My best friend Beth loves the Lord and she loves His Word. Every now and then she will share with great excitement what she is reading and how it is affecting her walk. She will then say, “You have to read this!” Yesterday she shared with me what she has been reading in Nehemiah. Surely at some point I have read from this uncommon book, but I honestly do not remember what the thing is about. So I cracked it open and amid the new-page smell started reading. I am at Chapter 7 and while I am certain there are a plethora of messages and meanings what has struck me so far is Nehemiah's conviction, God's faithfulness and the story's application to my own journey.
Nehemiah hears that the walls of Jerusalem have been destroyed and things are not going well for the people of Judah who had been delivered from captivity. His heart breaks for these people and he prays for them. Then he does something more: he prays for blessing in his attempts to help. My NLT's summary of the book says “It is easy to analyze, scrutinize, and talk about all the problems in the world, but we really need people who will do something about them. The book of Nehemiah shows what happens when such a person steps forward.” I often lament the terrible things in this world: the poverty, the hate, the oppression, but I feel powerless to do anything. Sure we can send money or give a homeless guy a meal, but that doesn't stop the hurting of the masses. Nehemiah saw some hurt and his response wasn't to send money or selfishly consider his weakness. His response was to do something. He cried and fasted and begged God to help, but he also suited up and made himself available.
God did help and Nehemiah got permission (and protection) to go to Jerusalem and rebuild the wall. This was significant not only for their physical protection, but it was a message to God that the Jewish people were repentant for their disobedience and that they were going to work to restore the relationship. Rebuilding the wall was symbolic of the Jews rebuilding their covenant. In his prayer Nehemiah reminds God: “Please remember what you told your servant Moses: 'If you are unfaithful to me, I will scatter you among the nations. But if you return to me and obey my commands and live by them, then even if you are exiled to the ends of the earth, I will bring you back to the place I have chosen for my name to be honored.” They had messed up. They had abandoned their Rescuer somewhere along the way, but God did not abandon them. He hastens to their aide and seems eager to accept their apology and hold their hand as they come back to their position.
During the rebuilding they are mocked and threatened by outsiders who do not want them to rebuild the wall. Nehemiah encourages them, “Don't be afraid of the enemy! Remember the Lord, who is great and glorious, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes!” As it so often occurs in my personal life, after being knocked clear off the pedastal and finding minimal strength to stand back up and keep trying, I am in this place of restoration. I find myself feeling far from God and resting uneasily in His promises, fighting daily to do my part in restoring my relationship with Him. My faith is weak, my heart is heavy, my motivation is limited, but somehow I am able to keep walking. The sincerity of God is never more clear. Though my emotions will not rest and my thoughts carry me to despair, my God hangs on. He sees my rather feeble steps, my weary outstretched hand and He provides hope. Sometimes His encouragement fills me with more joy than I can contain and I cry out in gratitude. Sometimes I barely believe that His love is really that persistent, but even the possibility that it is pushes me another day. The enemy is relentless, but so is our God.
This world is difficult to bear sometimes. The suffering of others crumples our spirits and chips away at our hope. Our own trials remind us that we are in hostile territory. Yet the God of Judah, the God who restores, the God we sing to and the God we forget is a faithful Shepherd. He rescues over and over again the people who call on Him. He is a Warrior-God, destroying the enemy, bringing nations to their knees. And He is a Gentle-God, dealing with His wayward bride in compassion. It is amazing to consider that the strong and mighty God of Israel fights for me, waits for me, promises never to leave me… What an undeserved and life-changing love this is.