I didn’t see the pile of tissues until it was too late. An entire box, extracted one by one. What in the world? “Lydia, why did you take all of the tissues out of the box?” Her pre-school logic was sound. “I was playing family, GiGi. All my childrens was sick!”
This sweet exchange occurred as I took up another study of Nehemiah, this time with RevWell. [Five minutes you won’t regret: read chapter one.] Heartbroken by bad news of his family, Nehemiah might have piled tissues sky-high.
God’s childrens was in big trouble.
Nehemiah lived posh in the Persian palace. Among the king’s closest confidantes, he was set for life. Until the day he inquired of countrymen, recently returned from Judah, hundreds of miles distant. “How are things in Jerusalem?”
This wasn’t just passing interest. Nehemiah’s heart was deeply aligned with people he’d never met and a homeland he’d never seen. His earnest inquiry primed the pump on a providential assignment.
But first, he’d suffer devastating news.
And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.” Nehemiah 1:3
Long after the Israelites’ release from captivity, they were in bondage of their own making. They could not rest, under constant threat of attack. They suffered shame, derided by their enemies. They failed to thrive in the promised land.
Nehemiah was shocked. His knees buckled. He fell before the Lord. He prayed and fasted. He grieved and wept. For months, he suffered. And he repented — for himself and his people.
I have sinned.
My family has sinned.
We have acted corruptly.
We have not kept your commands.
Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a steadfast spirit within me. Psalm 51:10
In taking responsibility for problems he didn’t create, Nehemiah reveals a right heart and steadfast spirit. His example challenges me. God’s people are my people, my family. Across town. Across the nation. Around the world.
Lord, have mercy. Your childrens are in trouble.
Divisiveness. Cynicism. Distrust. Isolation. Closed doors. Hardened hearts. Compromised communities. Walls of faith in disrepair.
Last week, headlines relayed the scandalous demise of a prominent faith leader. I’d eagerly sought his teachings. I’d loved him as a brother. His post-mortem exposure was a shock. Repercussions ripple around the world.
I might be inclined to shake my head. Point a finger. Turn away in disgust. Distance myself. Nehemiah calls me to own it.
I have sinned.
My family has sinned.
Humility was Nehemiah’s superpower. In his weakness, God was strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). Ironically, I can imagine Nehemiah truly believed “cup bearer” the apex of his career. In the face of scandal, however, his deepest longing was laid bare. His broken and contrite heart proved fertile soil for a seed of vision.
Nehemiah’s story illustrates how God will work in us before He will work through us.
Nehemiah’s story resonates deeply. I once believed I’d hit my full stride, too. Within a few breaths, my career vanished. Within a few weeks, most lingering hopes for our future quite literally went up in flames. When the smoke finally cleared, it seemed that our lives lay in ruin.
But for God. He delights in creating beauty from ashes (Isaiah 61:3).
I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. … Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. … The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore. Psalm 121
Studying Nehemiah seems different this time around. I’m surprised to discover why: I’m different, too. God is so faithful. Whatever was good in my vocation fades by comparison to the better and best of my present and future. I’m so grateful for this new season as I rise into my calling.
I’m relieved to see burdens of self-reliance, self-confidence, and self-serving success give way to reliance on the Spirit, courage in Christ, and clarity in my calling. In this season of renewal, a small, hopeful seed germinates. I don’t know what it will grow to be. I only know it will be good (Jeremiah 29:11-14). God will continue the good work He’s started in me — and you (Philippians 1:6).
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Psalm 16:11
Oh, that my story will speak of a steadfast spirit like Nehemiah’s! Will you join me in journeying on with the servant-leader? He has much to teach us, friend. Chapter one is the place to begin!