Article: When Hope Shatters Faith with Action Matters | Rev. Dr. Shiju Mathew, India
We are living in a fragmented world. The power and position dictate and decide the terms and conditions for ‘others’. The one who has the key can only unlock the lock. All others are expected to be in line with the views of the centre. Nehemiah, though a cupbearer in the Persian Empire and living with the centre, had a heart for the people who were living in the margins. The theology required today is theology where ‘God-Church/Society/People-Self’ live in harmony and serve together for the well-being of all. In the book of Nehemiah, we can locate seven stepping stones towards the restoration of the covenant community. The restoration involves opportunities, oppositions, and obstacles. Arising and moving out, despite risks and encounters, praying for heavenly guidance, and involving like-minded people in the task are required for successful completion. The seven stepping stones are: Trust, Transparency, Teamwork, Test and Trials, Tackling the Issues Wisely, Triumph after Final Test and Testimony to Others
Based on these seven stones, the following seven important questions needed to be raised and addressed:
1: Do we trust the people with whom we work or associate?
The basic foundation for any piece of work is ‘trust.’ In the book of Nehemiah chapter one, we could see:
a. Hanani came from the land of exile to the Palace, fully trusting Nehemiah (1:2).
b. Even though Nehemiah was in the Palace and had a good rapport with the earthly king, he decided to approach the heavenly king and the throne of grace. tThis shows his trust in Yahweh (1:5-11).
c. The Heavenly king, though He did not answer in chapter one, was present throughout the journey showing that God trusted His servant Nehemiah.
The trust factor should and must not be one way rather it should be reciprocal in outlook. If trust is established, we can continue the work.
2: Are we transparent in our sayings and dealings?
In chapter two, when Nehemiah served the wine to the king, the king observed Nehemiah and asked the reason for his sadness. The king, seeing his sadness, could suspect that something was wrong, to the extent that Nehemiah might have mixed poison in the wine. Even though it wasn’t so, the king was transparent in his approach and enquired about the reason for his sadness. Nehemiah was very much afraid (2:2b) but he said to the king ‘May the king live forever (2:3).’ Nehemiah could have concealed his problem assuming that this same king stopped the work of God earlier (Ezra 4:11-22). But rather he chose to be transparent in expressing his feelings and shares after a second prayer to the heavenly king (Nehemiah 2:4-5) who is seated above the earthly throne (c.f. Isaiah 6:1-3).
Transparency is essential to building up the confidence level.
3: Do we believe in teamwork?
If we observe the 3rd chapter, at least 22 times we could see the expression: next to them/next to him/next section/ next to that. It points out a chain process. In track and field, it’s called a relay race. And in it, two things were important:
a. The initiative by Nehemiah and all others wholeheartedly joined the project. It is not ‘me and mine’ but rather ‘we and ours.’
b. All are assigned (Acts 2- Peter stood up with the eleven) to work in a given place perhaps near to their home location. It is freedom with responsibility and no responsibility with fear.
4: Are we prepared/willing to face the test/trials?
Test started not only in chapter four; rather it started right after the permission of the king (2:10, 19) and the approval of the heavenly king. It continued after teamwork (chapter 4) and it will continue till the completion of the work. The message is crystal clear: the day the enemies know that you are chosen for the great task of rebuilding the community and God’s work, the opposition will start. There is a saying ‘Winner wins, Quitter Quits.’ When tests/trials come across our life, three things are essential – Prayer (4:4-5), Faith (4: 14) and Hope (4: 20)
5: Are we handling the situation wisely?
Earlier the problem was from the outside (ch.2, 4) but now as we progress through, it creeps in from the inside. The issue is between the rich and the poor. When we are in a building project, would we prefer the rich or the poor? Obviously the rich!!! Nehemiah was a leader par excellence and we observe three things that was achieved – Admonishment for correction (5: 6-12a), Agreement after confession (5: 12b-13) and Accountability with concrete shreds of evidence (5: 14-18)
Often we like to keep track of those people who are not in our favour, and cover up the mistakes of those who align with us. We are called not only to admonish but also to correct. We must be willing to admit those who realise their mistakes. And above all, we are expected to set an example before others.
6: Do we realise that triumph comes after a test?
Have you noticed any character from the Holy Bible who received success in life without trial? Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David, Daniel, and his three friends, Ruth, Esther, Paul, and many more are all examples to us .
Never ever give up when we face trials in our life, for God is there to take care of us whether we are in a situation of famine, prison, wilderness, Jordan and Jericho situation, lion’s den, fire, foreign land, life-threatening situation, etc.
The broken wall will be completed in record time, expect record levels of opposition as well!
7: Do we believe that the end matters more than the beginning?
In chapter one, Hanani came all the way from the land of exile to the Palace (1:2). The sharing was between the two but at the end of the project, Nehemiah acknowledges the contribution of Hanani in public. Two outstanding characters of Hanani (7:2) was that He was a man of integrity an He feared God more than most people do.
The question that we all need to answer is: where are we in the rebuilding process? Remember, Nehemiah received the message from Hanani in the month of Kislev (December). After hearing the news, he decided to spend time before the creator for months. In the month of Nisan (April) when he appeared before the earthly king, the king enquired. Nehemiah after a short prayer before the heavenly king wisely placed it before the earthly king. The king granted his request: but along with that came opposition, not once, but seven times. Nehemiah still believed in the hand of God and with unwavering hope along with others continued the project. The wall was completed on the 25th of Elul (month of September) in 52 days (6:15).
Dear readers, unwavering faith is required to commence the journey, unconditional love is necessary to continue the work and unswerving hope is mandatory to complete the work. C. S. Lewis made a beautiful statement: ‘You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.’
Nehemiah heard the cry and needs of his people. He decided to pray unto God and in His appointed time took the initiative of risking his own life to meet the needs of people who are going through a life of storms and hardships. We are in a time between the second wave and the possible third wave. The church and society are going through a difficult phase of life due to a life-threatening virus. The role of the church is to adopt Nehemiah’s principle of rebuilding the broken world. The world needs healing, health, and wholeness. So, arise, serve, and shine!
It is rightly said, “Locks are never manufactured without a key. Similarly, God never gives problems without solutions. All we need is the patience to unlock them.”
Rev. Dr. Shiju Mathew