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Nehemiah for Today: 1 – Listen and Pray

July 8, 2017

I’ve been looking at the news again. I’ve also been looking around. There is so much that is good but there is definitely so much that is wrong, like the report that I heard last week that the residents in one in four care homes are being put at risk due to lack of trained staff on duty. I won’t go on, I don’t want to spread the gloom.

What I am going to do is invite you to join me on a journey with the Bible; with the rarely read Old Testament book of Nehemiah (First chapter copied below). Nehemiah’s story from thousands of years ago could have been written just for today. Nehemiah is a Jew in exile. His people have been defeated by the Babylonians and his home, Jerusalem, has been destroyed. He is now banished from home and living in Persia. That said, life isn’t bad for Nehemiah. He, along with other talented Jews, have been given important government jobs, and Nehemiah is cup-bearer to the king himself. Effectively he was a top civil servant. You’re probably wondering what on earth that has to do with today, but stay with me.

Like most of us, Nehemiah is comfortable and pretty well-off, while many of his countrymen (and women) are in trouble.

Over the next few weeks I will be looking at the first three chapters of Nehemiah’s story. This week it is chapter one that I’ve turned to. Nehemiah is in comfort but he hears that all is not so well for other Jews. He hears the rumours and he acts. He acts decisively, firstly by listening.

Yes, Nehemiah starts by listening. He took the time to really find out first hand what was happening. When he did, he found out about the suffering and disgrace of his people. When he heard this news he didn’t brush it all aside and move on. When Nehemiah heard this terrible news he let it into his heart and he wept. That has left me with questions.

How much to I care about the problems of my country?

Do I weep when I see someone homeless, or when I see drug deals happening?

I need to let the issues of the day into my heart and feel them as my God feels them.

Nehemiah continued to act decisively. Nehemiah knew that the problems he was facing were way beyond his power. So he prayed. He prayed deeply. He started by facing the problem head on. He then repents. He repents for his part in all the events that have led to the exile. He repents for himself and his family. He repents for his people and himself as part of his society. Repentance means ‘turning’. Nehemiah isn’t moaning, Nehemiah is turning round. He decides to live and act differently. This is Nehemiah choosing to live a better life. He is also seeking to be an example to his people to do the same. He is seeking to lead by example. This is what he knows is needed so he spends time in prayer, so that he can do it right!

Nehemiah wept and prayed for days before doing anything else. I was going to say, ‘before he acted’, but that is wrong, he had been doing things all along. He had ‘acted’ when he spent time to listen, and then he had ‘acted’ by searching out the people who really know what it was like to live in his home city, Jerusalem. Nehemiah had ‘acted’ when he spent days in prayer and in letting himself grieve for the suffering of his people. These acts, were essential for him to have the foundation before, ‘acting’ in a more obvious, outward way. When Nehemiah acts, it is with huge bravery and total commitment, but that is for the second chapter of Nehemiah and next Sunday.

So I’ve been reading Nehemiah’s story. I’ve been reading it because through it I’ve found God’s Spirit guiding me about what I should do. I see so many social problems and so many spiritual problems. Nehemiah saw them as the same thing, so perhaps I should do the same too. I need to repent of my part in the problems of this country. I am comfortable, I have all that I need and almost all that I could want. I have systems and people around me to look after me too. But so many people do not. I see young people with broken homes who can’t settle, whatever they do. They quickly find themselves with no qualifications, no job, and then no home. I know some of the problems in my society but I need to spend a little more time finding out first hand what is happening.

I also look at my church, me included, and I need to repent. I need to repent for not being all I could be as a Christian. I need to repent for my part in the decisions of the Church of England that have seen churches go from full to struggling, all in one lifetime. I need to repent for the well-meaning decisions that went wrong, even if I personally did not make those decisions. I enjoy the benefits of the Church of England as mine, so I must also accept it failures as my own too. Fair is fair, after all.

I then, like Nehemiah, need to start claiming God’s promises of blessing, strength and healing. Then in prayer I can learn to see what God is calling me to. Then talking to God, I can learn what he wants his people to do. Then and only then am I ready to act. Like Nehemiah, once the course of action is clear I can pray, “Our Lord, I am praying for your servants—those you rescued by your great strength and mighty power. Please answer my prayer and the prayer of your other servants who gladly honour your name. When I serve the king his wine today, make him pleased with me and have him do what I ask.” (Nehemiah 1.10-11)

I will then be ready to pray for God to bless my actions and those of the people around me.

More next week…

Nehemiah 1:

I am Nehemiah son of Hacaliah, and in this book I tell what I have done.

During the month of Chislev in the twentieth year that Artaxerxes ruled Persia, I was in his fortress city of Susa, 2 when my brother Hanani came with some men from Judah. So I asked them about the Jews who had escaped from being captives in Babylonia. I also asked them about the city of Jerusalem.

3 They told me, “Those captives who have come back are having all kinds of troubles. They are terribly disgraced, Jerusalem’s walls are broken down, and its gates have been burned.”

4 When I heard this, I sat down and cried. Then for several days, I mourned; I went without eating to show my sorrow, and I prayed:

5 Lord God of heaven, you are great and fearsome. And you faithfully keep your promises to everyone who loves you and obeys your commands. 6 I am your servant, so please have mercy on me and answer the prayer that I make day and night for these people of Israel who serve you. I, my family, and the rest of your people have sinned 7 by choosing to disobey you and the laws and teachings you gave to your servant Moses.

8 Please remember the promise you made to Moses. You told him that if we were unfaithful, you would scatter us among foreign nations. 9 But you also said that no matter how far away we were, we could turn to you and start obeying your laws. Then you would bring us back to the place where you have chosen to be worshiped.

10 Our Lord, I am praying for your servants—those you rescued by your great strength and mighty power. 11 Please answer my prayer and the prayer of your other servants who gladly honor your name. When I serve the king his wine today, make him pleased with me and have him do what I ask.



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