January 15, 2020
In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before, 2 so the king asked me, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.”
I was very much afraid, 3 but I said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?”
In this portion of Nehemiah, our hero has gone from planning, to action. In any movie you’ve seen in the past 20 years, this would have been preceded by some sort of training montage with driving music and quick cuts from scene to scene. All building up to the moment on which the whole movie hangs. The title fight, the first date, the big presentation, the transformation from ugly duckling to beautiful swan. But all of Nehemiah’s preparation goes in a different direction. He becomes transparent.
He drops the act that everything is OK. He stops pretending, and he lets the depths of his hurt and pain show. That was an extraordinary risk for Nehemiah. Imagine your sole job is to safeguard the King’s food and drink. And one day you show up looking absolutely wrecked. Face unwashed, eyes puffy and bloodshot from crying, clothes dirty and smelly because you slept in them. Nehemiah wasn’t just risking his job, but his very life. The King could have easily seen his condition as a sign of betrayal or that his loyalty had been compromised. That would have meant death. But instead, it opened up a door for an honest conversation – the beginning of an extraordinary opportunity for Nehemiah to be used by God.
It can be helpful to try and see ourselves in the major players of a Bible story and ask if God wants us to apply their lessons to our lives. You have two choices in this story – the King or Nehemiah. Each one of them does something worth considering. As Nehemiah, what would happen if you dropped whatever act it is that you are playing? If you let people see your hurt or fear or insecurity or anxiety. Can you imagine God using that to start an important conversation? Do you believe that God WANTS to use that pain for a greater good?
What about the King? He’s trying to enjoy his dinner when he sees a loyal servant looking broken and sad. He stops the meal and asks, not about Nehemiah’s circumstances, but about the state of his heart. Could you take time during your workday or when you are hanging out with friends to ask deeper questions? Can you move a conversation past the “what” of someone’s life into the “why”?
If either of those feel relevant for you, take a moment to pray that God would give you an opportunity to either demonstrate or respond to transparency, to respond to pain with healing, to respond to sorrow with hope.