This year Ready for the Road Ahead is taking on a new direction. It is one that follows the grand theme of sight in all aspects which runs throughout Scripture. My weekly writings will be excerpts from a book of the same name which should be published (Lord willing) later this year.
I do not consider myself a portrait photographer but every now and then I will see a person and their face will capture my attention and I in turn capture them in my camera. I was wandering around the farmer’s market one Saturday and discovered some young musicians playing a lovely classical piece. While all of them were very talented one girl was fascinating to watch. I didn’t want to be obvious but I had to get a picture of her. While I would not put myself in the company of photographers like Steve McCurry or Dorothea Lange, I was pleased with the result of my inconspicuous attempt at portraiture.
If photographers were around in the days of the Bible I wonder what the portraits of the people written about would look like? While we do not have physical images to hold in our hands or view on the wall, we do have word pictures recorded for us across its pages. I think that one of the most compelling portraits might be that of Nehemiah who served as the cupbearer in the court of King Artaxerxes I (464-424 B. C.). Persian monarchs were known to turn a blind eye to any misery, disaster, sorrow or pain in the people surrounding them. The first aspect of Nehemiah’s portrait that we see is his demeanor and love towards Jerusalem. News had reached Nehemiah of the poor conditions in the city. Nehemiah was heartbroken and spent many days fasting and praying before the Lord seeking an answer to the situation (some have estimated this was a period of about four months!). Nehemiah cannot hide his sorrow and when the king sees it, he fears he has broken protocol and will be punished for it (Neh. 2:2).
A second aspect of Nehemiah’s portrait emerges as he begins the daunting task of rebuilding the wall. He inspires the people with the testimony of how he came to Jerusalem (2:11-20) and to further the actual completion of the wall Nehemiah divides it into sections assigning them to the people who live closest to each part that needs repair (Neh. 3). Nehemiah’s enemies do their best to undermine and stop the work so to further insure the wall is completed Nehemiah arms the workers with weapons so that if they are attacked they will be able to defend themselves (Neh. 4:21-23). Nehemiah is decisive, thorough and aggressive in both the construction of the wall and spiritual reforms. The third aspect of Nehemiah’s portrait is his devotion. When a problem arises he is immediately in prayer (Neh. 1:5-11; 2:4; 4:4-5; 6:9, 14). He set a personal example of the commitment he demanded (5:14-18). When one is this devoted it is a guarantee that opposition will arise. It did for Nehemiah in the form of three powerful men: Sanballat, the governor of Samaria, Tobiah the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arab. They were three powerful opponents but they were no match for the devotion of one man who was intent on pleasing God (Neh. 5:19; 13:14, 22, 31).
Nehemiah’s portrait may not have been captured on film but the words used to describe him have the same effect. Wherever we “see” him in Scripture, whether it’s in the court of Artaxerxes or examining the progress of the wall in Jerusalem, we see the same attributes over and over again: a love for God and for Jerusalem, a passion to wholly serve a Holy God, bold and aggressive leadership that gets the job done and stares down opponents, and a solid foundation of prayer to stay the course and complete the task at hand. After learning about Nehemiah it would be easy to think we’re exempt from living in the same fashion because we don’t find ourselves in a similar situation. But would thinking that Nehemiah’s story is just a collection of historical facts and not applicable to us be true? I don’t think so.
The Bible often reminds us that we live as aliens and sojourners in this world, that it is not our home and our citizenship is in heaven (Ps. 39:12; Jn. 18 :36; 2 Cor. 5:1; Phil. 3:20; 1 Pet. 2:11). We are also told that Jesus, God’s Son, has sent us into this world with a message (Mt. 10:16; 28:18-20; Lk. 10:3; Jn. 20:21; Acts 1:8; 5:32; 2 Cor. 5:20; Eph. 1:13-14; 1 Jn. 1:5) but that we will be met with opposition in spite of the Good News we have to share (Mk. 10:28-30; Jn. 15:19; Eph. 6:12; 2 Tim. 3:1, 13). Although we may face opposition and even persecution from the enemies of the Cross, God has equipped us with the Holy Spirit so that we can accomplish all the tasks He has called us to do (Jn. 14:16, 25-27; Phil. 4:11-13; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). How we go about living for Christ and sharing the Good News is not only a testimony to Christ at work in us, but also inspirational to those who need to hear the message or be encouraged by our personal story (Eph. 2:1-10; Phil. 2:14-16; Heb. 12:1-2). The evidence is compelling. You and I face the same challenges as Nehemiah even though we are in a different time and place. So, what does my portrait say about me? What does yours say about you?
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
https://www.annhlefevre.com; Olivetreeann@mail.com; https://www.linkedin.com/in/annhlefevre; https://www.facebook.com/ann.h.lefevre