Today’s Faith Workout is adapted from a sermon one of our original founding team members, Jeff Schlenz, gave to his Church. It’s an endurance Faith Workout, so longer than usual, but worth it.
The Bible speaks to all of us because it is a message from God for all of us – it is as much for the simple man who has never seen an iPhone as it is for the programmer in Silicon Valley who is working on the next iPhone. It is for the desert nomad and the astronaut, the rice farmer and the executive, the father as well as his son. It is for the woman from the first century and for the woman of the next century, (should we still be around), because there is only one God and this is His one message to man.
We aren’t just reading a textbook or a novel; this is a book about God, and about you, and what’s going on between you and God. So hear the stories, grasp the details, but also ask – what does this have to do with me today.
Sometimes the answer is going to be immediately obvious – a very clear piece of instruction telling you “Do this” or “Don’t do that” or explaining something that you need to know. At other times it might be an example you ought to follow or avoid, or an illustration of the character of God. Sometimes it might just be a bunch of data that moves the storyline forward through history closer to the cross.
But always ask the question, what does this section of Scripture teach me about God and what does it teach me about me? Keep those kinds of questions in the back of your mind as you read your Bible and you’ll be amazed at how much this ancient book has to say to you.
With all of that in mind, let’s talk about Nehemiah, a man I think many of us will be able to relate to. He is a Jew, but he isn’t living in Israel, which we’ll explain in just a minute. Instead, he’s a servant to Artaxerxes, the king of the Persian Empire – if you want to think about it this way – Nehemiah is a GS employee in the federal government of his day. He’s living in the capital city, working in a government building, a long way away from the place he would call home. This is his story.
1. Nehemiah’s identity was as a Child of God.
1 The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah.
It came to pass in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year (of the reign of Artaxerxes – ca 445BC), as I was in Shushan the citadel,
2 that Hanani one of my brethren came with men from Judah;
and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped, who had survived the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem.
Nehemiah was a stranger in a foreign land. That said, he had this comfortable position in the government. He lived in the palace. He ate good food and wore nice clothes. You know, life wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t bad either.
And I think we could all understand if Nehemiah started to focus a little on himself, on his position, on his career, on getting promoted. We could understand if he got caught up in all the gossip, and rumors, and intrigue. In short, if he lost sight of what was going on outside the capital and the court.
There are plenty of people who just get caught up in the system – they move from position to position, from appointment to think-tank and back depending on who is in power at the time, they retire from a military position and move straight into a civilian position doing the same job. I’m not saying any of that is inherently wrong, all I’m saying is, it creates a temptation to live in this little world of our organization, or our profession, or our cause, and lose sight of what’s going on elsewhere.
But Nehemiah didn’t succumb to that temptation, he never lost sight of his roots so to speak. You see, it wasn’t just that he cared about people outside the capital; he also recognized that his primary identity was with those people outside the capital. He wasn’t a local. In spite of his position in the government, he recognized he was still a stranger in a strange land. He was a Jew and his heart was with the Jews.
Can I encourage you today that if you are a Christian, you are also a stranger in a strange land? This is not your home. No matter how comfortable you are here, no matter how far you have advanced here, no matter what position or rank or title you have achieved, this is not your primary identity.
God has given you a place and a title among the governments and organizations of men whether they be local, state, national or international, but there will be times when you will need to consciously remind yourself that you are a citizen of Heaven before you are a citizen of any country on earth.
And yet, by the same token, if you feel like you lack any real role or position or influence – remember that your status as a child of God is far more significant than anything you could ever attain on earth. There is both a Psalm (84:10) and a modern worship song based on that Psalm, that speak of the value of simply being a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord: “better is one day in [God’s] courts than a thousand elsewhere.”
So stay focused on the kingdom of God and your place in it even as you serve in the kingdoms of men. Don’t let the things of this earth keep you from what God may want to do. Nehemiah is about to receive news that will change everything – his position in the government is about to take a massive back seat to his position in God’s kingdom because although things are going great in the citadel where he’s serving the king, the same thing isn’t true back in Jerusalem, that city he still cares about.
2. Nehemiah had the Heart of God.
3 And they said to me, “The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire.”
4 So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.
That news hits Nehemiah like a ton of bricks. Now remember, there was no CNN, no Twitter, no Facebook, no SnapChat – there was no way to get instant news updates on what was going on a thousand miles away. But these men have just returned, they saw it with their own eyes. Jerusalem, the holy city, is still in a sad state.
It’s been 140 years and nothing has really been improved and with the walls broken down, it’s like the city is a house with all the doors and windows busted out. There’s no safety, no security, no sense of “home.”
God gripped his heart and burdened him for the city. He wept, he mourned, he fasted, and he prayed. Let me ask, has God ever given you that kind of a burden for a person, a people, a place, or a project?
I believe that He wants to. He wants us to have His heart. He wants us to be moved by the things that move Him. And that’s what’s happening here. Nehemiah is weeping over Jerusalem just like the prophets who foretold the fall of the city if it didn’t repent and turn to God long ago before it was captured. And like Jesus would a few centuries later. God has a heart for the city of Jerusalem, and it’s being reflected in Nehemiah. And because of that connection, that similarity of concern between God and Nehemiah, God is going to use this man to do something great in that city.
Brothers and sisters, this same God is after your heart this morning as well. I believe that He wants to show you things that will make you sit down and weep, and mourn, and fast and pray. God wants to show you people and places and projects where there is a desperate need for Him. He wants to equip you to meet those needs, not in your own strength, but in His. And God wants to use you to do something about those needs.
I absolutely guarantee you, there is someone or something or somewhere in need around you. And maybe God has allowed you to be the one to see it or hear about it because He wants to use you to do something. Just ask Him to open your eyes, and open your ears to hear the report. Be willing to let Him grab your attention and be willing to say yes to whatever He brings your way.
Take a moment to reflect and journal.
- What does this section of Scripture teach me about God and what does it teach me about me?
- Think about the place where you are. How does God want to use YOU to make a difference in the lives of people around you? Did He put you in your city, in your neighborhood, at your school or job or gym, to make a difference for Him at such a time as this?
- Spend some time praying over the answers to these questions. ““God help me see the world the way you see it. Help me feel the way You feel. Help me value the things You value. God, keep me from getting caught up with life here, and help me see how I can make an impact for you.”