The Heart’s Burden (Nehemiah 1:1-3)

Bible Passage: Nehemiah 1:1-3

Nehemiah is the story of a man whose soul had reached breaking point. The issue  for him was the walls of Jerusalem. He was an exile in Babylon and a cup-bearer to the king in Susa. Like Daniel and Esther he had achieved an influential position in the Babylonian government, yet when Nehemiah heard that the city wall of Jerusalem was broken down, it crushed him. To understand why, we need to think about the historical context.

The city of Jerusalem often represented the whole land of Israel. The land was not simply a place to live, but a place of God’s blessing. God had made promises to Abraham about the land, and also about giving Abraham many descendants, a great name and a role as a blessing to the nations. When the people of Israel were living prosperously in the land it meant they were living in the blessing of God. When they were taken off in exile, it was God’s judgment.

Thirteen years before Nehemiah opens, Ezra had led a group of exiles back home and they had begun to rebuild Jerusalem. They started with the temple, yet to those who had seen the old temple, it was underwhelming. As they worked on the temple, they also began to repair the walls of the city to ensure they were protected should they be attacked, yet this rebuilding was opposed. Their enemies wrote to the king, persuading him to issue an order that the walls should not be rebuilt.

Nehemiah heard reports of God’s people returning to the land, and it would seem that the blessing of God is coming back. Yet the people are weak, vulnerable and shamed. They are in trouble and the whole return project is under threat. It was too much for Nehemiah and it broke him. He responded with weeping and mourning, and as we shall see in the following sermon, prayer and fasting. He had been exposed to a situation that he couldn’t rest until it was changed.

The best building happens when it comes from a burden, a holy discontent that refuses to rest until it sees action. Some people want to do good, but they have not yet found an issue that makes them feel like Nehemiah does here. Nehemiah provides a great example for anyone in this situation; he asks questions, he talks about different things, he finds out what is going on with different people and in different places. It is within these conversations that he finds what impassions him.

He hears of a problem, and he hears of a solution that he can be a part of. As we encounter the needs before us and catch a glimpse the part we can play in doing something about them, it may be that our soul breaks and we discover a burden to build.

Potential Applications:

  • Challenge people to consider before God what they feel a burden for. Perhaps there is something they have been carrying for a while and now might be a great time to share that with somebody else.
  • This could be an opportunity to share some vision for what you feel like God is calling you to ‘build’ in your own church context.