am still a master self-disqualifier and have to yield that to God's Spirit continually.] I remember hearing this quote which helped to reshape my understanding of "calling": 'God does not call the qualified; he qualifies the called."
God equips us for what he calls us to.
God does this.
So here's where I want to go with this great encounter Nehemiah had with Artaxerxes:
God is positioning you. You can't see that if you believe life is random. But if you believe God orchestrates and if you are following Jesus, then you must (MUST) believe that where God has planted you, God intends to use you. This fundamentally changes your life as you begin to see each day infused with God's purpose. I guarantee, the Holy Spirit is positioning you to carry out some aspect of the on-going work of Jesus. You are being called out of meaningless, purposeless meandering to purposeful living in Christ!
Even if all you know to do is serve drinks.