Submitted by David W. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church
“In 586 B.C. Jerusalem had fallen to the Babylonians. Besieged, attacked and burned, Jerusalem was left in ruins. … When the Persian Empire succeeded the Babylonians, the exiled Jews were allowed to return home to resettle their homeland. Nehemiah is one of the children of the exile and most likely grew up entirely in exile.”
Notice that Nehemiah’s questions about Jerusalem end up fundamentally disrupting his life. Do I want to know the truth about needy people, troubled situations, or other potentially “messy” situations, or do I try to limit the range of my concerns so that I can preserve a sense of personal tranquility?
Nehemiah’s seemingly innocent question ended up drastically changing his life. The answer to his question became something that consumed him and became the purpose for his life. But it all started with his question and his interest and concern about Jerusalem and the remnant that survived the exile. I think I have been growing in my capacity to want to know the truth about needy people, troubled situations, or other potentially “messy” situations as I have grown older over the years and hopefully a little more mature, a little more selfless, and a little more other-centered. Especially serving in college ministry, this is something that I am challenged with constantly. I do want to know the truth about needy people, troubled situations and other potentially messy situations, to try and help them, to do something about it, as God has called me to do. However, I do also recognize the temptations to limit the range of my concerns to that I can preserve a sense of personal tranquility. I do recognize the times where I know if I dig deeper or get more involved, it’s going to take up a lot of time, emotional energy, difficult conversations, and the like, and I hesitate. I start to analyze and see if I can estimate how long this might take and if I can work that around what I want to do, my agenda, and if I have enough “resources” to handle it. It becomes very calculating and cold, not loving and embracing of the person and the situation. I think I still do this at times, and I do need to continue to grow in sacrificing myself and embracing that person and situation to find out the truth and to involve myself, no matter what the cost.
Notice Nehemiah’s reaction to the news he received. What is my typical reaction when I am confronted with facts that cause me concern, or burden my heart?
Nehemiah’s reaction to the news he received was to sit down and weep. Bu it wasn’t just a momentary thing. It affected him for days, where he would mourn, fast and pray to God. It encompassed him completely. He could not do other things. My typical reaction when I am confronted with facts that cause me concern, or burden my heart, is one of two different possibilities. I either start to get anxious and want to be very active, to get to work and make a checklist of tasks, of things that need to get done, to try and address or solve whatever it is that is causing me concern or burden. Or, if nothing can be done directly about the situation that is causing me burden, I try to distract myself with being busy with other things, other tasks, so that I don’t have to think about it. I don’t often really let the facts sink in and stay with me, to ruminate and stew in me, to meditate, mourn, fast and pray about them. I can try to move on very quickly to the next thing, the next thing I need to take care of. This is an area that I need to grow in, to not just be a person who wants to always be active and just do things, but to connect my heart, my mind and my spirit with what I am doing, with what I am taking in, with the things that I hear about and cause concern and burden. I need to be more intentional about slowing down, reflecting, and connecting more with my emotional side, as that is something that I’m not very good at. I need to allow myself to mourn for what God would mourn about, to personally connect with and engage and tackle the issue not through action first, but through fasting and prayer as demonstrated by Nehemiah.
What are some notable elements of Nehemiah’s prayer?
Some notable elements of Nehemiah’s prayer include Nehemiah praising God for who He is, a great and awesome God who keeps His covenant of love with those who love Him and obey His commands, Nehemiah taking responsibility and confession not just for his own sin, but for the sins of the Israelites as a whole, himself and his father’s house, Nehemiah recalling the promises of God to Moses, and Nehemiah’s request of God to listen to his prayer and the prayer of His servants and for favor and success in his endeavors. Even though Nehemiah was so greatly affected by the sad news and the sad state of Jerusalem and his people, he is able to praise God for who He is. That is pretty amazing. He doesn’t let events or current circumstances color or change his view or understanding of God. Nehemiah also accepts responsibility for and repents on behalf of his people for all of their sins and their wickedness. That is definitely very notable, as it seems nowadays people have trouble accepting responsibility and repenting for their own sins, much less the sins of other people. Nehemiah knew God’s promises that He had made to Moses and claimed them for himself and this situation, and he depended on God for the current circumstance. In all of these things, Nehemiah demonstrates how to pray to God and some amazing attitudes on his part. I don’t think that my prayers always look like this, especially in the face of very large, disheartening, difficult situations. Often, my prayers just go straight to supplication, asking for help, asking for success from God. I don’t often praise God for who He is in difficult circumstances. I try to accept and repent for my own sins, but I don’t always take on the burden of others’ sins as my own. I hope that I can see and emulate Nehemiah’s prayer and just the intricacy and many levels of relating with God through prayer, instead of just focusing on one aspect and missing out on the rest.
Nehemiah refers to God as the great and awesome God. How can Nehemiah view God this way given what has happened to Jerusalem? Can I affirm that God is great and awesome regardless of the shifting fortunes of my life?
Nehemiah does refer to God as the great and awesome God. He can view God in this way given what has happened to Jerusalem because his view of God is not changed by circumstances, even if they are bad or difficult. He is aware of the rebelliousness, wickedness and sin of the Israelites before God, how they did not obey His decrees, commands and laws, and thus were bearing the consequences for their own actions and their own sins. But he knows God’s character, who God is, and faithfully clings to that. It is often hard for me to do the same, to affirm that God is great and awesome regardless of the shifting fortunes of my life. Especially when things are difficult and not going well, when I’m facing a lot of challenges, hardships or things not going my way, it’s hard for me to praise God for who He is. But mentally I know the truth, and I know that God is constant and faithful, and that my view of Him and how I relate to Him should not be so fickle or dependent upon circumstances, especially when the difficulties and challenges I am facing are not all that big in the grand scheme of things. I have been learning over the years to not be so easily swayed by circumstances and to be able to praise God even in the difficulties, but I think this is definitely an area that I can continue to grow in a lot, through prayer, reflection, recounting and remembering God’s faithfulness and His many blessings in my life that I don’t deserve, that I didn’t earn.