Pulverised, Galvanised or Paralysed

Today’s reading is Nehemiah 1Open Link in New Window.

Here is today’s reflection by Gaby.

Today we start a new series on Nehemiah.

Nehemiah was cup bearer to the King. This was He had a slightly more serious tasting role. He had to ensure the King’s food and wine was not being poisoned, so he was very close and very trusted by the King. Plus, I imagine he was quite rotund… no I think I just need to taste a bit more of this… and let’s try the other side of this cup of wine… can’t be too careful…

That made him a trusted member of the King’s household. We don’t know much about his life or job but what we do know is the most important thing in his life… his devotion to God.

This book takes us through from a big problem, where we start with disorder, decay and mourning and weeping through some tough times and we end with worship and order and accountability.

But let’s go back to the start.

Imagine Bristol was set on fire, what was worse was that all the churches were a particular target St Matthews was broken into… the garden was all churned up and wrecked, all the candles, silver etc were stolen, the stained glass smashed, the walls were burned down and fences bulldozered, even the new boiler destroyed and masonry left with great holes in. How would you feel?

This is where our story starts in desolation and brokenness. In fact, this is exactly where I was 4 years ago this week. On 14 June 2017 we lived opposite the Grenfell Tower and awoke in the middle of the night to see it on fire. When the fire had ended and the dead were accounted for there followed a time of mourning. Like Nehemiah who sat down and wept, he mourned and fasted before God we also mourned. None of us slept very well, we had crazy dreams and crazy thoughts, we walked around like zombies having survivor conversations with our neighbours, asking after the dead and the living. This is probably a bit similar to where Nehemiah starts. He has just heard the news of destruction and horror. How does he handle it?

Nehemiah loves the Lord and he loves Jerusalem the Holy City. Not only was Jerusalem the place where people went to worship it was also the place where God’s presence had dwelt. It’s no wonder Nehemiah was gutted, everything he knew and believed about God had been attacked and left in tatters. He sat down and the scripture tells us in verse 4 that he wept and mourned for days. Why did he mourn?

Well he was so far away… 1000 miles away and news doesn’t travel so fast in 453 BC as it does today. Maybe too he’d been praying and hoping everything was OK back there… but it wasn’t. He’d been busy trying to fit in in the new place and had achieved great success. He was the right-hand man, trusted implicitly by the King but this news was more than he could handle. Nehemiah was totally pulverised by this news, ground down, aching and mourning.

So, what does he do? Where does he start.

Firstly, he starts with mourning. Mourning is an interesting thing that looks very different depending on whom is doing it. For Nehemiah he was weeping and mourning for days, he was also fasting and praying.

Interesting that that is how he takes this news. Knowing how to mourn well is definitely an art and Nehemiah faced it in the right way. He faced up to it, acknowledging the truth of what happened. He allowed himself to feel devastated. He took his sadness to the Lord in prayer and fasted to seek more of God.

That is a real inspiration. For most of us grief is a messy pile of disbelief, bargaining, regrets and wishing you could change the past but Nehemiah mourns in the Lord.

It is interesting that he also acknowledges his and his people’s sin in this matter.

Some of the best successes have begun in deep distress and mourning; like Nehemiah. He is surrounded by his mourning. He weeps and fasts and prays. He gives himself time to engage with his loss.

I really feel this is a very healthy way to mourn. Have you let yourself mourn well in the past? I think that if we don’t mourn well for our losses that often they will sit dormant in our lives and rear their ugly heads when we least expect them. Sometimes they show up in ugly ways too, fear, anger, mistrust. Maybe it’s time to give these things to God. To let him put them in their proper place beneath and under the power of the cross of Jesus. Nehemiah knew how to take his sadness to God.

Nehemiah did this fasting and praying for some days… in fact if he had carried on like this for years on end we would probably say that he had been paralysed by this event… but his mourning was not permanent. He moved beyond paralysed and galvanised himself into action but his action started with prayer and repentance.

have you ever allowed yourself this space and time to do so? I really hope you have. If you haven’t let today be the start.

Nehemiah’s devotion to the Lord is apparent here. He is mourning God’s holy city. What saddens God’s heart saddens his heart. We could reflect at this point about the things in the world that sadden God’s heart in our world… his world… the world we have taken as our own and try to break with our selfish desires.

In his prayer Nehemiah acknowledges his sin and the sin of the people, God’s people.

Nehemiah knows God… we can see this by how he treats him, he gives him his title, he reminds God that he is faithful, he asks God to listen, he confesses sin and tells God that he knows they have been disobedient

BUT he also reminds God of the promise he made to Moses… if you return to me and obey my commands then even if you exiled people are at the farthest horizon I will gather them from there.

It’s always good to remind God of what he said… it shows a) that you were listening the first-time, b) that you remember, c) that you care, d) you want what God wants enough to remind him. And then Nehemiah brings it swiftly into his present day “Give your servant success today by granting him favour in the presence of this man.” Honest God… this is what you want…

This in my mind is the best way of praying… he is praying something he already knows is God’s general will for humanity but making it specific to his situation…

What have you got that meets that criteria? Is it for your children to become Christians? For peace at work? For healing for yourself or someone else? All of these things have Biblical precedence… we know that God wants to answer these prayers… we can’t tell when but we know it is his general will.

Nehemiah has already started to build the plan… he wants the King’s permission to go and do the things in his head. He has to ask the King to make the King do it!

Nehemiah is galvanised by this tragedy in his life. He faces up to it and it is his motivation for following God’s heart and rebuilding the ruined walls.

How do you respond to trouble in your life? When something tries to pulverise you are you paralysed or galvanised? Do you cry out to the Lord to help you do something or do you rely on your own talents and strength or perhaps even get scared and paralysed, hide your head in the sand and do nothing…

It’s interesting how almost as an afterthought he tells us who he is, his rank and position… I was cupbearer to the King. It’s as if that doesn’t matter to him, it’s just an incidental in the story that God has him play his part in. Can we be those people in the story of God for 2021? Our society is broken in so many ways. Can we be honest, mourn and weep and repent and pray for God to come and change us, our church and our city or will this just be another Sunday sermon that we enjoy for a moment and let us pass by… as our Graham used to say in Blind Date… the choice is yours.

There will be a video version of the service.

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