I had a very encouraging time last weekend. I was down in Kent teaching around eighty people for Oak Hall’s Unlocking the Bible weekend. Oak Hall does a terrific job of providing fellowship and teaching to Christians- especially a number who were there from smaller or struggling churches. A number of things excited me- meeting a handful of people who had become Christians in the past couple of years from unchurched backgrounds, a real sense of hunger for God’s Word across six busy sessions and a real enthusiasm to pray, with well over half the group there for the pre-breakfast prayer meetings. I was tired after a heavy teaching load but came away spiritually refreshed.

I also enjoyed getting back into Nehemiah. I last taught this book back in 2007. You can hear the sermon series here. I was pleased to discover in preparation that the sermon series only needed mild tweaking- I was expecting to have to do a complete re-write!

In many ways the latter half of the book provides the spiritual heart of the book after the wall has been completed. However, it was some of the lessons from the early chapters that struck me as particularly relevant to our life as a church at Woody Road. Let me mention two in particular:

The need for deep concern

Nehemiah’s reaction in chapter one to the news from Jerusalem has always challenged me. There is deep distress at the state of God’s people. I’ll never forget hearing Don Carson preach on that passage and the phrase he used in his closing prayer- “Lord forgive us for the times when we care more about the results of cricket matches than we do the glory of your name.” I remember being convicted by that as to how little I was moved by the way in which God is not glorified as He should be. It seemed somewhat appropriate to quote Carson’s comment this weekend! The Lord has blessed us a great deal as a church and I think we can be rightly encouraged by the resources we have and the unity with which we have been blessed. But the danger is that this can satisfy us too much and leave us blind to the deep spiritual needs and darkness around us. I long that the Lord would give us a godly discontent that leads even to weeping and prayer out of a concern for the lost and the glory of God’s name.

The need for boldness

Nehemiah delightfully weaves together dependence on God and human action. I love the way in which their response to the physical threats from their opponents was to pray and post a guard. I think our instinctive reaction would often be to do one or the other (probably the latter.) I was really struck, though, by our responsibility to be bold in the Lord’s work. As Nehemiah prayed so the Lord laid various things on his heart (see chapters 1-2). He needed great boldness to pursue them- not least risking the king’s wrath and persevering through severe opposition. One of my deep concerns for us as a church is that we realise the danger of caution. There will always be reasons not to do things and potential dangers in moving forward. If Nehemiah had used those things as an excuse for inaction the walls would never have been built.

As I look back on the church over the last few years, several good things have come about from a conviction that people shared that the Lord was laying things on their hearts. I think particularly of some of the holiday clubs which arose from the desire of church members, activities in the local community and the like. Looking to the future, I think there is need for boldness in at least two areas in the next year or so. A number of people (including me) have felt a strong conviction that we should be seeking to witness in some of the areas where we live- perhaps particularly Wheatley, Kidlington and Waterways. This desire will probably cause some upheavals to our homegroups in the next year as we set up intentional small groups with a focus on prayer and outreach possibly leading to church plants. However, I am convinced that we must move forward boldly in dependence upon God. Likewise, we are looking forward to the opening of our new facilities. Again my prayer is the Lord would lay on people’s hearts different ways in which we can use those facilities to open doors to the local community, giving us opportunities to get to know people and share the Gospel. If you have ideas please let me know! There are always risks with this (and we need to be wise about putting the right policies in place)- but the alternative is to do nothing and not seek to be involved in extending God’s Kingdom. We need to be bold.

Altogether then I was very grateful to God for the group that I met this weekend and for the reminders that I needed to hear.