Experience the Holy Spirit in Contemplation

AUTHOR: Holy Scripture

READ:

Read or listen to Nehemiah 1:1–2:5.

The words of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah:

During the month of Chislev in the twentieth year, when I was in the fortress city of Susa, Hanani, one of my brothers, arrived with men from Judah, and I questioned them about Jerusalem and the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile. They said to me, “The remnant in the province, who survived the exile, are in great trouble and disgrace. Jerusalem’s wall has been broken down, and its gates have been burned.”

When I heard these words, I sat down and wept. I mourned for a number of days, fasting and praying before the God of the heavens.  I said,

Lord, the God of the heavens, the great and awe-inspiring God who keeps his gracious covenant with those who love him and keep his commands, let your eyes be open and your ears be attentive to hear your servant’s prayer that I now pray to you day and night for your servants, the Israelites. I confess the sins we have committed against you. Both I and my father’s family have sinned. We have acted corruptly toward you and have not kept the commands, statutes, and ordinances you gave your servant Moses. Please remember what you commanded your servant Moses: “If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples. But if you return to me and carefully observe my commands, even though your exiles were banished to the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place where I chose to have my name dwell.” They are your servants and your people. You redeemed them by your great power and strong hand. Please, Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant and to that of your servants who delight to revere your name. Give your servant success today, and grant him compassion in the presence of this man.

At the time, I was the king’s cupbearer.

During the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was set before him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had never been sad in his presence, so the king said to me, “Why do you look so sad, when you aren’t sick? This is nothing but sadness of heart.”

I was overwhelmed with fear 3 and replied to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should I not be sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins and its gates have been destroyed by fire?”

Then the king asked me, “What is your request?”

So I prayed to the God of the heavens and answered the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor with you, send me to Judah and to the city where my ancestors are buried, so that I may rebuild it.”

How does Nehemiah demonstrate attentiveness to God?

The written Scripture is CSB, however, the audio Scripture is ESV.

FOCUS:

Read or listen to the blog. What is one thing you learned about what it means to lovingly gaze on Jesus? How can you incorporate what you learned into your daily routines? For example, I will pay attention to the beauty in nature around me, and acknowledge that it is from the hand of God.

Can You See God While Standing in the Ruins?

By Joel Smith

Growing up in a family-owned construction company has shaped my perspective and enjoyment of the Bible. One of the reasons is because of the many references to construction in Scripture, probably due to Jesus himself being a fellow tradesman/carpenter. This makes some Bible stories easy for me to relate to, as many of our family conversations growing up were centered around construction topics. Our family conversations on holidays often felt like project updates, and company picnics were essentially family reunions. Routinely we would drive by projects that our business was working on or hear about buildings that had been completed in the past. One of the projects I heard about was Joplin High School in Joplin, MO that our company built in the 1950’s. There was a lot of pride in this project as it was one of the earlier schools we built, and school buildings are now a main focus of our company.

Back to the Bible! I read the book of Nehemiah recently and it gave me a whole different perspective on the characters in the story, and what they must have gone through to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.

 

A cupbearer turned foreman

In this story, Nehemiah has it made. He has one of the best jobs in all of Persia. He is part of the king’s high court. He probably lived in the castle, ate the best food and drank the best wine (as long as it wasn’t poisoned)! Then Nehemiah gets a message from his brother that his hometown’s walls are destroyed and the gates have been burned. How would you feel hearing this message, knowing one of your family members is struggling with a disaster? What would you do?

Before anything, Nehemiah prays to God (Nehemiah 1:4-11). Knowing and trusting that God was with him, Nehemiah is ready to drop everything and asks the king to let him go rebuild the walls around Jerusalem. This question alone could have gotten him killed, but he doesn’t stop there. He also asks for letters from the king to grant safe passage during his travels and for building materials on his way (Nehemiah 2:7-8). That is some bold faith right there. The king’s response, “how long will your journey take, and when will you return?” (Nehemiah 2:6) is similar to a modern day question I get all the time in construction.”How much is this going to cost, and how long is it going to take?”.

The king approves, and Nehemiah leaves for Jerusalem. When he arrives, his mind has to shift from a cupbearer (serving someone else) to a construction foreman (being a leader), focused on the task at hand. He has to lead the workers to be safe and efficient to get the construction done as quickly as possible. During the build, Nehemiah hears rumors that opposition is planning to attack the city while the walls are being rebuilt. So now, this former cupbearer,who is leading a construction crew, must prepare for an attack at any second. His message to the workers is don’t be afraid, God is with us (Nehemiah 4:14). As the construction continues, attempts to trick and/or intimidate Nehemiah fail due to his trust in God. Nehemiah finishes the wall in 52 days and the city is reborn. All done by a cupbearer who could see God, while standing in the ruins.

 

An unlikely construction crew

Scripture’s focus is on Nehemiah but we need to give some credit to the unsung heroes of this story, the construction workers. Nehemiah arrives but does not share why he is there, and on the third night he sneaks out and inspects the damage. After his on-site inspection, he gathers the Jews, priests, nobles, officials, and others (Nehemiah 2:16-17) to tell them why the king sent him (to rebuild) and that “God is with us”. The response is “Let’s start rebuilding”. This comes from workers that likely witnessed the destruction of the city. They have probably been literally living in the ruins, looking for God, and he came through Nehemiah.

Can you imagine what it would have been like to hear that speech? Nehemiah convinces these ordinary people that they can do extraordinary things, as God is on their side. I have to believe that those in attendance could feel God using Nehemiah in this story as a conduit to share his plans, and they were all in. Think how much their faith probably grew during this project! All the time they spent in prayer asking for protection, scared of potential attacks, and there were no attacks. They prayed, and God protected them. The “construction workers” could see God, while they were standing in, and rebuilding, the ruins.

 

MAY 22nd, 2011

On a Sunday afternoon in Joplin, Missouri, an EF-5 tornado went through the city destroying nearly everything in its six-mile path, and causing 161 deaths (2011 Joplin Tornado Facts and Information | TornadoFacts.net). One of those structures was Joplin High School that our company built almost 60 years before. When my father heard what happened in Joplin, he put some of our current projects on hold, and sent a crew down with shovels and a dump truck to help clean up. Later that year, our company was selected by the school district to rebuild Joplin High School, along with a few other new schools.

In the summer of 2012 we broke ground. While we were rebuilding these schools, there were hundreds of other projects going on throughout the city, but Joplin High School felt like the center of the rebuilding effort. It was one of the largest projects going on in the city, but probably had a lot of attention due to the fact that the high schoolers were going to school in a mall. The task sounded simple enough: rebuild the high school in two years. A project of this size would typically take around three years to complete, but the message from the school district was clear. The kids and this community had been through hell and we needed to get them into their new school. The architects fast-tracked their design, the suppliers quick-shipped materials, and our crews worked two and sometimes three shifts in a day to do everything within our power to get the building opened.

In my almost 20 years in the construction industry, I have never felt more pressure to complete a project than that one. It took more supervision, attention to detail, schedule focus, and motivation than any other project. In some ways, our job was less construction related and more encouragement and support to keep the motivation from beginning to end, sort of like how I picture Nehemiah’s role as a foreman. I have also never seen another project that had more open prayer support from everyone involved in the project and those in the community. That was the most difficult project I have been involved with, but also the most rewarding as I know God was there with us, in the ruins. On September 2, 2014, Joplin High School opened its doors again.

 

What ruins are you standing in right now?

Toward the end of this project, the stress overwhelmed me. I experienced anxiety and depression that I had never felt before. The best way that I can describe it was crippling. I couldn’t eat or sleep (which was a vicious cycle) and I had no motivation to do anything. For weeks and months, I was worthless, but through prayer I turned my focus to God. I prayed, and prayed hard. During that time, God’s presence became more visible in my life than ever before and helped rebuild me.

I used to be ashamed to share this part of my story, probably because I felt embarrassed, but the more I share my story, the more stories I hear that are similar to mine. Then I read Nehemiah and he is so visibly upset that the king asks what’s wrong. Nehemiah is then “overwhelmed with fear.” I bet we can all relate to this. God took Nehemiah, someone who got sad and had fear, and did something great, as Nehemiah believed and saw God in the ruins.

So what are your ruins? Is it anxiety or depression? Is it a health diagnosis for you or a loved one? Is it a lost job? Or prayers that you feel have gone unanswered? I have no idea what you are going through, but I do believe if you look, you will see God standing in the ruins with you.

When I reflect on this time in my life, God met me in the ruins, gave me a hammer and said “Let’s start rebuilding together.”

PRAY:

Lord, amidst the ruins in my life, help me be attentive to you and the ways you are rebuilding me and turning ruins into beauty.

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Week 1 of 8 Contemplation

10 Comments

  1. Eben Fowler

    Joel:
    What an amazing story! Thank you for sharing it.

    Reply
    • Joel Smith

      Thanks Eben, glad you enjoyed it.

      Reply
  2. Ramona Crawford

    Sometimes I feel my whole life is a ruin but as I learn to lift my eyes I see there is beauty all around me and even in the ruins there can be peace. I think of kintsugi and the light shining through the cracks…

    Reply
    • Joel Smith

      Ramona, happy you can see beauty and feel peace while standing in the “ruins”.

      Reply
  3. Cathy Gordon

    Well done! I too had a father who was a general contractor…. Great blog/ comparator the text✔️

    Reply
  4. Mary Pruitt

    Thank you for sharing this story and for the time you took to put it into podcast form. Your willingness to be transparent will bless more than you know. I have no connection to construction, but my father was a civil engineer and I remember him taking me to one of his construction sites and showing me what seemed to be a towering core sample. He named the different layers, described the forces that formed them, and explained how we needed to take all that into account before building. I wonder if we might better understand how to approach our personal adversaries if we could take a metaphorical core sample of who they are and see the forces that formed them.

    Reply
    • Joel Smith

      Mary, thanks for your kind words and comments!!

      Reply
  5. Annettia Riedesel

    What a beautiful reminder of God’s faithfulness in the midst of our ruins! Thank you for sharing your story, Joel. It was so encouraging to me! As I listened, my heart filled with gratitude for the great things He has done and continues to do!

    Reply
  6. John Volkens

    Joel, that is incredible. I love that you can help us relate the story of Nehemiah to your personal story, which helps us relate the story to our own lives.

    “…if you look, you will see God standing in the ruins with you.

    When I reflect on this time in my life, God met me in the ruins, gave me a hammer and said ‘Let’s start rebuilding together.'”

    Thanks for helping us see how God is with us, through both our joys and there in the midst the ruins. It’s so true and so important for us to remember.

    Reply
  7. Joel Smith

    Cathy, that is awesome that you could relate!!

    Annettia, great to hear that this was encouraging and evoked gratitude!!

    John, Thanks for the kind words my friend!! Nehemiah is one of my favorites and easy to relate.

    Reply

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