Have you ever sat down at a restaurant and been asked by the server, “What would you like to order?” I remember the first few times I went to the Cheesecake Factory for dinner feeling completely overwhelmed! They have close to 200 menu items from salads to omelets to tacos to burgers to pizzas to pastas—you get the idea. If such a simple question like, “What do you want?” can become overwhelming at a dinner table, how much more complex does it become in life? At first glance it seems harmless enough, but it can take some people a lifetime to figure it out.
There's a great story in the Bible about a man named Nehemiah. Here's a quick history lesson to put Nehemiah’s passion in perspective:
- 586 BC, King Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusalem and took many of the Jewish survivors back to Babylon.
- Nearly fifty years later, a Jew named Zerubbabel led the first remnant back to Jerusalem to rebuild the city.
- The temple was rebuilt in 516 BC.
- The wall of Jerusalem was still in ruins by 445 BC, so Jerusalem was defenseless against her enemies.
That is when a Jewish cupbearer (enter Nehemiah), living a world away in Babylon, got a crazy idea. Nehemiah heard the news that the city had been destroyed and even though he had never been there himself, he was so distraught at the news that he wept, prayed and fasted. Then, in the second chapter of his biography we see these incredible five verses where the king asks him the very question we began with: “...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 fathers are buried so that I can rebuild it." (Nehemiah 2:3-5)
So, here's the deal, this king—King Artaxerxes—was the most powerful man in the known world. And, Nehemiah was a cupbearer—a servant—who seized that moment and communicated exactly what he wanted. What does this story have to do with you and me and what we want? Here are a couple of things we can observe:
People who know what they want push past fear.
“. . . I was very much afraid, but I said to the king . . .” — Nehemiah 2:2-3
The chances are high that Nehemiah had similar fears to what we face. Things like: What if this doesn't work out? What if I fail? What if they don't understand? What if I mess this up? What if I get replaced? It would have been so easy for Nehemiah to stay comfortable in his great job working closely with a powerful king, he probably had nice living quarters and good food and lifelong friends all around him. But, he was drawn to a greater and higher cause so he pushed the fear of the unknown away and told the king what he wanted.
The initial decision-making process can be what paralyzes people. A person feels like, if I get going somewhere and I'm wrong, I'll mess it up forever. Another person can be afraid of clarity because then it eliminates all other options. Whatever it is we're afraid of, if we can get even a glimpse of what we want for our future it will give us the motivation we need to push past the fear of the unknown.
"God is at His best when life is at its worst."
Sometimes, the best decisions are born under pressure. Great things can be born out of disaster, great opportunities can come out of hardships. If you've been in a struggle just remember that the best of things can come through the worst of times. In fact, God is at His best when life is at its worst.
People who know what they want experience favor from God.
“. . .And the king granted these requests, because the gracious hand of God was on me.” — Nehemiah 2:8 (NLT)
One of the biggest hindrances of seeing God move in our lives (in the form of His favor) is the lack of clarity we have for our own lives. Most of the time, God moves after we make a move. If you feel confused about your desires or future right now, please know that God is not the author of confusion.
Nehemiah prayed for favor before he even had an audience with the king (Nehemiah 1:11). He hoped that the king would feel something when he heard about the plight of the Jews in Jerusalem—it was a long shot, because the king was not known to be a compassionate man. Nehemiah knew that unless God intervened on the king's heart, there was no way in the world that King Artaxerxes would feel sympathetic toward Israel.
So, Nehemiah prayed for God to sway the heart of the king, and God did it! King Artaxerxes became a primary player in the reconstruction of the wall in Jerusalem.
"great opportunities can come out of hardships."
When I was growing up, what I wanted to “do” changed several times. At one point I wanted to be a doctor, then a nutritionist, a coach, a business owner, an athlete, and, then a pastor. Plans changed along the way, but looking back I can see a common thread—I always wanted to use my voice and any influence I had to help people. Even though I didn't know exactly what I wanted all the time, I figured out what I wanted in those seasons of my life and got moving in a positive direction.
We can accomplish all that God has for us! I want to encourage you to make some time to think about what you want for your life. Here are some questions to reflect on and get you started:
What do I want for my life in 5 years? In 10 years?
Who do I need to be to set myself on a pathway toward that vision of my future self?
What are some things I can do in the next 24 hours to start making different decisions that will influence me in the right direction?
Who do I need in my life to help coach me forward?
What do I want for this season of my life? How does it relate to what I want for my future self?
You can do this!