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It has been over 100 years since the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem, its walls and the temple. When the Persians defeat the Babylonians King Cyrus sets all the deported people free. Nehemiah is in Susa, the capital of Persia during the reign of Artxerxes, serving as the king’s cupbearer. Nehemiah hears a bad report of what is going on in Jerusalem, and fasts and prays. The king sees Nehemiah’s sadness and asks how he can help. Nehemiah wants to go to Jerusalem, with letters of safe passage, letters for wood from the royal forest for gates, the wall and a home, and then the king throws in a military escort for good measure. Nehemiah must have been quite a cupbearer.
Imagine what it would be like to be in Jerusalem in 445 B.C. The Babylonians were some of the most ferocious conquerors in history, torturing leaders and marching people all over the empire to keep conquered lands weak. Jerusalem held out for years, but when it fell the Babylonians destroyed the walls, the temple and much of the beautiful city. It lay in ruins as all the educated Jews were marched into captivity all over the empire. Uneducated and unskilled peasants were left behind, as conquered people from other lands were marched in. Communication was impossible; distrust, fear, were rampant, and this kept any meaningful rebuilding from ever occurring. But Nehemiah rallies the troops, and they begin earnestly building the walls, for as our scripture says, “They had a mind to work.” Nehemiah walked into a mess believing he could change things. Whether we live in a war ravaged country, Jerusalem 140 years after Babylonian captivity or a richly blessed USA, change is hard. It is hard to break out of old routines, envision what change will look like and overcome fear. Most of us can think of at least one thing in our lives that we’d like to change. Think for a moment about your life, your priorities and things you are doing for God. Even when we know a change is needed, we don’t like it and we avoid it if we can. But I think God is always moving us somewhere new. Putting new challenges in front of us, stretching us, wanting us to continue growing in some new way. If you can think of something in your life to change Nehemiah gives us much information about how to make successful changes in our life. First, Nehemiah had a pattern of prayer and action. When he heard about Jerusalem he fasted and prayed. God opened the doors for action. When he got to Jerusalem he prayed about the situation and developed a plan. When the wall project was being threatened he prayed then inspired the people. Prayer is God’s time to help us prioritize show us how to accomplish change in our lives and empower us to action. Second, is what Pastor Rick Warren calls the Nehemiah Principle. Halfway through the project, or after about 30 days, the people got discouraged, and they became overwhelmed by fatigue, frustration and fear. Nehemiah rallied the people back to work by reorganizing the project, and recasting the vision. He reminded them of the importance of their work and reassured them that God would help them fulfill his purpose. The Nehemiah Principle states, “Vision and purpose must be restated every month to keep us moving in the right direction” (The Purpose Driven Church by Rick Warren, p. 111). When we want to make changes in our personal lives, regular prayer and recommitment to our vision can make all the difference. This is true in making changes in our marriages, families, the work place, and at our church or places where we volunteer. Is there a change you’ve wanted to make? Have you prayed about it to God? Would it help to mark the calendar 30, 60 or 90 days from now an appointment with yourself to recommit to the vision? Al Earley is the pastor of La Grange Presbyterian Church. The views expressed in this column are those of the writer.