February 15, 2015
Sunday, 8:00 p.m.
Letter #370: Nehemiah and Me
Every time I read the book of Nehemiah, I am challenged by the great boldness and courage of its author and main character, who we are first introduced to as “the son of Hacaliah.” Relatively unknown and nondescript, Nehemiah was a Jewish captive in the employ of his captor, King Artaxerxes of Babylon.
As the king’s cupbearer, Nehemiah held a trusted position assuring the king wasn’t being poisoned and attending to his other small needs as well. Yet Nehemiah had the Spirit of God within him, giving him the confidence that God could use him for greater things. He eventually led a group that journeyed back to Jerusalem and rebuilt its walls while defending the project from enemy marauders.
These exploits make up the majority of his eponymous memories which chronicle everything from the hazards of the mission Nehemiah undertook to the triumph of restoring the dignity of his beloved city. But the true greatness of this man can be found within the first several verses of his book, which give us a glimpse of Nehemiah’s heart for his family, his love of God, and his passion to do anything God put in his heart.
Nehemiah’s heart for his family is seen by his closeness with his brother who has just returned from a depressing visit to the broken-down city of Jerusalem and its discouraged remaining occupants. Nehemiah knows that his brother’s eyes see as his own eyes see, so he asks for an honest update on their beloved homeland and the remnant of Jews who had recently returned home. Nehemiah understood that his family didn’t consist of just his brothers and parents, but anyone who placed their faith and trust in God as he did. The tragic news of his city being in disrepair and his fellow Jews being in trouble and disgrace lead Nehemiah to tears, sinking down and weeping.
Next, we see Nehemiah’s love of his God as he spends days on end fasting and talking to God while mourning for the people and city God loves. He pours his heart out to God, reminding Him of His love and faithfulness, and confessing the sins of his family and his own sins. Nehemiah honors God through humility and by remembering all of His goodness, despite the current conditions and discouraging circumstances.
And finally, in the very midst of crying out to God, while he is praying to the One he knows can do anything, we see Nehemiah’s passion to do anything that God puts on his heart. Near the end of Nehemiah’s recorded petition to God, when he recognized that God wants him to go to the king to ask for the king’s blessing upon an excursion back to the city of Jerusalem to repair its walls and gates, Nehemiah calmly accepts the task, humbly asking God to grant him favor with the king. He knew that simply asking the king for permission to leave could cost him his position as cupbearer and endanger his family. Requesting permission to strengthen and build up a formerly conquered city could cost Nehemiah his very life. So Nehemiah’s request for God to prepare the king’s heart was sincerely brought by a man who was well-familiar with court etiquette and the risks he was about to undertake for God. Yet Nehemiah knew he was not destined for small things. As a child of God, he was willing to take on even the most outrageous, never-been-done-before tasks in obedience to God’s promptings, and without clearly seeing the outcome. Passionate faith!
I cannot help but feel a stirring within my own soul as I reflect on such a well-lived life. Beside the common hopes that I could have had a similar response had I been in his place, I must accept the underlying challenge to be such a man today.
I can easily draw a comparison between my life and Nehemiah’s, being held against our will in a land far from our home. I admire his determination and fortitude that helped propel him into the good graces of leadership. My own situation is certainly improved or deteriorated based upon my attitude toward the correctional staff and leadership of the various institutions where I am housed. He, too, loved his family, and kept their needs before his own, a difficult task when selfishness is often perceived as a necessary ingredient for personal survival. These qualities seem easy enough for me.
What doesn’t come naturally is turning every problem, every difficulty, every pain, every need over to the capable hands of God. Nehemiah didn’t hesitate: his instant reaction to the sorrow and disappointment was to cry out to God and lean on His faithfulness. This is not a simple feat, especially when my God-given brain wants to jump in and try to figure out what can be done. That brain needs to subjugate itself to what my heart knows: That God knows far more than I ever will and is far more capable of handling problems than me. This should naturally cause me to cry out to God first.
Equally difficult is to accept the big responsibilities from God: to give much, say much, say little, do much, or do nothing. When God reveals a big responsibility, it’s easier to assure the job isn’t mine to do than to say, “God prepare the heart of the king to hear my request,” putting faith into action. But as a child of God, with the Spirit of the Living God within me, I am meant for big things, and having been faithful with little, the Word tells me to expect to be in charge of much.
And maybe the key to this open-hearted availability is to see as God sees, having the heart for others that He does. Or as the great Dr. Seuss once wrote, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” I’m trying to care enough to seek God’s big plan for me, and I’m willing to care enough to try to do whatever it is He wants me to do.