At the beginning of Chapter 2, there is an interesting scenario. The King seems interested in the welfare of his cupbearer, Nehemiah; but clearly Nehemiah is nervous and afraid. We don't know him well at this point; but later we learn that Nehemiah is not easily taken off his game. If Nehemiah was afraid, I am sure there was history to substantiate negative responses toward requests. Nehemiah had prayed and clearly felt that he should bring the King into the matter of Jerusalem's devastation and request his support.
We are reading the story knowing the end from the beginning, but I think back to the times when God in response to my prayers has led me to do things that I was uncomfortable with (like making peace with an instigator in my life or asking for forgiveness when I was only 1/2 of the conflict or letting go of a particular means of security in favor of obedience) I am sympathetic to Nehemiah's position.
But look how God began moving before him... 1. He didn't introduce the matter, the King asked about his sad countenance, 2. the King asked him what he wanted - Nehemiah didn't have to ask.
Nehemiah didn't answer how the King could help without lifting up a quick prayer while he was there and about to speak. Nehemiah's reliance on prayer is amazing. He didn't do anything without putting the issue before the Lord and asking for help.
After praying he asks for some time off to go to Jerusalem to help rebuild. After getting a positive response he then asks for a little more - safe passage through all the nations he needs to pass throug and a little lumber for the job. I am impressed that God worked on Artaxeres heart even before the request...and gives even more than asked. Nehemiah got army officers and calvary to accompany him.
At the very end of this section we find the opposition identified setting the stage for the conflict that Nehemiah has to stand against in the upcoming chapters.
Now, what are the applications for our lives? I think the clear application from this is that if we will seek God's leading and follow it, He will order our steps and give favor to us in our service. Nehemiah was a man of prayer and service.
To be selected as a servant for his work, we need to be knowledgeable of God's commands and be walking with him daily. We can't just neglect study and prayer and expect to be found useful. What am I doing to improve my walk with the Lord and do I give prayer the precidence it needs?
Another application we can take is that if the Lord calls us to a work, he may take us out of our comfort zone, but he will still go with us and empower us to complete the task if we will be faithful.
Finally, I think we need to be aware that if the Lord calls us to an assignment, it is very likely we will encounter opposition. That is not an indication to turn back but to press forward. The enemy does not like seeing the Lord be victorious and get glory. He will use the means at his disposal to thwart God's projects.
Nehemiah is already an inspiration for me. I hope you find him an encouragement to your soul too.