The world tour
Over the years it has been my privilege to preach and teach on Nehemiah in different places around the world. He and I have travelled together from London, to the elegance of Lexington, Virginia. We have been up into the thin air of the Murree hills, outside Islamabad. We have travelled from the fertile plains of Vojvodina, Serbia, to the steamy banks of the Brahmaputra in India, and on up into the misty highlands of Shillong, in North East India.
Whenever I have taught through this unusually autobiographical book of the Old Testament, it is Chapter 13 which seems to strike the most resonant chord. I believe there are two reasons for this. Firstly, we love to read a story where something goes wrong. In this chapter, when Nehemiah returns to the scene of his triumph more than ten years later; the walls are intact, but just about everything else has fallen apart. The temple is all but silent, with the singers forced to work on allotments in order to feed their families. The Sabbath has been broken every which way, and a man who had done his utmost to derail Nehemiah’s building programme is now living in a Penthouse in the temple where holy things should be stored.
The second thing which people love about this chapter is its depiction of the power of holy ambition. Ambition of any kind is a powerful force. Consider Bill Gates, for example, with his declaration that:
I can’t wait for tomorrow, and I’m doing everything I can to make it happen.
Once you combine ambition with holiness, though, incredible things happen. Charles Haddon Spurgeon was once walking with a friend up South Norwood Hill at dusk just as the gas lamps were being lit. Turning to his friend he declared that he would like to feel that ‘after I have gone over the brow of the hill, I shall leave a string of lights shining behind me’. He and his students planted some 94 churches, 14,700 people came into membership of the Metropolitan Tabernacle during his time there, and over 3000 students have now been trained in the College which bears his name. No wonder stories like this have captured people’s imagination around the world.
The other thing people love about this chapter is that it shows how radically we have misinterpreted Nehemiah as the Bible’s Bob the Builder. Nehemiah himself has the final word, and simply says ‘remember me with favour, oh my God’.
What’s your ambition?