We had included this reflection in a monthly newsletter to our staff but wanted to make it available to friends of Word Made Flesh as well. Thank you for partnering with WMF and being a part of God’s work to bring healing, hope, and peace to our neighbors in need around the world.
Reflection offered by Ken Dean – WMF International Office
Spending time reading the book of Nehemiah during these last few weeks, I see a character much like many of us. Nehemiah is resourceful, living a life of real work, and taking his role in the kingdom seriously. Then one day Nehemiah experienced a conviction from the Holy Spirit of God which started shaking things up. The story tells of Nehemiah’s life as a servant and as a leader; confirming that these roles are anything but mutually exclusive.
Nehemiah loved his homeland. When he asked his cultural brother, Hanani, about the Jews who had survived captivity, (Neh 1:2) the response detailing distressed people and broken-down infrastructure was not unexpected. Nehemiah knew that Ezra had been in Jerusalem for more than a decade trying to rebuild, and that other leaders had already rebuilt the temple. Nehemiah could have shrugged his shoulders, given Hanani a pat on the back, and told his brother that he would be praying for him and the dire situation.
For some reason, as Nehemiah listened to Hanani’s response about the people and the city, his heart was convicted. The burden was strong. Nehemiah sat down and wept and mourned for many days and had a time of prayer and fasting for clarity regarding an overwhelming desire to help. (Neh 1:4)
The initial conviction of Nehemiah was to rebuild the wall, a practical task, and not exactly the revelation of a thunder-and-lightning grand spiritual message. Simply put, Nehemiah’s call was to become a short-term construction project manager, something which hardly aligned with his experience and expertise as a cup-bearer to the king. I wonder if he was scratching his head, slightly tilted, and looking up into the heavens asking, ‘Why me?’ After all, there were already people in the city who could have rebuilt the wall.
As people living life on mission, digging into the book of Nehemiah, we recognize the timeless attributes of this divine calling detailed throughout the story:
- Respond to the call with disciplines of prayer, fasting, repenting, and worship (Ch 1)
- Risk your life / career / well-being (Ch 2)
- Make special requests of others to provide critical items you need (Ch 2, 3)
- Do something you have no experience doing (Ch 3)
- Understand God will provide in new and unexpected ways (Ch 1-7)
- Ready yourself to confront the evil one (Ch 4,6)
- Help the oppressed (Ch 5)
- Recognize the work God is already doing among the people; help and encourage (Ch 8-13)
Although I sometimes tend to think that a true calling from God will reveal itself in a massive wind or great earthquake (1 Kings 19:12) and must have an outcome that is fantastically spiritual, I have come to realize that these ideas reveal relational immaturity. More likely the Creator will catch me in a moment of least expectation with a task which will produce something which completely contrasts with my own visions of grandeur. The truth is that we may never know the Kingdom impact of our obedience in the unexpected tasks, no matter how seemingly minute they might seem.
The book of Nehemiah is fun and full of situations which are familiar to our lives on mission today – the good, the bad, and the ugly. I love Nehemiah’s prayer in the first chapter and have used it as a framework for my own life’s circumstances when God gets my attention. Nehemiah’s story reminds us that there will be challenges. God will give us all tasks that do not make sense in our present circumstances. It also reminds us that there is nothing more satisfying than to serve the Lord even when it is hard and disruptive, with higher peaks and lower valleys. Personally, I find myself genuinely lonely when I am living for me and not for God. I encourage you to enjoy reading about Nehemiah and empathize with his journey. Like Nehemiah, we will pray, “Remember me, O my God, for good!” (Neh 13:31)