Today I've been thinking a lot about the book of Nehemiah. Although I've read through it several times before, today I kept thinking about the opening passage which says: “They said to me, ‘Things are not going well for those who returned to the province of Judah. They are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem has been torn down, and the gates have been destroyed by fire.’ When I heard this, I sat down and wept. In fact, for days I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven.” (Nehemiah 1:3-4)
If you’re not familiar with Nehemiah, he was an Israelite who lived during a time when the Jewish people were under Persian rule. He served in a position of great influence and power under the Persian King, Artexerxes. He was not a prophet or a priest or a scribe. As a matter of fact, he had no official training or position as a spiritual leader for the Jewish people. But what he did have was a deep love for God, and a desire for others to know and love God. And that's why, when he heard that the Jews in Jerusalem were not living according to God's will for them, he broke down and cried.
I think the Lord put that passage on my heart today because it's been a week full of ministering to folks who are lost. And as I've gone through the week, it's been challenging for me to not get numb to the spiritual reality these folks face. So as I heard story after story of pain and brokenness that comes from not knowing God, it was far too easy for me to shift from caring about the person sharing to story, to simply focusing on the practical problems they needed to fix. In other words, I lost my compassion.
That's why I'm thankful God brought Nehemiah to mind. He truly felt for the people who were not living for God - so much so that he broke down and wept. He literally entered into a state of mourning, as he cried and fasted and prayed for several days. And in doing so, he showed us how God wants us to respond to the fact that people are lost - He wants our hearts to be broken. God wants us to look beyond our own situation and our own comfort, and understand that the people around us who are lost are on their way to judgment, and an eternity of pain. And then He wants that knowledge to move us in the very depths of our souls. He wants us to care, and to care deeply.
But it goes beyond just caring, because God also wants what we feel for folks who are lost to move us to action. And again, Nehemiah gives us a great example of this, because after Nehemiah wept and fasted and prayed, he took action. He came up with a plan for rescuing the lost in Jerusalem, and then, with God's help, he put that plan into action. That's what God wants us to do. He wants our hearts to be broken for the lost, and then to move from brokenness into action.
So today, let's ask God to break our hearts for the lost that are all around us. And then let's take that brokenness, and ask God to equip us to reach out and help those who are truly hopeless.