Is there not a cause?
The words of Nehemiah son of Hakaliah:In the times of preparation towards the Whole City Whole World Conference, I was drawn to the person of Nehemiah and was reminded of sermons and messages about him from times back. This is the time that we can start asking ourselves, "is there not a cause for us in the city and in the whole world?"
In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, 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.
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. Then I said:
“LORD, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.
“Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’
“They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.”
I was cupbearer to the king.
In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before, so the king asked me, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.”
I was very much afraid, but I said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?”
The king said to me, “What is it you want?”
Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it.”
Then the king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked me, “How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?” It pleased the king to send me; so I set a time.
I also said to him, “If it pleases the king, may I have letters to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, so that they will provide me safe-conduct until I arrive in Judah? And may I have a letter to Asaph, keeper of the royal park, so he will give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel by the temple and for the city wall and for the residence I will occupy?” And because the gracious hand of my God was on me, the king granted my requests. So I went to the governors of Trans-Euphrates and gave them the king’s letters. The king had also sent army officers and cavalry with me.
When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about this, they were very much disturbed that someone had come to promote the welfare of the Israelites.
I went to Jerusalem, and after staying there three days I set out during the night with a few others. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem. There were no mounts with me except the one I was riding on.
By night I went out through the Valley Gate toward the Jackal Well and the Dung Gate, examining the walls of Jerusalem, which had been broken down, and its gates, which had been destroyed by fire. Then I moved on toward the Fountain Gate and the King’s Pool, but there was not enough room for my mount to get through; so I went up the valley by night, examining the wall. Finally, I turned back and reentered through the Valley Gate. The officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, because as yet I had said nothing to the Jews or the priests or nobles or officials or any others who would be doing the work.
Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.” I also told them about the gracious hand of my God on me and what the king had said to me.
They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work.
But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official and Geshem the Arab heard about it, they mocked and ridiculed us. “What is this you are doing?” they asked. “Are you rebelling against the king?”
I answered them by saying, “The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.” - Nehemiah 1 - 2
Is there not a cause?
Nehemiah offers us a great case study on how we should approach this issue.
Firstly, he sensed the pressure in his own soul to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. It is perhaps telling of him that the first questions he asked Hanani was about his people and Jerusalem. And this was a burden in his soul, this was the priority in his mind. This pressure in his soul burdened him so much, that he decided that it was not good for him to remain in the palace as the king's cupbearer but to request for a trip back to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall. He sensed the pressure so much that he was sad before the king's presence. I don't know about the rest of the people, but for me, I know I would never feel sad in the presence of important people, in front of my Minister or the Senior Management. In fact, from the perspective of a career man, to be in their presence is a chance for me to shine. But nay, Nehemiah chose Jerusalem over the comfort of the king's palace. The question for us here is this: are we asking God for a piece of His heartbeat for this city, for this world? Do we ask God to break our heart for what break His? What is the 'wall' that God wants us to be so burdened about? Are we satisfied to live life as it is and allow ourselves to fade away in comfortable life within His Kingdom? Do we recognise that the world without Christ is a lost world?
Secondly, Nehemiah prayed and fasted. He prayed when he heard about Jerusalem, and he prayed when he was asked about why he was sad. He prayed. The person who achieves great victory in the physical realm will first achieve the victory in the spiritual realm, in his prayer life and devotions with God. Our daily devotions and prayers are important in our pursuit of His cause. And this is what we have been doing over the past few days, praying and fasting to get close to His heartbeat, to get close to His cause in this city, in this world. Nehemiah not only had the pressure in his own soul on Jerusalem and its people, but he went down on his knees to pray for the cause. Therefore, the question for us to think and reflect is this: when is the last time we get down on our knees to pray for God to work in the city and in the world? Do we pray and push for God to work in our lives, so that we can go and work in other people's lives? Is our personal devotion life rigorous and disciplined enough to allow us to hear His heartbeat?
Thirdly, Nehemiah also knew what he needed. He knew he got to get the king to pay the bill. You know, after saying so much, I know in my heart that God has been calling me out of this little red dot to build His Kingdom, in church planting and in the propagation of Christian apologetics to places where they are most needed. I know what I needed to do - clear my loans, build up my spiritual life, build up my knowledge on Christian apologetics and polemics, explore the lands God has led me into, think about entry vehicles, etc etc etc. Think about yourself, if God has been speaking to you and sharing a portion of His heartbeat with you, what do you need then to prepare yourselves to go into the city and go into the world to reach them for Him?
Fourthly, Nehemiah went to the wall and came back with hope that the wall could be rebuilt and rallied the people. Jesus never said 'wait for them to come' but He sent us to 'go'. He 'saw' and had compassion for the people who were like sheep without shepherd. He sent out the Twelve, He sent out the seventy two, and today He wants to send us. Our compassion, our burden does not come that easily without getting down and see what is the state of the depravity in this world. A classic example came from Kay Warren, wife of Rick Warren, founder of Saddleback Church and author of Purpose Driven Life. She watched a documentary one day about the state of poverty and HIV in Africa and God impressed into her heart a burden for these people. Future trips into Africa further increased her burden for the people in Africa. Together with Rick Warren and the rest of Saddleback, they started the PEACE programme, and today, the number of people participating in PEACE from Saddleback far exceed some of the church populations around the region. Think about the impact. Think about what 'going' can do in our hearts! Likewise, my burden for the world arose from hearing about the need for the gospel in the world, then followed by short term mission trips and other overseas trips that have allowed me to see the spiritual depravity that so plagued the rest of the world. It informed me that the world needs Jesus. If you have the burden for the city, for the world, are you already gathering information, going down to see for yourselves the spiritual needs of the land? It is perhaps time that we need to think about this, be it city or the world.
Lastly, but most importantly, Nehemiah had the correct perspective - to achieve all these for the glory of God. Notice that he attributed his success to God. All glory goes to God and to God alone. So are we having a correct perspective on things that are to come, in our daily work, in our daily life? The man whom God uses powerfully is one who honors God in all that he does and gives the honor back to God.
To end off, think about what C.T Studd, the founder of Worldwide Evangelistic Crusade, said,
Some wish to lives within the sound of Church and chapel bell,
I want to run a Rescue Shop within a yard of hell.
May God bless you as you think about these questions. Amen.