From Your Pastor, May 15

From Your Pastor, May 15

I started reading Nehemiah not long ago and the opening scene struck me. As the book opens, Nehemiah is the cupbearer to the king of Babylon and his life is pretty comfortable. But, some visitors come from Judah and he asks how things are going with his people only to hear a bad report: “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire” (Neh 1:3).

It occurred to me that the modern church is in an analogous situation. We have our own troubles because of the pandemic. Thousands of Christians around the country and world are being prevented from gathering to worship (thank God we’re back at Midway!). Most sanctuaries are shut.  Houses of worship around the world will hear no praise for God this Lord’s Day but only a silent sadness. That is just the cause of the pandemic. But, of course, there are many troubles and reasons for shame if we simply compare the modern church with our calling.

How do we react when trouble comes on the church? How do we react when shameful things occur? Have we had a reaction that arises from our hearts (not just our minds) at the Lord’s house being shut?

Nehemiah’s reaction and prayer is what made the impression on me. He weeps and prays FOR DAYS (I’ll include his full prayer because its fullness and depth is the part of the point):

4 As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. 5 And I said, “O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. 7 We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. 8 Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, 9 but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’ 10 They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand.

11 O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name…”

Nehemiah 1:4–11a

I expect Nehemiah’s reaction is very different from most of our responses when God’s people face trouble or shame.  He was moved to prayer and weeping. He prays day and night (v. 6). He intercedes with God. He confesses sin, his own and those of his people. He pleads with God to answer and deliver.

What does Nehemiah’s fervent, emotional response tell us? His hopes were obviously wrapped up in the prosperity of God’s people and his glory. He believed that there shame was his shame. Their trouble was his trouble. His reaction demonstrates that he loves the Lord and he loves the people the Lord loves.  Heart and soul are swept up in the strength of his response and not just his mind.

How does our reaction compare with Nehemiah’s? How many of us were moved to prayer night and day for the Lord’s sanctuaries to be reopened? How many of us have been moved to confess sin in response to the pandemic? 

I don’t raise these thoughts to guilt any of us (though conviction isn’t a bad response).  Rather, this is a faithful model.

Let’s consider our own responses when the Lord’s name or the Lord’s people face trouble. Let’s strive to foster a fuller response of heart and soul in prayer. Let’s keep praying until every sanctuary in our land is filled with praises again.