What stirs you? I wish I could ask you this question in person. There must be something.
I know I get stirred about many things, but near the top of my list is when I see someone treated unfairly. Anger builds, and it’s difficult for me to stay silent – even if it’s prudent to do so!
Just like you and I, Bible characters would get stirred as well. There’s Noah with his relentless dedication to save as many antediluvians as he could; there’s Esther who risked her life for the protection of her people; and then, there’s one of my personal favorites: Nehemiah.
It was Nehemiah who took a sabbatical from work in order to govern and guide his people in rebuilding the walls and gates that had been destroyed. Nehemiah couldn’t believe it when he heard that Jerusalem – the city that he loved, his people, God’s people –lay in waste, both physically and spiritually.
This wasn’t right! It stirred his soul like nothing else.
Nehemiah was called to a “9-to-5″–type work life and was placed at the epicenter of Persian power, yet he always maintained an intense passion for his people. His was a calling to the secular world–his job, a cup bearer for the Persian king. Yet his passion and his devotion led him into service for Jerusalem.
I have often received inspiration from Nehemiah’s example and life story. Like many of you, I’m not a pastor, full-time evangelist, or missionary in a remote jungle. It isn’t as if I wouldn’t want those type of honorable titles, but I believe my calling is, for the moment, behind a desk.
Like many Christians, I try to find a healthy balance between my career and my faith. Climbing the corporate ladder, satisfying social norms, developing a good reputation in my field, developing great friendships along the way – these are all important things on my radar. However, they are not the primary aims of my life.
Nehemiah is one of my top role models in Scripture because he led an exemplary life in the secular world, and yet he answered the call to build for the great cause of God while still employed in his secular profession. His direction in life wasn’t a choice of either/or; either thrive in the secular world, or do big things for God. He chose to do both. That’s something I can do, and you can do too.
Let’s briefly explore his life, as revealed in inspiration, to discover how we can become modern-day Nehemiah’s.
Examining Nehemiah’s Passion
In the opening verses of the book of Nehemiah, we see Nehemiah sincerely stirred. His passion for his people and his country are first manifested when he talks to a couple of his brothers. He “asked them concerning the Jews that had escaped, which were left of the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem” (Nehemiah 1:2). Notice that he is the one to inquire of Jerusalem and his people.
We can imagine Nehemiah overhearing a conversation with those who have come to the city of Shushan. He hears them speaking in Hebrew, and rapidly approaches them to receive an update of the situation in his homeland. Missing his fellow people, Nehemiah can do nothing but hope and pray that all is well.
He could have easily settled for “shooting the breeze,” and simply engaged in a general conversation. However, he had an overwhelming desire to inquire about the state of affairs in the Holy City. “How are my brothers and sisters doing in Jerusalem?” Here, Nehemiah doesn’t seek to merely connect with these travelers, He wants to know the condition of his people.
In Nehemiah 1:2, Hananni delivers the awful news: The people of Israel are in reproach, the walls of Jerusalem are broken down, and the gates are burned with fire. As soon as Nehemiah hears this, he “sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven” (vs. 4). His prayer is deep, and comes from a sincere heart.
Notice the following words in his prayer:
I pray, Lord God of heaven, O great and awesome God, You who keep your covenant and mercy with those who love You and observe Your commandments, please let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open, that You may hear the prayer of Your servant which I pray before You now, day and night, for the children of Israel Your servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel which we have sinned against You. Both my father’s house and I have sinned. (Nehemiah 1:5-6)
The Bible says that Nehemiah prayed day and night, not just for himself, but for his people. He confessed, not only the sins of his people, but also himself, even though he was hundreds of miles apart from Israel. Nehemiah doesn’t view his people as the raucous rebels, nor does he picture himself as the solid saint. No pharisaic mentality is conveyed! He is one with his people, which is why he could feel so heartbroken.
This was so similar to Jesus, “…who for the joy set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame and has set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). Think about it: Where would we be if it weren’t for the passion of Jesus for His people? Those who mocked, beat, and spit on Him couldn’t deter His passion. Those who forsook and denied Him could not deter His passion. Hypocrites couldn’t deter His passion.
Certainly, his “day job” as a carpenter before His full-time ministry didn’t deter His passion. “He was doing God’s service just as much when laboring at the carpenter’s bench as when working miracles for the multitude” (Desire of Ages p. 74). Praise God, that His infinite love knew no bounds, and that nothing impeded Him from His mission to seek and save the lost!
Back to Nehemiah. Where would the people of Israel have been if it weren’t for Nehemiah’s passion? Let’s say he decided to stay put, be content with his job, and perhaps resolve to simply pray, or even send money to help. If that’s all he did, no one would have chastised him.
But he knew he could do so much more.
Consider these questions: who was Nehemiah? How special was he at the beginning of his career in the secular world? How revered was he to the people of Israel? He was a normal guy, but he had an extraordinary devotion to God. Nehemiah became God’s instrument, an ordinary civil worker that God could lovingly use to perform the extraordinary. If God can use Nehemiah, surely God can use us.
Now, let’s take it one step further. There are hundreds of people within our sphere of influence. Hundreds of people who don’t know Christ. Hundreds who are spiritually lost, emotionally broken, and physically drained. Their walls and gates are consumed with fire. They have no divine direction, and know not how to get their house in order. They could be in the world, they could be in the church.
Do we have the same passion as Nehemiah? What if we had the same desire as he did? What if our hearts burned with holy passion for those experiencing the flames of destruction, day in and day out? How thankful would these people be to have a Nehemiah in their neighborhoods, in their communities, or in their churches?
Walls and Gates in Our Day
So what are the walls and gates of our day? How do we apply this in our everyday lives? Obviously, there are no physical gates or walls that are burning with fire near our homes (at least I hope not)! The bottom line is, we really can’t be like Nehemiah, and have his passion, if we don’t know what we need to be working on today.
In Song of Solomon 8:9-10, we see a woman likened to a wall: “If she be a wall, we will build upon her a palace of silver: and if she be a door (or gate); we will enclose her with boards of cedar. I am a wall.” We know from Scripture that a woman in the Bible is also represented as a church (Jeremiah 6:2). If we put these together, we see that the church – God’s people – is the wall.
To further the point, let’s look at Isaiah 5:5 when talking about the rebellion of God’s people. We see that God says He will “break down the wall.” Revelation 21:14 shows the wall of the New Jerusalem having the names of the twelve tribes written on its foundations. If the walls represent God’s people, what about the gates?
A gate or door can be used to allow someone to come in, or to prevent someone from coming in. In a spiritual sense, Jesus called Himself the door in John 10:7. All who would enter the kingdom of heaven need to go through Him. If the walls are God’s people, Jesus is the door by which anything should be permitted to come in. The gates of the church being broken would then mean that destructive attitudes, concepts, and even doctrines (outside of those that Jesus, His love and His law would permit) are allowed to come through.
Does this mean that there could be churches that have let in destructive attitudes and doctrines? Certainly it’s true for some churches.
I think it is safe to say that all churches, regardless if they are healthy or not, need builders who are intent on setting up a standard of love and righteousness. These are the people who can help repair any damage that has been done to their church.
An even safer proposition is that every church has someone, whether Adventist or non-Adventist, who is personally broken, and in need of spiritual repair, counsel, and encouragement.
Ellen White, speaking about how the story of Nehemiah applies today, tells us that one of the main causes of the broken walls and gates in Nehemiah’s time was due to the disobedience of God’s people, especially regarding how lightly they regarded the Sabbath:
He [Nehemiah] caused the people to be instructed in the law they had broken […] One of the principal ways in which the people had departed from God was in the desecration of the Sabbath. (Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, March 18, 1884, (Vol. 61, #12)
The people had boldly disregarded the day by buying and selling, and seeking to shut down anyone who would oppose their actions. She then goes on to say:
We need Nehemiah’s in 1884, who shall arouse the people to see how far they are from God through their transgressions […] there is need of a Sabbath reform among us, who profess to observe God’s holy rest-day. The church of today has followed in the steps of the Jews of old, who set aside the commandments of God for their own traditions […] and now, as then, pride, unbelief, and infidelity are the result. (Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, March 18, 1884, (Vol. 61, #12)
These strong words are telling of the solemn work that we are called to do. We are called to build up our churches, and to encourage and instruct our struggling brothers and sisters.
As you can see, Mrs. White specifically mentions the Sabbath. There are many reasons why the Sabbath needs to be rigorously observed in love. There are also many reasons why Satan is attacking God’s people, trying to get them to disregard the holiness of the Sabbath.
Soon, most of the world will pressure Sabbath keepers – you and I – to follow the commandments of men. We may be forced to either follow their dictates, or to face the consequences of imprisonment or death. Will we be ready? Will those within our sphere of influence be ready?
If we don’t observe the Sabbath now as God intended it (in peace and joy with our Maker), how will we ever be ready for what is going to happen in just a short time? If we don’t assist others in getting ready, aren’t we shirking from our divinely given duty?
God had to break down the physical walls and gates in Jerusalem to vividly show that its residents had broken their spiritual walls and gates down by casting away the Ten Commandments, especially the fourth one. It is only once they decided to come back to God, and vowed to follow Him, that the wall and gates were restored and the city protected. We similarly cannot be protected from the attacks of the enemy without (and the enemy within) unless the grand law of love is re-established and engraved in our hearts.
Examining our passion
I often ask myself: When was the last time I was as passionate as Nehemiah regarding the deficiencies that I see in my church, whether small or significant? How do I react to the brokenness I see among my peers, the hypocrisy that coldly turns saints away, the illegitimate relationships that young people get into that change them for the worse, the false teachings out there that deceive, the crippling addictions, and other such quandaries? When has it caused me to cry and fast? When have I last prayed with intensity for the well-being of my brothers and sisters, who may be ensnared by various sins?
Dear friend, there’s so much to be done. Why not experience what God wants to do through you today? The good news is, there is plenty of room for more Nehemiah’s, and if you lack passion, all you have to do is “ask and it shall be given you” (Matt 7:7).