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.’ When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.
In the daily onslaught of news about terrorism, death, famine and injustice, what really touches us? What moves us to pray and weep and to act? Or have we become so used to the constant round of 24-hour news that the world’s problems no longer have as much impact on us as they once did? Yet, if we are close to the heart of God we will feel something of his pain over the state of the world, something of how Jesus felt when he wept over Jerusalem, and understand why Nehemiah reacted to this bad news as he did.
The story of Nehemiah opens in the year 445 BC. Nehemiah was working as a senior official in the court of Artaxerxes, the Persian king, when news came that moved him to tears and prayer. The walls of Jerusalem, the great city of his beloved homeland, had been ‘broken down’ and the city gates had been ‘burned with fire’.
But Nehemiah began to realise that God was calling him to do more than feel sad about the situation. He saw the need and was moved to tears by it, but he also knew he was in a position to do something about it, and he responded. He went on to lead the people in the rebuilding of the broken-down walls and, perhaps more importantly, he led the long process of rebuilding a broken-down people, restoring their sense of identity and purpose as the people of God.
In all the needs that confront us and leave us feeling down and heavy-hearted, what is it that God wants us to do? Obviously we can’t fix all the problems of our broken world, and we’re not required to carry everyone’s loads. But we can all do something. We can all be part of God’s work of rebuilding and restoring broken lives and families, broken churches and communities.
So how do I know what particular task God might be calling me to do? When does a ‘need’ become a ‘call’? The account of Nehemiah suggests that a need becomes a call when the problem really starts to matter to us, and when we realise that we are in a position – perhaps a unique position – to do something about it. ‘Why don’t they do something?’ becomes ‘Why don’t I’? Concern becomes prayer, and prayer results in action.
Currently based in Australia, Graham is a consultant, speaker, writer and former senior executive with a global infrastructure company. He is the author of Undivided: Closing the Faith-Life Gap (IVP), which explores how to close the gap between the discipleship we long for and the reality of our everyday lives.