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Holy Discontent

Holy discontent does not see how big or impossible the problem is. Holy discontent sees who has the power to solve the problem.


Nehemiah 1:1-11: “The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah.


Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the citadel, that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.”


As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. And I said, “O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’ They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”


Now I was cupbearer to the king.” (ESV)


My older son Arius has told me numerous times that he wants to be like me. Last week my wife found my younger son standing at a desk pretending to preach, saying “I’m Daddy, I’m Daddy.” As a father, I appreciate that my boys want to be like me but as we grow, we see the faults in our own fathers. I want them to be more like Jesus so that they can develop holy discontent as they grow.


Christian men and fathers have to have holy discontent in order to be intentional about fostering a Christian environment in their homes by leading under the leadership of Christ and serving their families sacrificially. God’s plan for our marriages and families is realized when we experience holy discontent against what upsets God, whether in our lives or the world.


What is holy discontent? It is feeling dissatisfied about the state of things in your life and the world because it upsets God. Therefore, you align your heart with God’s to take positive actions to change the world.


This is the first in a new series, “Holy Discontent,” from the book of Nehemiah. God laid holy discontent on Nehemiah’s heart for God’s people Israel in the middle of a spiritual, social, political, and cultural war. It sounds like our time, doesn’t it?


Holy discontent generates a God-given gravitational pull to be the change that we desire whether in our families at home, in our communities, our nation, or the world. Do you feel discontent about the state of things, whether in your lives or in the world? Is it holy discontent?


This book opens in the Persian city of Susa in the year 444 BC, but it has timeless applications for those who want to learn what to expect when experiencing holy discontent. In Chapter 1 we learn about three outcomes of holy discontent:

1) holy discontent causes a desire to know about God’s people,

2) it causes distress in God’s people for God’s purpose, and

3) it causes determination to act on behalf of God’s people.


Desire to Know


First, holy discontent causes a desire to know about God’s people. Verses 1-3 say, “The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah. Now it happened in the month of Chislev [that’s November or December], in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the citadel [the capital of Persia], that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.”


This book of Nehemiah is the continuity of the book of Ezra. In the Hebrew Bible, they are one book, and verse 1 is telling us that this is where the journal entry of Nehemiah begins. He is the author who was in Susa, the winter retreat of the kings of Persia. It would be like being with our president at Camp David for a time of relaxation.


However, Nehemiah’s heart was not there. He was not satisfied with the royal comfort and pleasantries because God had laid holy discontent on his heart for God’s people, God’s city, and God’s house. Therefore, in verse 2 Nehemiah initiated the conversation about the people that he never met and about a city some 800 miles away that he never visited.


When he discovered a Jewish brother had returned from Jerusalem, Nehemiah asked about God’s people and God’s city. The response was twofold: a). the people were in bad shape and b). the place was in bad shape.


Every time my wife, Sarah, comes back from work in midtown Manhattan, I always ask her about the city. I served there for a very long time, so I care about the city and its lost people. People and places are interconnected whether we talk about a home, a city, a nation, or the world. You cannot care about one and not the other. Also, I believe where the major cities of a nation go the rest of the nation follows.


A close friend of mine from Manhattan texted me the other day because he was so angry over some of the things that are happening in the city and the nation. He is being ostracized for speaking about the Biblical view of manhood, womanhood, marriage, and family. Another friend was upset about the curriculum that is taught in public schools. They are not alone. Millions of Christians seem angry over laws and policies that do not reflect Christian values.


But the truth is Christ never said they would. It is on us as the people of God to reflect those values and create a godly gravitational pull to show value in Christian living. However, the vacuum of godly character and leadership at home has allowed forces of evil to step in and scoop up our children and confuse them about their identities. If we don’t show what it means to be a godly man or woman, they will learn it somewhere else. I have story after story where physical, emotional, and spiritual abandonment left children angry, bitter, and confused. But I also have stories of fatherhood that brought comfort, confidence, and clarity to children.


During Nehemiah’s time, God’s people Israel, their home, city, and nation found themselves in such a dire situation because of a lack of godly leadership from rulers to priests to the common household. For this reason, they were sent into exile in Babylon for 70 years, but during the post-exilic period nothing changed. They were in the middle of spiritual, social, political, and cultural wars and God laid holy discontent on this man, Nehemiah.


What is the takeaway? We are in the middle of a cultural war which I do not believe we will win because Christianity has always been the counterculture. But I do expect and pray that we hold our ground, plead before God, pray and protect our families from outside influences, and pursue holiness personally and communally to set good examples in our homes and families. Only by living out of holy discontent do we stand a chance against the power of darkness.


Distress for God’s Purposes


The second outcome of holy discontent is that is causes distress in God’s people for God’s purposes. Verses 4 says, “As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.”


Notice, as soon as Nehemiah heard about the problem his solution was weeping, mourning, and praying for days. That’s unusual. Later we will find out that he did that for about four months. That’s long. Is this what you do to fix problems?


Verse 1 stated that he was living in the capital city which means he was hanging out with the people in the government, but rather than lobbying for his people, he went to the Lord, the big boss, the master of all, in prayer and fasting. Why? Because the answer to our problems with the policies is not in politics and politicians. It’s in prayer, for God controls the hearts of men.


What is the application? Whether you talk about the chosen people Israel or the persecuted church, if you Google it, you will find how God’s people are in bad shape. Then, start praying and fasting for God’s purpose to be realized in our home, city, nation, and world.


Determination to Act


The third and final outcome of holy discontent is that it causes determination to act on behalf of God’s people. Verse 5 says, “And I said, ‘O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments.’” When you are determined to act on behalf of God’s people you don’t act in your own strength. You need strength from God. Nehemiah wanted divine action to cause human action. This is why his posture and the state he was in was weeping, praying, and fasting. Unlike us, he did not start with the problem, he started with praise.


Our culture advocates macho-ness that men do not cry, do not share, and handle their own business. There is value in vulnerability when we lean on God and each other in times of need, especially if we want divine action to determine our human actions. Nehemiah’s prayer set a pattern that we all can use to provoke divine action.


First, Nehemiah is repenting of his and his people’s sins, which is humility. Verses 6-7 say, “Let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses.” When was the last time you repented the sins of others? If you want to see a change in your homes, city, nation, and world, start with confession and repent of your sins and the sins of others.


Second, Nehemiah is Reminding God of His promises for him and his people. Verses 8-9 say, “Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’”

Has God forgotten His promises? No, not at all but God does like when His children pray to Him with His own words. I am delighted when my children use my own words to remind me of something. Pray God’s word back to Him. Also, when we remind God of His promises, we profess we believe His promises.


Third, Nehemiah is relying upon the mercy and goodness of God. Verses 10-11 say, “They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man. Now I was cupbearer to the king.”


Being a cupbearer to the king was an important official position in the royal household. The repetition of being the servant is probably an acknowledgment that he serves his king in service to God the King of Kings who gave his earthy king authority and power. Therefore, no matter what the outcome might be Nehemiah intended to rely upon the mercy and goodness of God and not his king.


Holy discontent does not see how big or impossible the problem is. Holy discontent sees who has the power to solve the problem. When God saw holy discontent in Moses’ heart, He asked Moses what was in his hand. Moses said he has a staff, a glorified stick. God turned that stick into an instrument of God’s glory, honor, and power to bring the most powerful man and the most powerful nation to their knees.


If Moses had nothing in his hands, then God would have used the nothingness to do the same. It is never about what is in your hand but about what is in your heart. What is in your heart? If God has laid on your heart holy discontent, then stop worrying about the culture and how it is destroying our families and children and step up and start praying.


Every revival known to us has begun with prayer. So, pray. Do not start your prayer with a problem, start with praise. Nehemiah’s holy discontent caused the desire in his heart to know about God’s people, a distress for God’s purpose, and a determination to act on behalf of God’s people, and his action was prayer, fasting, and seeking after God before any human action.


As we close, here is an action step: Assess if your discontent is holy or not? If not, your anger will consume you and destroy all your relationships. But if it is, it should be changing you from the inside out. It should be causing you to spend more time talking to God rather than talking to people. It should be causing you to fast for others rather than being frustrated by others.


My appeal to you is do not become a mediocre Christian unconcerned, uninterested, and unresponsive to things around us that upset God. But also do not give in to anger and protest against what you are not content with. Holy discontent should generate in you a God-given gravitational pull to be the change that you desire. People cannot dismiss that.


We all are made to make a difference for the glory of Christ, but God will never do anything unless He changes us first. Never does He do anything great through us unless He does something greater in us first. So, the difference you desire to make for God in your home, city, nation, and the world needs to be made first in your personal life. God wants you to be the change that you desire in others around you. If you want to make a difference, it starts with you through prayer, fasting, and seeking God.


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