“The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah. Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the citadel, that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.”” (Nehemiah 1:1–3).
God is intensely concerned with people. This should be evident by observing the natural order, things like the seasons or the finely tuned human body, but should be most evident in the cross of Christ, that “God so loved the world that He sent His only Son” (John 3:16). Nehemiah, like his God, was intensely concerned with people. The first half of the book that bears his name details a massive rebuilding project in Jerusalem, namely of the walls and the gates, for the city was a shell of its former self. The latter half of Nehemiah details the revival and re-instruction of God’s people in Jerusalem. The rebuilding of the city was the necessary stage for revival amongst the people. In other words, for the people of God to find spiritual health and joy, the city of God had to endure a radical restoration.
Nehemiah’s story does not begin in Jerusalem, but in the winter palace of the Persian king. There Nehemiah served as the cupbearer to King Artaxerxes. Faithfully and dutifully Nehemiah took care of the task in front of him, but one day one of his brothers returned from a long trip to Jerusalem. Almost immediately, it seems, Nehemiah began to ask concerning the state of things in Jerusalem. He asked concerning the people and also the city. He was interested in the current state of things. Perhaps he had heard rumors and reports, but he wanted eyewitness confirmation.
Because Nehemiah asked these questions a great work for God began to unfold. These questions were like the lighting of a long fuse, unleashing the explosive work of the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem, which would lead to a restoration and revival among God’s people. These questions were the gateway into a deeper and more wonderful work of God on earth. Because Nehemiah asked, Nehemiah built.
But what was it that drove this man to ask these questions? Nehemiah wasn’t asking for a superficial update. He wasn’t asking empty questions with no concern for the answer. This wasn’t a trite, “how are you doing?” Nehemiah asked these questions because he carried a deep concern for the people and the city of God within his heart. He may have lived hundreds of miles separated from God’s people and God’s city, but his heart was very near to them. Nehemiah dreamt of revival, often thought of Jerusalem, and longed for God’s people to discover God’s best for their lives. In short, his concern drove him to ask the questions.
Any great move of God starts with a concern for God, his people, and his work. Nehemiah wouldn't have moved an inch or lifted a finger if he had no heart for God or His people. His questions may have gotten the ball rolling, but his concern applied the initial push. I'm sure many people would have casually wanted a restored and rebuilt Jerusalem, but Nehemiah deeply longed for it. It was embedded in the fabric of his value system.
If you want to see an amazing and enduring work of God occur through your life, you must carry a concern for the things that God is concerned for. His priorities and passions must become yours. Spiritual vitality and health must not be just another box on your check list of desires, just another thing to someday/maybe obtain, but they must become of paramount importance to you. Nehemiah was deeply concerned with God’s people. For an enduring work of God to flow through our lives, there must be a love for God and His people that trumps all else (Matthew 22:37-40). As the psalmist wrote, “As for the saints who are on the earth, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight” (Psalm 16:2-3). To delight in God’s people, to care deeply for them is one of the first ingredients of a substantial work of God through your life.
Now, this concern is not something we are naturally born with. In fact, our natural man cares quite deeply for himself, to the exclusion of others. Through the regenerating work of God’s Holy Spirit, however, we can begin to rise above the flesh and become victorious over our selfish ambitions. Only by the help of God will we begin to care for the people of God. He must electrify your heart. He must be the one to tune you into the deep needs and burdens all around you. He must be the one to open your eyes to the pockets of humanity he is calling you to build in and upon.
When my walk with Christ began, I was entirely self-focused. My greatest spiritual thoughts concerned victory over sin, the creation of new friendships, and my future. I was consumed with the self. Faithfully, over time, God began to expand my heart. He began to open my eyes to some of the needs around me and in our world. For me, in my life particularly, God began to show me a deep need for his people to understand and know the beauty of his word. I sensed a strong desire to communicate Scripture with people so that they could know the beauty and glory and wonder of God, so their hearts could be set free more and more until that perfect day. In short, God put a burden inside of my heart, a burden to see people know God through knowing his word, a burden that lives and grows inside of me to this day.
For me, the burden to communicate Scripture is only one portion of the overall burden God has given to me. As a married man, I have a burden to be an excellent husband, humble and countercultural in every way. As a father, I have a burden to provide a place of refuge and sanctuary to my children. I want them to grow up knowing what a man of God looks like and feels like and lives like. These are lifelong pursuits. Other burdens God gives me are more seasonal. A project to engage in, a team to coach, or a person to mentor could all be burdens handed down from heaven above.
Where might you be burdened? How has God shaped and formed your heart? What and who are you most concerned for? Perhaps your concern has only begun to germinate. Perhaps it is beginning to bloom. Or perhaps it lays dormant. One way to consider the burdens that might come from God is to think of the questions you would most naturally ask. Nehemiah gravitated towards asking about the city and the people of God.
Perhaps you feel a void in this area. Perhaps you cannot sense a burden alive inside of you. Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21). Said originally concerning money, this is a great secret to life in general. Our natural thought tells us that we will treasure whatever our heart is excited about, but Jesus tells us it is the other way around. Whatever you treasure, wherever you invest the treasures of your time, energy, and finances, there will your heart be. If you are concerned with merely trivial things, perhaps it is because you have placed the treasure of your time, energy, and finances into those things. Instead, place your treasure in the important and eternal and watch your heart begin to change. Soon, you will find yourself with a deep burden from God.