Scripture Reading: Nehemiah 2
My good wife will probably not mind me telling you that she hates to let me go shopping by myself for our weekly food shop. This is not because I hate shopping, or because I seem unable to find the most basic thing in the shop or that I seem incapable of remembering a shopping list longer than 3 things – no it is not because of these things although all of them are true – she hates sending me because I am an impulse buyer. Looking in a shopping bag I have purchased is a bit like random item roulette. I really can’t help it, and if something is in shiny packaging there is a good chance I’ll buy it. I won’t often want to eat it – but I will buy it. The downside of being impulsive is that not only do you end up with utter tat in the cupboard, you may get yourself in bother by opening your mouth without thinking, or making a foolish mistake. The other side of the coin is what Claire does, which is to be indecisive, to be hesitant. Pray for me, brothers and sisters, when it is time to choose a new shampoo at the supermarket or a new top at a shopping centre. We can spend hours in that circle of hell they call a shopping centre looking for one dress. The downside of being hesitant of course, is not simply having to put up with a grumpy partner, but also that when a decision needs to be made, it takes too long or isn’t made at the right point until the opportunity is lost. What it boils down to between those of us who are impulsive and those of us that are hesitant is really how we worry about the result of our actions. The impulsive people don’t care enough about the consequences to their actions whilst those who are hesitant care too much to the point of paralysis. From a Christian point of view, which is it better to be? Hesitant or impulsive?
In the first chapter of this book of Nehemiah, before our reading, we are told how Nehemiah, an exiled Jew, hears about how Jerusalem is ruined, and he prays a powerful prayer, in which he bewails and seeks forgiveness for his sins and the sins of his people. He prays powerfully for the restoration of Jerusalem. He is in a state of Holy discontent, unable to accept the plight of his people in Jerusalem, something he is powerless to do anything about as he is the cup bearer to the Persian emperor many miles away in Susa. He could have been impulsive and gone straight to the king, which would likely have not ended well. Instead he prays and prays. He hesitates and instead prays. Our reading today starts as Nehemiah, in holy discontent, full of prayers of anguish, enters the royal presence to do his duty of filling the glasses of the royals. This Holy discontent shows on his face, and the King notices. Rather than talking to the King and getting in trouble, Tte King asks him what is wrong, given he is not sick and never normally sad in his presence. Nehemiah is fearful, but now is the time to be impulsive. He tells the King the truth and the King asks him what he wants. Nehemiah is sure to fire off a prayer, but yet again he goes with it. The king grants his request.
Here is the thing. We as Christians are not called to be impulsive all the time or hesitant all the time. What we are called to do is to listen to God, to be prayerful because God may call us to be either. That is what Nehemiah got right. From Nehemiah’s life I want to pick up three steps for us to follow today. The first is to ask ourselves where is God creating holy discontent in our lives both individually and as a church and are we praying about it? What is it God is laying on your heart? It could be some new way of loving our town or it could be an injustice you are aware of, or it could be concern for your brothers and sisters in Christ. When God lays something on your heart whatever it is, pray unceasingly for it. Don’t put a time limit on it, simply pray.
Secondly, when you feel that God answering that prayer – when you get shown a direction, and in my experience, that can often be in incredibly surprising ways so watch out – listen to what He has to say and do it. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Yet we can so often know better than God, or hesitate because we are scared, when deep down we know we need to get on with it. That doesn’t mean don’t check out with others what you think you need to do – this isn’t a call to be unwise, but this is a call to obedience. To be impulsive
The last lesson from Nehemiah I want to pull out, is to be aware that there is often a cost to following Jesus. For Nehemiah, he was to spend ages fighting to see Jerusalem rebuilt, fighting against enemies, fighting against allies who betrayed him, fighting against apathy. There are numerous problems and difficulties. Read the rest of the book of Nehemiah to see what I mean. The temptation in church is to give up on what we have been called to do, particularly if it is not being blest the way we envisioned, or difficulties arise. We are called to carry our crosses for Christ – and carrying a cross is not going to be easy. It will be good, but no one promises easy.
For me, the book of Nehemiah is the story of mission. It starts with holy discontent, it is realised by the obedience of women and men of God and it is often difficult and costly. At all stages, successful mission is utterly saturated in prayer.
The question is, are you prepared to wait on God in deep and repeated prayer, and follow instantly when He call you into action? Because when we do, we see God moving among us. Amen