Did you know that a heart transformed by the Holy Living God is what changes people?
My Grandmother Lois set about a transformation when at the age of 75, she decided to change herself Now to be clear, she wasn’t really interested in changing what she actually did, just how she described what she did. She stopped dating now she just had friends. She stopped drinking whiskey now she just took her medicine. She stopped gambling now she just played cards. She was no longer the “grandma who tolerates children” she was now the “grandma who loves kids”.
This “change” also extended to her past. According to her, she had been the perfect mother (not) and she had been the perfect grandmother (not). Now, this is the same woman who sent me a birthday card one year in which she not only spelled my name wrong but she also wrote “Happy 15th or 16th Birthday” in it. So when she filled out her resume and interviewed for the “Adopt-a-Grandparent” position in a city school system we (her family) were skeptical of her metamorphosis. Well, she pulled it off and really impressed them. Her new position was to help children read. She had done it; she was now the “Grandma who loves kids” and she was getting paid for it!
Grandma made a mistake
Things were going really well in the “Adopt-a-Grandparent” program until my Grandma made a little mistake. One day, she joined a few teachers in the teacher’s lounge for a well-deserved break. She was unpacking the lunch she brought when she realized that she had not pulled out the Diet Coke, she thought she had packed. Instead, she pulled out a can of beer. Now as she told me this story she had an astonished look on her face which she duplicated for my benefit. “Well, what did you do?”, I asked. Her response? “I drank it. I was too embarrassed to throw it away.” Think about it, can you imagine being one of the teachers in the teacher’s lounge? Can you envision one of them telling the Principal? “Um, the Grandma who loves kids that you hired? Well, she was drinking a beer at lunch in the teacher’s lounge.”
Lois’ services were no longer needed in the “Adopt-a-Grandparent” program. In other words, she was fired. Lois’ transformation was incomplete. She couldn’t change who she really was unless she changed the way she acted. That was only possible by a transformation of her heart.
The Book of Nehemiah is about transformation too
This story about Lois’ is a lot like the Israelites story in the book of Nehemiah. The Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar, sacked the city, destroyed the Temple and held the Israelites captive for 70 years. God orchestrated the return of three men to Jerusalem in order to restore and reform the returning Exiles and the city. It was to be a transformation. Zerubbabel went back first to restore the Temple for worship. Then Ezra to teach God’s Word and restore the community. Then finally Nehemiah, who returned to restore the city walls.
Most of the sermons and Bible studies we read tell us about the restorations and reformations in Israel during this time. The part of this historical account that we don’t often hear, is that it wasn’t so successful! At the beginning of this account, we see that the three men had completed all that God had sent them to do. As a result, the exiled Israelites were moved by all of this and as in response, they confessed their sins, worshipped God, celebrated the return to the land and God’s Word. As a final commitment, they all made a written vow to God.
- They wouldn’t buy or sell on the Sabbath
- They wouldn’t marry non-Jews
- They would not neglect the Temple.
Nehemiah left and returned to Babylon. After some time, Nehemiah returns to Jerusalem and what do you think he finds?
- They were buying and selling on the Sabbath
- They were marrying non-Jews
- They were neglecting the Temple.
Nehemiah began cleaning house and blasted the returned Exiles for not keeping their vow to the Holy God who had delivered them back into their promised land. Their disobedience led to their captivity for 70 years and now they were doing it all over again. Nehemiah had done all that he could but we can see that he carried a sense of failure by the prayers he offered to God.
The Prayers of Nehemiah
Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and do not wipe out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God and for his service. Neh. 13:14
Remember this also in my favor, O my God, and spare me according to the greatness of your steadfast love. Neh. 13:22b
Remember them, O my God, because they have desecrated the priesthood and the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites.
Thus I cleansed them from everything foreign, and I established the duties of the priests and Levites, each in his work; and I provided for the wood offering at appointed times, and for the firstfruits.
Remember me, O my God, for good. Neh. 13:29-31
What can we do to transform our heart?
This is how the book of Nehemiah ends. Kind of depressing, isn’t it? But if we really look hard at the account of Nehemiah, there is a point to this depressing story. The point is that the only way to change the Exiles was to change the Exile’s hearts. All the restorations, reformations, promises and vows were only going to take them so far. A heart transformed by the Holy Living God is what changes people. Do you need restoration? Are you tired of making promises to God that you just can’t seem to keep? Pray and ask God to transform your heart. Decrease so that He may increase. Lose your heart so you can win Gods.
The walls that Nehemiah built were recently unearthed in Jerusalem. Click here to read the article.