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.” 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 1:3-4 ESV)
We live in a society where people flee from pain and discomfort. Sometimes we would rather not hear news at all than to hear bad news. We burry our head in the latest video game, music album or endless search for funny memes and videos rather than face the reality of the situation in front of us. It would have been easy for Nehemiah to dismiss the discomfort of his countrymen as their problem. After all, he lived in a city with walls.
Something you should understand about city walls. They were like locks on our doors today. They served to keep people inside safe and people with bad intentions out. Imagine moving to a new neighborhood only to find out that the new place you are living in doesn’t have locks. What’s worse is that it doesn’t have doors and there is no police force to call when someone breaks in. That was the situation the people in Nehemiah’s home town were experiencing.
Nehemiah allowed himself to feel a deep empathy for his fellow countrymen who lived in a city that had no protection from its enemies. As we will find out in the rest of this book, he’s not a weak man, but here he sobs like a child. He isn’t running from the issue, he is feeling the full force of it.
Sometimes we can become desensitized to the humanity of people who are suffering. Maybe we’ve seen the images of one too many starving children on the TV screen to care anymore. We have grown callous. In our hearts we think, “That’s somebody else’s problem” or “I can’t do anything about that,” and we move on to the next Pokémon to capture or meme to post. (Not that these things are bad in and of themselves, but when we use them as diversions from what God is pressing on our hearts).
I think that feelings are important. We will learn later that they aren’t a good guide, but that they can be a good indicator of where we are. How do you feel about the current state of your school, neighborhood, or workplace? Take time to journal your thoughts today.
For me it was frustration. I saw a huge need, but didn’t know how to address it. Obviously the things we were doing in student ministry were working with churched kids but we were struggling to reach people who hadn’t been to church (which as it turns out was most of the public school population). I also felt sadness, like we were losing a generation. I wondered about what could be done to reach students who had never heard the gospel.