There is value in sharing your personal story of heartache over injustice. It is more moving than sharing the statistics of what is going on. It gives people a face and a name. There is a difference between hearing of the thousands of starving children on another continent and hearing the story of Daniel, a small boy who doesn’t have enough to eat. It’s like this when Nehemiah presents his case before the king; it is much more personal than it is political. Most likely this king had never before thought about how his actions had affected so many people so far away, but when he saw how it affected Nehemiah, he was moved.
Compassion International does an amazing job of presenting in this way. When you hear of the millions of people around the world living on below $1.50 a day it is a poverty issue, but when you see a picture of an individual child and you read their story, it is a personal issue. You might want to end poverty, but most likely until it becomes personal, you won’t do anything to actually fight it. Personal stories move people to action and here Nehemiah’s personal relationship to what is going on is what gives him credibility before the king.
In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. And the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of the heart.” Then I was very much afraid. I said to the king, “Let the king live forever! Why should not my face be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ graves, lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” (Nehemiah 2:1-3 ESV)
When you stand before a king it is important to have your act together. Nehemiah most certainly did, most of the time. But on this one occasion he let his grief get the best of him and he was sad in the presence of the king. Many modern readers won’t pick up on this, but this was a big deal. The king could have assigned Nehemiah’s sadness to a host of places. He could have accused Nehemiah of not liking his policies, or even worse considered that he was in on a plot to assassinate him. He could have ordered Nehemiah’s execution for nothing more than a frown and a tear.
Nehemiah responds quickly with a salute to the king. He declares, “May the king live forever!” He wants the king to know that he is not burdened politically, but personally. His tears represent a real story of heartache and hardship endured by his people who don’t have a wall to protect them. He doesn’t accuse the king (though the king is ultimately most likely the reason the wall hasn’t been rebuilt). He simply presents his story.
Your heart has most likely been stirred over the past week as you have been encouraged to empathize with the people in your city, school, neighborhood, or workplace. You have been asked to remove distractions and bring your feelings about these people and God’s glory into focus. Take a moment now to go a step further and journal personal stories of individuals you know and how they have affected you.
For me it was a little girl who came to a student lead club and told the leaders that she really wanted to go to church, but her mom wouldn’t take her. Her mom would let her come to the club that met before school though so she heard the gospel from her peers there and had a chance not only to accept Jesus into her life, but connect with a group of believers from several different churches. I am convinced that we were able to empower our students to reach this girl who would have never been reached by our traditional church and youth group methods.