August 20 I Monday

Psalms 105-106

1 Corinthians 3

“When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.” —Nehemiah 1:4


For 140 years, the city of Jerusalem had been in ruins. The Babylonian Empire took the people of Judah into exile in 587 B.C., but when Persia conquered Babylon in 539 B.C., they allowed the people to return home if they wished. A man named Zerubbabel led the first group of Jews back to Jerusalem. They intended to rebuild the temple, but after completing the altar, they began to focus on their own homes and livelihoods instead. Eighty years later, the prophet Ezra and another group of returning exiles finished rebuilding the temple, but the city walls remained demolished.

In 444 B.C., Nehemiah, a Jew born in exile and cupbearer to the Persian king, received a report that deeply upset him about the state of Jerusalem. He was told, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire” (Nehemiah 1:3). Nehemiah had never laid eyes on Jerusalem, so why did this report cause him such distress? Because the broken city of God represented to him the broken people of God. Jerusalem was meant to be a light to the world, but it had been left desecrated. The fact that God was no longer in Jerusalem, His dwelling place, depicted the people living independently of God, and this shook Nehemiah to the core.

When Pastor Stephen Olford was asked, “What is the secret of ministry?” he replied, “Bent knees, wet eyes, a broken heart.” It is not degrees in theology or ministerial qualifications that will move us, but feeling in our souls the pressure of God’s compassion that opens our hearts to participate in His work. Our increasingly noisy, complex world can make this difficult. We spend so much time surfing the web, watching TV and scrolling on smartphones that we become desensitized to the needs of this world. We need to allow ourselves to have our hearts broken, because this is where compassion is stirred and we are moved to action.   

After much prayer and mourning, Nehemiah requested and received permission from the king to go to Jerusalem to oversee rebuilding its walls. This shows Nehemiah’s tears were not tears of pity, wiped away in a moment. They were tears of compassion for a broken people, scattered because of their disobedience. They were tears of identifying himself with his people’s need that led to participation in their need. God is far more concerned with the worker than He is the work. It is people who shed tears for the broken who God looks for, because the needs of our fallen world can only be met by those whose hearts are broken over it.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I want to be deeply moved by the brokenness in our world. Stir up compassion within my heart and compel me to act upon it. Thank You, Lord.

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