The Savior – Jesus Christ – spoke to his disciples and instructed them with what we now understand to be the Beatitudes, or the Sermon on the Mount. These beatitudes have come to be defined as the eight steps to spiritual maturation in the life of those who call themselves Christians. The first step is that of humility: blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. The second step to spiritual maturation is a contrite spirit that mourns over sin: Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted. Humility and mourning are all aspects of what we discovery in the scriptures where an individual comes to the realization of the nature and devastation sin has had on their own lives and the lives of the people they serve. In fact, humility and mourning precede the confession of sin and is the beginning process of repentance.
Through this process of humbling ourselves, mourning over the sins and acts of transgressions we have engaged in, there is great comfort and joy when we come before our Lord and Savior to seek forgiveness and to find a renewed hope within the confines of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Nehemiah chapter one contains the process of what true humility, sincere mourning and repentance constitutes. Whether we are humbling ourselves and repenting of our own transgressions and sins, or that of our family, community, and even our own nation – the process is simplistic in light of how Nehemiah responded to the report of those remnant people of the House of Israel.
As we begin this devotional study, prayerfully consider the past year and make an inventory (mentally or by writing it down) areas where one may have caused offense, harm, injury, or where one has not been as faithful in fulfilling their duties and obligations within their family, work, school, and even within their local Church.
In great affliction and reproach
When we have engaged in sinful acts, there is the inevitable consequence of affliction and reproach. This can range from being disappointed with ourselves over something very minor and having a brief moment of disappoint in ourselves to the more serious transgressions and consequences that create mental anguish within us and those that our very moral agency affected. Reading the first few verses of Nehemiah chapter 1, we find that the consequence of the destruction of Jerusalem caused great affliction and disappointment among the people.
The Book of Nehemiah is approximately dated to about 445 BCE when the King of Persia – Artaxerxes I – reigned (which is considered modern day Iran). The destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple of Solomon occurred approximately 140 years previous during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar. This is evident in the opening passages of the Book of Mormon:
For it came to pass in the commencement of the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, King of Judah … that … there came many prophets prophesying unto the people that they must repent, or the great city Jerusalem must be destroyed. (1 Nephi 1:4).
Because of the wickedness of the Jews, the desolation and destruction occurred, many were taken captive into Babylon and many others perished. The Jews no longer had a place to worship, no longer had any national pride and were carried off as prisoners. Our own sins become our masters and we become the slave to our sinful desires. The Apostle Paul reflects upon this as he wrote the following:
Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? (Romans 6:16 – KJV)
Speaking unto his sons, Lehi shared this thought:
Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil (2 Nephi 2:27).
We have the capacity and the rightful moral agency to choose for ourselves whether or not we will allow ourselves to become captives or liberated men and women. This includes how we allow ourselves to react to situations where it was another individual’s moral agency that has caused affliction to come into our own lives.
In relating the understanding of the destruction of Jerusalem, there were probably innocent people that did walk in obedience to the commandments of God. Individuals that observed and worshiped according to what they were taught. Much like today in our society, there are many people who hold fast to the teachings of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, yet come under affliction because of the actions of another individual.
No matter where we find ourselves – we all have faced some form of afflictions, as well as disappointments, in the past year. Whether we were the direct cause of those afflictions, or they came by another individual’s choice, we must come to terms with those things that have caused us to be in great affliction and reproach. Because of these great afflictions and reproach, we find that our walls have crumbled and are broken down and our gates are burned with fire:
The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. And it came to pass in the month of Chisleu, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the palace, that Hanani, one of my brethren, came, he and certain men of Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews that had escaped, which were left of the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said unto me, the remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province are in great affliction and reproach: the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire. (Nehemiah 1:1-3; KJV)
In his sermon – Don’t despair – begin to repair – Ray Stedman provides this commentary:
Notice the description of Jerusalem. The people were in trouble. They were feeling a great sense of disgrace and reproach. The walls of the city were broken down (Nebuchadnezzar had started that many years earlier). The gates had been burned with fire and were no longer usable.
If we take Jerusalem as a symbol of our own lives, there are many people … who fit this description.
Stedman continues with his observation:
You look back on your life this New Year’s Day and you see there are places where the walls have been broken down. There is no longer any ability left to resist destructive attacks. You have fallen victim to sinful habits that you now find difficult, if not impossible, to break. That is the kind of ruin that is described here.
The ruin of Jerusalem that is described in Nehemiah is about a life that has become unmanageable because of sin. Unmanageable for us who have committed the act and continued in the engagement of such sinful desires; as well as life becoming unmanageable for those who are affected by our own choices and the contention that arises out of this unmanageable life.
Parents who are dealing with children that have become rebellious, angered, and even violent deal with an unmanageable lifestyle. Husbands and wives that deal with infidelity, pornography addiction, abuse, or even substance abuse and addiction have an unmanageable marriage that is strained to the point of falling apart and being dissolved through divorce proceedings. Teens who engage in bullying create an unmanageable life for their victims as well as the victims’ families because of the bullying. More somber is the act of violence that took the lives of 27 people, majority of them who were young children. The effects of such a violent act is still being talked about through social media networks about whether or not we as a society ought to adopt stricter gun control – to include banning particular weapons. Other aspects of an unmanageable life can come as a result of the loss of employment, or home, or the inability to meet the basic needs of maintaining a home: all being the result of particular choices that have direct and indirect effect upon our lives.
Wherever one is at when 2012 had come to a close, we have a New Year before us. With this new year, there is a new outlook and by providing complete closure to past hurts, finding liberation from the afflictions and reproach in our lives, we can set our feet upon the road to a renewed discovery of a more deeper and richer relationship with ourselves, our families, fellow co-workers and even strangers that we come in contact with. Take a moment to reflect and take action.
Questions to ponder:
- Where in my life has it become unmanageable?
- How did my life become unmanageable?
- How have I reacted to how another person’s decision caused my life to become unmanageable?
- Have I ignored the causation of my own actions, the actions of others, and the consequences that ensued because of my own moral agency – or the moral agency of another?
Action to take:
- Commit to fasting and praying this week and invite the companionship of the Holy Spirit to help reveal those areas that need to be brought to attention.
- Commit to reading and journal your thoughts and impressions as you reflect upon Nehemiah chapter 1. What are your initial impressions? What is applicable in your own life? Where is there great affliction and reproach that you would like to resolve as the New Year is under way?
- Commit to seriously reflect on the past year where there maybe offenses that were caused by you or offenses you have taken because of someone else. Write down those offenses and seek to resolve those offenses and bring closure to them.
© 2013 by Timothy R. Berman and Clarity Digital Media Group: Express written permission of both must be given to quote or utilize the contents of this article in any way – All Rights Reserved.
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