For the past several months, I’ve kept a journal of nuggets that I discovered and learned from reading about Nehemiah. The name of the journal is, “The Nehemiah Challenge.”
Text: Nehemiah 1:1-11
Sometimes we need a hero, a person to challenge us in prayer, leadership, faithfulness, bravery, humility, and how to thrive in our everyday work and calling. A hero is just an ordinary person who God extraordinarily works through, yet by God’s grace, must continue to pray for a persistent obstinate quality of belief, to keep-keeping-on, grounded in faith and theology.
I discovered a hero in the pages of history, whose life continues to teach all of us who will become engrossed in his story. Just an ordinary guy that exemplified the art of empathy, so much so that empathy propelled him to take action. This hero’s name is, Nehemiah. The first 11 verses of Chapter One illustrate the character of Nehemiah through his action and words.
Nehemiah seems larger than life with which he defined his goals and the energy with which he pursued them. Yet, Nehemiah’s life story is a testament of what God has done in and through him, not to anything Nehemiah might claim as a personal achievement. 
Here are three things (nuggets) to do when walls are broken.
- Ask the right question
- Start praying
- Bear another’s burden
1. Ask the right question
The words of Nehemiah, the son of Hacaliah. Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the citadel, that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem. (Nehemiah 1:1-2 ESV)
Nehemiah received a visit from his brother and men from Judah. After greetings and salutations, Nehemiah asked them a question about the condition of his extended family (concerning Jerusalem.) Nehemiah lived in a lifestyle of security and peace, far away from the hardships of his covenant community, yet he ventures to know more about the people in need.
Even though Nehemiah suspected the answer would not be encouraging, he proceeded to ask the right question. The answer Nehemiah received about the status of his people and the security of his home and his community was very sad and grievous. The answer to that question propelled him to start. Nehemiah empathized.
Application: Don’t ask a question about a need unless you are willing to be part of the solution.
2. Start praying
And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.” (Nehemiah 1:3 ESV)
Nehemiah absorbed the answer into his soul, words that quickened his spirit to move, albeit overwhelmed and weakened by the news, he immediately sits down and begins to pray, to cry and mourn the loss of a city in ruin, a broken community. Nehemiah is passionate to do something, yet instead of reacting about the situation, Nehemiah responds in humility with mourning, fasting and praying for days.
Nehemiah is more God-conscious than self-focused.
“As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” (Nehemiah 1:4 ESV)
Nehemiah models an example for us to learn that it is prayer that changes things and that without praying there is no prospering. Nehemiah’s walk with God was saturated with his consistent, habitual and petitionary prayers in devotion to God.
“And I said, ‘O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night…” (Nehemiah 1: 4-6 ESV)
Application: Constant private conversations with God keep us God-conscious and not self-focused.
3. Bear another’s burden
O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. (Nehemiah 1:5-7 ESV)
Empathy is costly because it requires that we step into another person’s situation to meet a need.  Nehemiah’s response to the broken walls of Jerusalem was a broken heart. He loved the people of God and the glory of God. He was in anguish because God’s special people were unprotected, shamed and humiliated. 
Empathy for others begins when we see ourselves rightly before a holy God.  Those walls had been in ruins for 141 years. And likely this wasn’t the first time that Nehemiah heard that there had been no real progress in rebuilding the walls. So what explains Nehemiah’s response to the news about the walls of Jerusalem? The only real explanation is that God was at work in Nehemiah’s soul. He felt God’s heart toward the shame and weakness of God’s people, and he wept. 
When we understand our state of utter desolation without God’s grace, we are free to empathize with those who are hurting.  If we love the glory of God, than we will be people who care about the well-being of God’s people. When God’s Spirit begins to move among his people, they see the broken walls and begin to care. They turn from indifference, and their hearts are broken over that which does not glorify Jesus in his church. They take ownership of their own compromise. They cry out to God and ask him to intervene. 
Application: Bearing one another’s burden will result in greater empathy toward brokenness.
Here’s a question for you, when you know walls are broken, where do you begin first?
You may enjoy reading:
The Nehemiah Challenge │Part Two│A Radical Trust in God
The Nehemiah Challenge │Part Three │Getting Going
There is an Amazon link on this page. If you purchase the book using that link, I will receive a small stipend.