I. Love. Lists.
I live by lists. In fact, I take so much joy in crossing things off a list that if I do something that’s not on my list, I’ll write it on there just for the sheer pleasure of crossing it off. It’s encouraging to me, then, when I look to Scripture and see other list-makers (maybe there’s a place for us in the kingdom of God, too).
One list-maker who comes to mind is Nehemiah. If you’ll remember the context of the book, Nehemiah was one of the children of Israel in exile; he had risen to prominence in the foreign kingdom of Artaxerxes. As the cupbearer to the king, Nehemiah was a trusted associate charged with tasting the king’s food and drink before he did in order to prevent assassination. The life of the king, in a very literal sense, rested in Nehemiah’s hands day in and day out. And yet this man was troubled:
“During the month of Chislev in the twentieth year, when I was in the fortress city of Susa, Hanani, one of my brothers arrived with men from Judah, and I questioned them about Jerusalem and the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile. They said to me, ‘The remnant in the province, who survived the exile, are in great trouble and disgrace. Jerusalem’s wall has been broken down, and its gates have been burned down'” (Nehemiah 1:1-3).
It wasn’t just the walls; it was what they represented. Without the walls, the city could not thrive in safety. Without the walls, the return to the land of the exiles would never be complete. Nehemiah was burdened, and so he began to pray. His prayer, recorded in Nehemiah 1, was a humble plea. In it, Nehemiah remembered not only the love and faithfulness of God, but the infidelity of His people. Nehemiah acknowledged the just judgment that had been leveled against the people, and yet he longed for an opportunity to do something. To make a difference. For the walls to be rebuilt.
Nehemiah prayed. He also made a list.
We know he made a list because when the king asked him why he was troubled in chapter 2, Nehemiah responded immediately. He didn’t brush off his sadness; instead, he provided a well articulated answer as to what was burdening his heart. But then, when the king dug further into Nehemiah’s troubles, the cupbearer had a detailed list of exactly what he would need. He would need letters of commendation, timber, and a specific grant of leave from his post as cupbearer.
The point is Nehemiah’s list was more than an exercise in planning; it was an exercise of faith.
Nehemiah prayed, and he expected God to move and work and answer. We know he did because he made the list. And this list of Nehemiah makes this list-maker wonder whether I truly believe God to answer when I pray. This is the attitude of David in Psalm 5:3:
“At daybreak, Lord, You hear my voice; at daybreak I plead my case to You and watch expectantly.”
Nehemiah prayed, and he believed, and the expression of his belief was his list.
It’s a good reminder to us that we have a God who not only listens but also acts, in His time, and in His way. And it’s a good reminder that when we pray, we should also be making some lists of what comes next when God answers.