There is something in the human soul that can remain untouched, even indifferent to repeated reception of the same reports. It is not an uncaring attitude or even a hardness of character; it is simply an ability to hold something in place or at a safe distance for a while.
Then something moves, something touches, what was previously known is now seen, what was understood now stirs the heart and what was latent now comes to life. A birth is taking place.
So an aristocratic Earl finds himself moved by oppressive working conditions and Shaftsbury’s journey begins. A wealthy socialite wakes up to slavery and Wilberforce’s journey begins. An entrepreneur sees a gap in the market and then Apple, Microsoft or Ford is born. So much in human achievement originates with the waking up to what was there and the desire to make a difference.
It is not hard to look at the story of Nehemiah – it’s not complicated or obscure. It’s a 13 chapter narrative, set around 445 BC starting on the border of Iran and Iraq. Its’ a book about work – hard, honest, intensive work carried out in the face of opposition and difficulties. It’s just like today.
It’s not too difficult to look at the work and learn from it and we will do that, but we are going to look into his mind and excavate his thoughts, reconstruct his feelings and dig into his decisions.
His story starts with the reception of a report. The walls of Nehemiah’s ancestral home town of Jerusalem were broken down and the gates burned with fire.
This was not new news. Jerusalem had been overrun 142 years ago. Some Jews had migrated back, a few had made some attempts at improvement, but the place was a ruin and had been for all of Nehemiah’s life.
But at this time the news got to him. The people were in so much debt they had been forced to sell themselves and their children as slaves. They were hungry. They were broken; they were on the brink of collapse
So old news became new news to him. The repeated story became a catalyst and an inspiration. Nehemiah, whose very name means the Lord comforts, was inconsolable, he sat down and wept.
Some men cry easier than others, but you get the sense that this man did not cry over just anything. For many days he was in great distress. In his own words he was consumed with five overwhelming behaviors. He sat, he wept, he mourned, he fasted, he prayed.
Why Nehemiah? Why now? Why this report? Here we explore his mind and uncover one of the secrets of his soul.
There is a line in Shakespeare’s Henry V where the King, on discovering that women and children had been attacked, says “I was not angry in France until now.” It’s almost comical. He has been slaughtering soldiers in the battlefield yet up until now he was not angry.
In a different army, the founder, William Booth, on receipt of a despairing communication from his staff, sent a two word reply “try tears”.
Until something, someone, or some situation really gets to you it will be hard to act. Nehemiah’s heart was broken. His spirit seared with pain. This report so touched his deep psyche that he was now stirring to act. Its as if the brokenness in the walls touched a brokenness in his heart.
I’m going to suggest to you that, for many types of work, but especially this type, which we will explore, nothing will happen until it really hurts.
Until it hurts so badly that you have to act you’ll not be able to achieve. We are going to explore the theme of rebuilding as we travel with Nehemiah, for much of his work is just that.
There are a million motivations for work. Money, ambition, pride, fun or legacy but somewhere at the beginning you will often find someone who hurt so much that they had to act.
Why now? You cannot see in the story, but you can say however, his time had come. Where he was in his life, his thinking, his current position but especially in the hands of God, all combined to break open his heart and set the tears flowing.
Before we close this particular window into his mind, here’s another thought for you. Nehemiah did not make himself cry or make himself feel what he did. It happened to him. You cannot make yourself feel what you can’t, and you cannot tell your heart to stop feeling what it does.
What Nehemiah did and could do was keep asking good questions. His inquiring mind opened him up to the expansion of his heart, the sensitivity to the distress of others and the flow of his own tears.
Many great achievements are born in the painful labor of a sensitive heart.
Nehemiah 1:1-4 – Nehemiah’s Prayer
1 The words of Nehemiah son of Hakaliah:
In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, 2 Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem.
3 They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire. ”4 When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.
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