Scripture Reading: Nehemiah 2:1-10, Psalm 137:1-9, Hebrews 12:18-24
Have you ever been so worried you couldn’t do your job? You’re supposed to be watercolor painting, but all you can think about is the outcome of your mom’s surgery? Or you’ve tried to be present in a classroom full of third graders, but you can hardly see their faces because all you can think about is the broken heart of your sister? Beyond even these pains, have you ever felt a burning passion that you might be called to something else while you must continue to intone, “Thank you for your purchase, have a nice day”?
I imagine this is how Nehemiah felt as he worked in the service of King Artaxerxes. He had a great job, but while working, he heard really terrible news from Jerusalem: The walls are down! The gates are burned! Our people are living in shame! (Nehemiah 1:3). This news was heartbreaking for him.
The first thing Nehemiah did was pray. But then he went back to work. For about four months, he showed up to work every day and did his job, not saying a word about his own personal bad news, even though his heart ached. It’s shocking how the world mercilessly grinds forward in spite of our personal griefs. Regardless, sometimes we just have to show up and keep on doing our work.
During this time Nehemiah prayed continually and earnestly. And even though he hadn’t breathed a word of his personal anguish to the king, the king saw it written on his face and reached out to him, saying, “Why are you sad?” Nehemiah then confessed his heartbreak, to which the king immediately asked, “What is your request?” (2:2,4).
And here is a wonderful moment. The very thing he had longed for—a chance to get exactly what he needed to rebuild Jerusalem—appeared right in front of his nose: a king ready to hear his request, with all the power of the Persian empire in his hands. What did Nehemiah do? Rush in with his five-year plan? Build a case to woo the king’s heart to support his passion project? No. None of that. The first thing Nehemiah did was pray. As my pastor, George Grant, would say, “Instead of running to the throne of the world, [Nehemiah] runs to the throne of the Lord.”
Nehemiah was a man committed to prayer. And once he had prayed, he was a man ready for hard work. He asked the king to send him to rebuild the city and a people. By trade, Nehemiah was a white collar palace worker; he attended the king and brought him wine. He wasn’t a city planner, and he didn’t have experience rebuilding walls. But God had called him to rebuild a city, and Nehemiah was a willing worker.
Whether he was working for the king in Persia or rebuilding his homeland in Jerusalem, Nehemiah worked for the Lord. This can be such a difficult and painful thing to do. As the psalmist cries out, “How can we sing the Lord’s song on foreign soil?”(Psalm 137:4). How can we continue to praise the Lord when things are terrible, when everything has gone spectacularly wrong? How can we obey when obedience is the furthest thing from our hearts? By continually turning to the Lord in prayer.
Before we decide what to do: pray.
Before we do it: pray.
After we begin: pray.
In this manner, our relationship with God is written on all the hours of our days. May we learn to humble ourselves before Him and submit our requests to Him, instead of bowing to the powers of this world. May our lives become a song of prayer unto the Lord.