The bleak mid-winter days are challenging for even the most sanguine among us. Those of us who live in all but a few places on this planet must endure the cold dark days of winter each year. For some these days are longer and colder than for others.
A good book, a hot cuppa, and a cozy, weighted blanket are often enough to get us through. But when we are in the midst of troubling situations, the dismal view outside our window can make things seem even grimmer.
The book of Nehemiah may seem like a strange place to go during such a time, but this man of God has always been an inspiration to me. A wide view of the account of his mission to Jerusalem gives us a good pattern for facing difficult times and bleak winter days.
Nehemiah is in captivity, serving as cupbearer to the king of Persia when hears of the trouble his fellow Jews are facing in Jerusalem. The city is in ruins. The great wall has been broken down and the gates destroyed by fire.
What is the first thing that Nehemiah does? He confesses the sins of his people, his family, and his own sin before God.
“I confess the sins which the Israelites have committed against You, and of which my father’s house and I are also guilty.” Neh 1:6
Whether the situation we are facing is the result of our own poor choices or the consequences of someone else’s the first step is to bring our own feelings and failures to God.
Even when dealing with the fallout of something that wasn’t our fault, shifting our focus from blaming others to our own actions, and dealing with them honestly before God, frees us to forgive others and forgive ourselves. Forgiveness begins the healing process and allows us to ultimately rebuild relationships.
In response to Nehemiah’s prayer, God made a way for him to return to Jerusalem and lead the rebuilding of the wall around the city.
Doing the right thing, confessing our sins, forgiving others, and so forth starts us on the pathway to resolving our problems and reconciling with others. But that doesn’t mean the path is sunny and without pitfalls.
Nehemiah was met with great opposition and even violence. Men, calling themselves friends, tried to discourage, deceive, and lead him to sin against God.
God protected Nehemiah and gave him the wisdom to see through the lies. God does the same for us. “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God and it will be given him, for God is a generous giver who neither grudges nor reproaches anyone.” (James 1:5)
Once the wall was rebuilt and the people could dwell safely again, Nehemiah immediately turned to the word of God. He gathered the people and had the word read in their presence, so that they could understand all that was required of them before God.
Beloved, when we are facing overwhelming situations the Word of God is a vital piece of armour. Paul describes it as a sword that the Holy Spirit gives us. (Eph 6: 10-18) What did Jesus rely on when He was in the desert for forty days being tempted by the evil one? He refuted every temptation with God’s word. (Matt 4)
Partaking daily of the Word will give us the wisdom and strength we need to endure, whether our situation lasts forty hours, forty days, or forty years. The people wanted to weep when they heard the word of the Lord. It had been so long and they had fallen so far. But Nehemiah said, “Let there be no sadness, for joy in the Lord is your strength.”
And, Beloved, it is our strength too.
Finally, before Nehemiah returned to the capital city of Susa to resume his duties of cupbearer to the king, he instituted religious reforms to help the people live their daily lives.
A great many priests and Levites and heads of families were tasked with maintaining the outer and inner workings of the house of God. There were doorkeepers, Levites in charge of collecting the tithes, singers, gatekeepers, workers in the temple, and those in charge of the songs of thanksgiving.
Beloved, it’s essential that we build “habits” into our lives that point us to God. These are not legalistic rituals done out of obligation but rather practices that flow out of a desire to know Him better. Acts that raise our perspective to a higher plane out of the muck and mire that often surrounds us.
Daily or weekly worship through song or other creative outlets. Daily meditation or prayer examen. Recording and thanking God for daily blessings. Writing in a prayer journal. Celebrating/observing the holy days of the Church calendar in whatever way is meaningful to us.
The point is to build a life structure that keeps us connected to God. When we do, no matter how bleak, cold, or dark life gets we will never be alone. We will always have the Son to guide us and carry us through.
The pattern we see in Nehemiah: confession, reading of the word, and thanksgiving is a life-long model we can follow again and again to navigate the bleak mid-winter days, no matter what time of year they come.