This blog has been written by Ceri and Simon Harris, leaders of Burlington Baptist church in Ipswich. Ceri leads the Accessible Prophecy UK team.
We are experiencing tumultuous times. We know that times of great disturbance or disaster follow three broad phases:
– Response: the immediate emergency response to the situation
– Recovery: the long slow period of getting back to a new normal
– Reconstruction: the long term rebuilding and protection from a future reoccurrence
We see that Nehemiah went through these same stages. In this series of three blogs we will explore his journey and see what lessons we can draw in being attentive to the voice of God.
In the midst of the disaster facing his people, Nehemiah heard the voice of God. Chapter 1 of Nehemiah helps us understand the environment that enables him hear.
1. He was attentive with his mind
I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem. Nehemiah 1:2
Nehemiah was quick to seek out news. To understand what was happening. To connect with the world around him. We are reminded of how connected the prophets were with their culture and context. Hearing God speak is never in a vacuum.
What are we enquiring after?
2. He was attentive with his heart
This current crisis has caused many of us to shut out the daily news as its impact can be overwhelming. But here are we are gently reminded that Nehemiah not only enquired but that he also engaged his heart.
When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. Nehemiah 1:3
We must be appropriate of course, and guard becoming overwhelmed, however for Nehemiah it was as he enquired his mind and engaged his heart that he began to hear the voice of God.
What are we weeping about?
3. He was attentive in prayer
This seems obvious. It is. But it’s not easy. The time stamp of chapter 1:1 and chapter 2:1 is a period of 4 months.
For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. Nehemiah 1:4
The voice of God can be a quick and instant reality, but at other times it is a growing conviction borne out of days, weeks, months of prayer.
What are we praying for?
4. He was attentive to God
We all have a history, a context, a reality. Nehemiah certainly did. Even though he was serving in a foreign land he kept his faith & God’s faithfulness at the centre of his focus. This seems really important. His prayer didn’t focus on the disaster, but rather on God.
Then I said: “Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments … Nehemiah 1:5
God was all powerful and able (v5)
God’s love was dependable (v5)
God’s promises were certain (v5)
God is merciful (v6)
God keeps his promises (v8-9)
Where is our focus?
5. He was attentive to God’s timing
Four months! That’s waiting. That’s patience. That’s a careful, poised, God is in control wait. When exactly did he know that God was asking him to return to do the rebuilding? We might suspect pretty early on, although we don’t know. God’s word though is never rushed. We do well to sit with it, meditate on it and pray over it. A little seed, a quiet whisper begins to grow. God’s word grows in clarity, in depth, in richness as we wait.
How long do you wait when we think we have heard God speak?
6. He was ready to take action
So at the right moment he jumped into action. Looking sad in the King’s presence (risking his life if the king was displease) the thing was perfect. God had gone ahead of his word, and may the way ready. The king asked what Nehemiah wanted:
The king said to me, “What is it you want?” Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favour in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it.” Nehemiah 2:4-5
He was an active responder. Poised, ready to act on what God was saying despite the challenge and obstacles ahead, despite the ridicule and moments of self doubt.
Such is the posture of those who faithfully hear the word of the Lord.
When we hear God speak are we passive receivers or an active responders?