When Nehemiah showed up in Jerusalem, he found the place was a mess, but he did nothing for three days. He didn't show up with fanfare, and he kept quiet about his intentions to rebuild the city. Someone once told me that the ability to speak several languages is an asset, but the ability to keep your mouth shut in any language is priceless. For whatever the reason, Nehemiah kept mum on what he came to Jerusalem to do.
After three days, he started inspecting the city (after dark and in secret). What a sneaky dude, Nehemiah was (wise, actually).
When he finally pulled the priests and leaders together, he said to them, "You see the trouble we're in." And the people were ready to jump in and rebuild.
You can read this part of the story in Nehemiah 2:11-20.
There are a few things about this story that stood out to me:
1] Nehemiah sat in Jerusalem's desolation for three days. If we pay attention to it, we can see Jesus all through scripture. Just like Jesus, Nehemiah sat in Jerusalem's desolation for three days, marinating in the devastation brought by the people's unfaithfulness to God. Just like Jesus who following his crucifixion went to the place of death and decay for three days, Nehemiah stewed in Jerusalem's destruction and smelled the stench of death. He felt the sting of Jerusalem's demise.
And we know what happened after three days, right? Resurrection!
As a pastor I sit with a lot of individuals who are at rock bottom. I get immersed in their stories and often feel their grief and loss. I sit with people in their pain in order to help turn their hearts toward restoration. It seems to me like Nehemiah was doing the same thing with the city he loved.
2] Nehemiah took a long, hard look at reality. He spent time personally inspecting the damage done to Jerusalem to see what kind of hand he'd been dealt. God knows it's hard for us to take a deep look inside when life is crumbling. That searching process can be painful. But I also think we're most willing to look deep inside when we've hit rock bottom.
When my wife and I moved back to the US from Ireland, I was heart-broken (and financially broken). For three years I took a deep look inside at my disappointment, anger, and brokenness. Was serving the church really what I wanted to do with my life? And for three years, I checked out as I wrestled with the calling of God on my life.
So when I read words like "Search me O God and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me" (Psalm 139:23), I feel it deeply. When I read the story of the prodigal who had to take a long hard look within, I can relate. The journey to restoration begins with taking a deep look inside to see how far we've fallen -- to get a realistic picture of what's going on. "You see the trouble we're in," said Nehemiah. That was the beginning of a brand-new day for Jerusalem.
3] Nehemiah enlisted the commitment of the people. We'll go into this further in the weeks ahead, but Nehemiah didn't do this on his own. He asked what they were going to do, and the people said 'let's do this!' And that didn't come without opposition. We will have those who oppose us as we move from desolation to restoration. I'll get to Sanballat and Tobiah soon, but Nehemiah put them in their place and reminded them they could not have what belonged to God.
We may have spent years in devastating times, but it is not God's will for us to stay there. Take a deeper look inside, confess what needs to be confessed, take stock of where you're at, and return to God with trust there is a new day coming.