“As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven”
Imagine being away from your church for a while. Suppose you’ve been transferred by work to another city or state. It’s a church you love dearly and want to see prosper, because you know that it is strategically placed by God for Kingdom purposes. Then you ask a friend how the church is doing, and the answer is: “It’s in shambles. The building was destroyed by thieves, the leaders have all been arrested and the members have virtually nothing to do with each other anymore.” Devastating.
That’s Nehemiah’s situation in Nehemiah 1. The Jews have been mostly displaced. Foreign gods are promoted and worshiped among them. It’s a time of cultural decay for the Jews, as their homes and place of worship are on the brink, while at the same time the Persian Empire is rising with all manner of pomp and power. Rome and Greece are not far behind. The time for being ‘the people of God’ must have seemed like a distant memory. Everything unravelled for Israel. Not many of us will face that particular dilemma, but we can all certainly relate to Nehemiah’s sense of dread, fear, anger, isolation or doubt.
That’s what makes Nehemiah’s prayer so convicting. He is burdened with the conviction to pray earnestly and immediately. “As soon as I heard these things…” Do you sense the urgency in Nehemiah? Jerusalem became a city under siege, with no wall or gate for protection. A city without a wall is a fish in a barrel. No safety, no peace.
It’s Nehemiah’s sense of urgency and steadfastness that I want to my soul to lay hold of. I don’t know about you, but I tend toward vision-casting and long range strategic planning when I grow restless or concerned about something. Anything, really. Most especially the church. In the end, that’s because I feel certain that I can plot my way out of just about anything. It’s folly.
When Nehemiah was faced with enormous challenges, the kind too big for a man to meet on his own, he instinctively went to the Lord of Hosts in prayer. He confessed God’s faithfulness and steadfast love (1:5). He embraced the power and authority of God, and pleaded with Him to be attentive and graciously to give His ear. (1:6). He did so quickly, earnestly and continually (1:2). And he did so prophetically, interceding for the people (1:6-7). Nehemiah knew. He knew the hard reality that God will often withhold his blessings until the people repent and return ‘to the ancient paths’ of faith and selfless obedience, where promised rest is found (Jeremiah 6:16).
It’s the same with you. What is your biggest concern? How’s your marriage or your money? Maybe your cup runneth over in both. Or, then again, maybe you have neither. How about your career or children? Whatever weighs heaviest on your heart, you need to remember that God is bigger, His purposes are more far-reaching and His thoughts are above yours. Immediately go to Him in prayer, seek the tenderness of His sweet presence, and remember the ancient paths. As we do so as a church and on behalf of one another, Nehemiah-like, then we can expect God to prove Himself faithful and merciful, and the people of God will sing with joy. Will you be Nehemiah for this generation, that the church will be lit, as with fire? Let it begin with us. Let it begin with me. This is my prayer for our church.