Read His Words Before Ours!
Life seemed to be going well for Nehemiah. As cupbearer to the Persian king, he was in a well-paid and influential position. He was highly respected, trusted enough to be privy to the king’s most important conversations, and even responsible for the king’s life. For a Jew in exile, his success was remarkable.
Yet when his brother arrives with news from Jerusalem, Nehemiah’s heart breaks.
After years of displacement, the Jewish people have finally been freed from captivity and permitted to return home, but all is not going well. Although the people are back in their land, the city walls remain in ruins and the gates have been burned to the ground. They are “in great trouble and disgrace.” (Nehemiah 1:3)
Presumably, Nehemiah’s success in Susa had led him to remain there, rather than choosing to return to Jerusalem, but the impact of his brother’s words is profound, revealing the concern Nehemiah still has for his homeland and people.
“When I heard these words, I sat down and wept. I mourned for a number of days, fasting and praying before the God of the heavens.” (Nehemiah 1:4)
His prayer is passionate and heartfelt, appealing to God’s unfailing love and pleading for restoration.
Nehemiah’s compassion for the Jewish people and his grief over their situation also prompt him to act, and he asks God to grant him the king’s favour.
It is not until five months later that his opportunity comes, but it is clear the situation in Jerusalem has remained on his mind and in his heart. On this particular day, the depth of his sorrow becomes evident to the king, and as Nehemiah begins to explain the situation and request the king’s help, he demonstrates he has also thought through the details. He has a plan to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and he knows exactly what he will need from the king to turn his vision into reality.
It is a costly plan, one which means leaving the luxury of the palace to go on a long and arduous journey. It will involve effort and sacrifice.
Yet there seems to be no doubt in Nehemiah’s mind his passion and calling have come from God, and he knows his plan will only succeed by God’s grace. His compassion for the Jewish people and his desire for restoration mean he is willing to follow wherever God leads.
What about you? Is there a situation where you feel sorrow and compassion? A longing for justice or restoration?
Often, that’s a sign God is moving.
For me, one of those areas of compassion is women who have experienced childhood sexual abuse. It breaks my heart to see the wounds inflicted on so many, and I long to point them to hope in Jesus and to see restoration. This passion has built over the years, even when I had no idea what to do with it. As with Nehemiah, it has involved seeking God, praying about each step, and waiting for the right moment.
One day, as I listened to the parable of the Good Samaritan, the familiar story struck me in a fresh way. Just like the Samaritan, I was moved by compassion to take action, to do what I could to help the bruised and the broken, to be willing to inconvenience myself to help them to a place of healing. I knew I had to find a way.
Eventually, I completed a mentor training course with Journey to Heal Ministries and launched the programme in my church. Like Nehemiah before the king, I was terrified. It is difficult to raise a topic no one wants to talk about yet, I couldn’t let go of the call to “speak up for those who have no voice.” (Proverbs 31:8)
And like Nehemiah, I experienced God’s favour. I was able to begin mentoring someone straight away and I witnessed God’s healing power. Others came forward to offer help and support in various ways, and I saw God at work in ways I would never have imagined . . .
. . . And then COVID . . .
As I write, it has been six months since lockdown restrictions paused our work, and it may be several more months before it can resume.
In some ways, it’s comforting to recognise Nehemiah faced challenges, too. In his case, the difficulties came not from a global pandemic, but from people who opposed the rebuilding. As soon as the work began, so did the mocking and reviling, and it continued throughout the rebuilding process.
Yet Nehemiah persevered. Despite facing ridicule, mocking, and even death threats, he was determined to keep looking to God and he encouraged the people to do the same. (Nehemiah 4:14)
He kept taking the next small step of obedience and,
one brick at a time, the wall was built.
What a day that must have been when, after 52 days of hard work (not to mention the months of prayer and preparation), the wall was finally finished!
Following God brings no guarantee of an easy life or a straightforward path, but Nehemiah’s story encourages us to keep seeking God for the next step, to follow where He leads, and to trust He will bring to completion the work He has begun.
Embracing God’s fullness in our lives is rooted in scripture and memorizing His word is vital to our continued growth and depth with Jesus. Tap and hold from your mobile device to download this week’s verse and make it your phone’s lockscreen!