The participants in the Durres Conference
This is the substance of the message I gave in the conference for young professionals based on Nehemiah, esp chapters 1,2
We are all here because we want to make a difference. We want our lives to count for something, and we want to achieve in our work. Howeverwe are also Christians in this conference, so we want ou achievements to be in accordance with God’s will. We want to do things in His way. So I’d like us to think of Nehemiah – one of the great leaders of Israel. He was an exile, born far away from his own country, serving in the court of Artaxerxes in Susan.
Jerusalem in trouble
The book of Nehemiah begins with him receiving news that things were in a bad way in Jerusalem. 140 years before Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian army had conquered Judah and Jerusalem, and in a series of events the people had been taken into exile and the city left in ruins. When the Babylonian empire fell, Cyrus, the new king, gave a commandment that Jerusalem and the temple should be rebuilt. Ezra and some others returned from exile to rebuilb tge temple. However, some locals had complained, and Artaxerxes 13 years before we meet Nehemiah had ordered that the work stop.
Jerusalem therefore remined in ruins, and without defensive walls the place was open to gangs and foreigners of all sorts to come. It was nkt a safe place to be and civil disorder was the way of the place.
Nehemiah felt this burden on his heart, and he would be the instrument of change. But how did he go about it?
1. He prayed
He did not panic. He did not rush into things. He turned to God and prayed. We learn that he prayed from the time he heard the news (the month of Chislef) till the month of Nisan, with fasting and tears. This would be a period of four or five months of seriously seeking God. Now this is a real challenge to us. When we face ch
Lenges we may complain, we may rush in, and often if we do pray, it is very short and we give up easily. But it was not so with Nehemiah.
I wonder how he prayed to God. He might have begun by asking God why doesn’t He do something? Then he might ask God, why won’t he get the people in Jerusalem to do something. Then he might move on to ask God – Send someone to Jerusalem to do something. Eventually, however, he got to the point where he had to ask God What domyou want me to do?”
This is why he becme such an instrument of change. He got to that place in prayer where he could listen to God and do as he was told.
2. He planned
How did he go about persuading Artaxerxes to let him go to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall? He could have rushed in to tell the king that he must do something. However we know that this king was not someone to be trifled with. Whilst we know that Nehemiah had a position of trust and privelege in the court, he was still only a slave. From the book of Esther we know that any who entered the presence of the King without permission was worthy of death.
On the ithernhand, he might have said to the king: Your predecessor ordered that Jerusalem be rebuilt, but when some people complained thirteen years ago you decided without listening to the other side of the argument that the work should stop. However this would not have got on the right side of this cruel potentate.
He decided on another course, which was still a risk, but one worth taking. One day he entered the court of the king with a sad face. This was just not done at the time, and could have landed him in trouble. But because of his faithful service, the king asked him what was wrong? “And the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of the heart.” (Nehemiah 2:2 )
His answer is nothing if not diplomatic. “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 2:3 ) He’s got the king onside and sympathising. When he is asked how long he needs to be away to get this sorted, he’s got a ready answered. He has planned well. He even asks for the necessary letters of authority so that he may receive the supplies needed for the task in hand.
It has been said: Aim for nothing and you will surely hit it. When God lays something on our heart we need to be practical people, thinking through what needs to be done.
A well though out idea will always be more readily accepted than merely wishful thinking.
3. He put into action
A well known proverb states that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” How many times can we look back and say that we had a good idea, and even a good plan, but we didn’t follow it through. Nehemiah took the next step. He went to Jerusalem, and when he got there he took his time to look at the task, and then he went to work.
Firstly he gathered the Jews. He couldn’t do the work alone, so he gets everybody together and inspires them with the story of how he managed to get the authority to do the work. He gathers a team together. Then they set to, and he refuses to let the enemies distract him or the workers. He sets everything in order, and within less than two months ghe task which looked impossible is completed. Jerusalem is safe, and the people can live in peace.
This may seem an u likely story – even unrealistic in our day. And yet, there are many stories of people following the same pattern. We could think of Wiberforce and the Clapham Sect. Or closer to our time, my friend Michal, who is a pastor in the Czech Republic. He and his church wondered how they could do good to the town where they live. One of the major problems there was the gambling machines that were everywhere in the town. They prayed, gathered information and lobbied, and before long the local government banned the machines. They saw such an improvement in the economy and wellbeing of the people that now the ,ayor meets with Michal reguLarly to ask advice.
How will we see Albania (or your cities and towns wherever you live) change?
So many people are leaving the country to seek a better life in the West. There is no guarantee of a better life. Morally we are bankrupt in the West. You may get a better life financially, but it will not necessarily be better for you. Will you pray that God would do something? Would you pray that God would send people to do the work? Or will you pray that you yourself will become instruments for change?