Pray The Church To Life: Weep
Passion Produces Tears
My wife was giving birth to our first child and things didn’t go as planned. Emma got stuck and both my daughter and my wife were in trouble. It was a frightening time for all of us. But one of the things I remember most about those hours of uncertainty was seeing my wife struggle in pain and fear. I watched a strong courageous woman keep fighting while her body was breaking. At one point I just started weeping. I couldn’t control it and I didn’t want to. I adore my bride and I ache when she hurts. I wasn’t as concerned with what would happen but what was happening. In that moment I saw one I love with deep passion in great trouble and crumbling, so I wept. What I felt was natural. When you love someone, really love someone, if they ache you weep.
This is how Nehemiah must have felt as he received the news that God’s church, and His city, was in shambles. Nehemiah wept because the church was broken (Neh 1.3-4). The report had come in and it wasn’t good. What once was glorious had fallen greatly. There had been many attempts to rebuild the broken city but they weren’t successful. On top of broken walls, the city was full of broken lives and spirits. Imagine a hundred years of rubble. Day in, day out, living with the visible and constant reminders of brokenness. It was like that for God’s church during the days of Nehemiah and it is like that for many today. I have friends laboring in places where Jesus used to be adored. In fact, there are a lot of those “used to” places. Far too many. So we weep.
But even more than a broken city, Nehemiah wept for the glory of God. In Nehemiah 1.11 we see his prayer conclude with a word of delight in the fear of God’s name. Compelled by fear, reverence, and awe for God is a constant theme for Nehemiah. What is true for Nehemiah is also true for others. Those who delight to fear God’s name are moved to tears as His name is maligned, cheapened, or ignored. Throughout the book of Nehemiah we see that the central motivation must have been the glory of God. He continually made clear that any advances in the mission were due to God’s good hand. He rallied people for the mission by grounding people in God’s promises and power. Nehemiah even stopped oppression for the reputation of God and His church among their enemies. Nehemiah cared what people thought of God and so he wanted to see the church rebuilt, renewed, and thriving. Think about it this way, how gloriously will God be displayed as He revives the UK? How ignored is Jesus in Boston where He is seemingly forgotten? Imagine the kind of praise that would resound if New York City experienced revival. And we could go on. Just think, what would happen if the church in your area came to life and everyone could perceive “that the work had been accomplished with the help of our God” (Neh 6.16).
Tears Produce Prayer
Nehemiah is passionate for God’s people and God’s glory so when his eyes are opened to the condition of the church he weeps and mourns and fasts and prays, for months. When was the last time you cried that your crucified King isn’t adored in your city? Or walked by a church that now preaches a different gospel and fell down and prayed? If you love the church and you love the glory of God you will weep. Like Nehemiah you will cry out for help. And this kind of prayer isn’t something you get to do, it’s something you have to do. When I saw Kati hurting, I hurt, because I love her. When I see the Church hurting, I hurt, because I love Her. This isn’t something you work up but something that spills out. Passion produces tears, and tears produce prayer.
It is helpful to note that Nehemiah’s prayer in chapter 1 is not helpless or hopeless sobbing. If you read the entire prayer you will see a man greatly moved but through those tears he is confident that God can do something. God invites us to mourn with the promise and hope the He hears and He can heal. He invites us to confess sin, corporate and private. He listens to the cries of His people and He cares. He invites us to weep and pray. So let’s do just that. Let your passion for the church and the glory of God produce weeping prayer.
One of the dangers in looking at the prayer life of Nehemiah is we would see him as the hero and make every effort to be like him. That isn’t all bad. God uses men and women to inspire us through their lives and model for us ways to live. Their passion and pursuit of God can help us and we should imitate others as they imitate Jesus. But that’s just it. No matter how godly someone appears, they are at best, imperfect imitations of Jesus. The goal in looking at how Nehemiah prayed isn’t to make ‘every effort’ to be like Nehemiah, but directed to the One who prayed with more passion and tears than Nehemiah could possibly imagine. As we weep on behalf of the broken church we have to see the One who first wept for us, a broken people. In fact, throughout the story of Nehemiah we aren’t first or foremost like Nehemiah. We are the shamed, busted, scared, vulnerable, rebellious, apathetic, needy, poor, stained people in need of intercession, in need of a weeping Savior. In Jesus, that’s what we have.
Jesus cried in compassion for Mary and Martha and others (John 11.35) even though He knew the situation would emerge in life and glory. Jesus grieves over the rebellious city, Jerusalem, in a touching lament for His people to be brought near (Matthew 23.37-38). And on the Cross, Jesus cries out while spilling blood. There are many churches in shame and dishonor waiting for renewal. But because Jesus is the Hero, our shameful indifference toward the church is forgiven and as we see the infinite price Jesus paid for His church and how He much loves His bride, our sometimes cold-hearts are stirred to love God’s glory and pray for His church. In other words, as we hear Jesus weep we cry out. We hurt for the church but do so with hope because of the One who can heal the church. Passion produces tears. The more you love the church the more you’ll mourn and fast and pray. Weeping produces prayer. The less people adore God and dishonor His name the more you will fall down and cry out. Because Jesus is the Hero, we can weep and pray knowing that Jesus can wipe away tears as He renews the church.
Jesus Wept, So We Cry Out
O LORD God of Heaven,
We look out at the church and we can see so much to be hopeful about. People are meeting Jesus. People are hearing the Gospel. There seem to be whole nations turning to you. And yet, there are so many others that are running from you. The church, in places like France and Germany, have experienced some great revivals, and yet now appear as if they never knew you. In the Unites States, in regions like New England, we see Universities that began with the mission to train men to preach Jesus, now turned into institutions that ignore and even hate Him. Church building after building flipped into someone’s home leaving a steeple-sized reminder that there used to be a church there. We long for the church to live. We ache over every loss of every congregation, every fracture, every split, every weakening of your people. And above our sadness over the state of your church in far too many places is our great pain that the value of your Name is not esteemed.
So, like Daniel we cry out that you would hear and forgive, and pay attention and act. We do not come in our righteousness, for we deserve open shame. True, the church has enemies but so often Her brokenness and disrepair is the product of our neglect and abuse. And so we come before you God of Heaven, our great and awesome God, and ask that you would incline your ear and hear, that you would open your eyes and see our desolations and the churches that are called by your name. We come to you not according to our merit but your mercy and ask, for your name’s sake, for the glory of your Son, for the fame of Him among all people, that you would revive, renew, and rebuild and restore. All for the glory of your beautiful name, which we delight to fear, and the good of your church, that we know Jesus will make beautiful. And it is in the good and mighty name of our weeping Savior we pray, Amen.