I still remember the year that I did not make the cut for the little league baseball team when I tried out. I could catch, throw, and run, but, to be honest, my batting skills were not something to marvel at. I wanted so badly to be a part of that team with my friends but it didn’t happen that first year. I was brokenhearted.
It is one thing to be brokenhearted about things we care about, but it is something quite different to be brokenhearted about things God cares about. Nehemiah was a leader of God’s people in the later years of the Old Testament. Years after the people of God went into exile from their homeland in Palestine, Nehemiah rose to the position of cupbearer for King Artaxerxes.
When some friends visit from Jerusalem, Nehemiah becomes brokenhearted when he hears that his homeland is in ruins. He writes: “When I heard these things, I sat down and wept” (Nehemiah 1:4a). Nehemiah is sad because his homeland is devastated and at risk from enemies. Nehemiah is sad because the glorious city of God is just a pale shadow of its former beauty.
But more than just personal sadness is welling up within Nehemiah. He is brokenhearted for God’s glory and God’s purposes to be revealed in real life. He says, “For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven” (1:4b). In Nehemiah 1:5-11, Nehemiah then goes on to voice one of the most moving prayers of repentance and intercession in all of Scripture. He is asking God to powerfully help His people. He is asking for God to shine His glory into all the earth through, at that time, restoration for Jerusalem. Then, as a follow-up to that prayer, Nehemiah offers himself in service to God for that end. As you read his story in the book named after him, Nehemiah stands out as one of the most dedicated and capable leaders in the Bible.
It is one thing to be brokenhearted about our own loss, but it is another thing to be brokenhearted about God’s loss and glory. It does something different within us. It turns us back to God, to seek His help and power to be at work. But it also turns us outward to serve God as an answer to our own prayers.
Not too long ago I was at a prayer gathering where someone talked about having our hearts broken for the things that break God’s heart. I always love hearing that sort of prayer. It’s the sort of prayer God loves to answer. As we see with Nehemiah, God loves to have us brokenhearted for Him.