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Growing up, I remember hearing kids talk about their experiences of Church Camp. Like the glimmering musicals of One Week Away or High School Musical and Camp Rock, I wished that I too could participate in the business of Jesus, worship, fun, and fellowship.
It was not uncommon that as I reached the age of maturation, I was the only young adult left in what once would have been called a Youth Group. As a result of coming from a traditional Church, I grew jealous of my friends’ activities while I was left stagnant and without growth. For this reason, I left my home Church shortly after my 22nd birthday to experience the “revival” everyone coined as “life-changing.”
Attending a new Church and college full-time, I quickly realized that the revival I always heard my friends talk about during childhood was not a quick-fix prescription but a life-long commitment (John 15:13).
I recall my best friend gleaming about Church Camp in high school, where she met her first boyfriend. Her eyes sparkled like the sea when she talked about him, and my longing to meet new people matched that ambition.
By the time I reached college, I didn’t understand that my lack of interactions with other youngsters would create a tough road of connection beyond my lack of Church Camp experiences. I no longer longed for the temporary revivals my friends had one day and forgot the next, but I wanted significant and lasting change. As I stumbled up to the altar of my college revival freshman year, I realized that true revival had to go much deeper than a worship high or fading spiritual moments.
Now into my mid-twenties, I am still growing, seeking, and changing as my relationship with the Lord continues to develop. My awakening with Him is not a one-stop-shop for change but something that has to be continually poured into, invested in, and molded as I go from day to day. Though He never changes, my connection with Him does (James 1:17).
And my experiences with Him do not possess the quick highs of a worship service, mission trip, or Church camp experience, but have learned to withstand the tests of time even when I can’t feel Him speaking.
In Nehemiah chapters 12 and 13, Nehemiah is a person that I believe understood what it meant to be genuinely changed by revival. And unlike the one-time highs of regeneration, he learned and dived deep into what it means to create real, lasting, awakening change.
While the author of Nehemiah is unknown, it is suggested that Ezra wrote the book to tell how God used Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. As governor of Judah, Nehemiah has the Jews rebuild the city walls and helps the people of Judah to stop living sinful lives. If we dig a little deeper, however, we will see that in Nehemiah’s process of creating this change, he didn’t merely reconstruct buildings but sought to reconstruct souls.
After rebuilding the walls amid opposition and finding the Law, the Israelites quickly confessed their sins and proposed change. Much like those who face one-time highs, the fast-paced agreement of the people reflected just that; a temporary change that would soon backslide. When Nehemiah left the people in Jerusalem and went to King Artaxerxes of Babylon to fulfill his Persian duties, he trusted that the commitment and new revival they made to God would last.
Upon his return, however, Nehemiah was distraught at what he saw. Not only were the people he once trusted committing all the sins he warned them of (the sins their forefathers committed and the Law read by Ezra explained), but Eliashib, the Priest, had made a storage room at Tobiah’s disposal. The Levites had not been given their prescribed portions of food (so they were working in the fields), the people were working and selling on the Sabbath, and some men from Judah had married foreign women. It was clear that their initial revival did not stick. Even for those in the holiest of positions, the fickleness of their intentions was fallen.
As a result of their disobedience, God spoke through Nehemiah’s reforms and set the people back to Godly standards according to the Law. Rebuking each of the four sins listed above, Nehemiah worked hard to seek the Lord in favor of what he should do.
First, Nehemiah spoke with Eliashib about allowing Tobiah to rent a room in the Temple of God. While this might sound a bit self-explanatory, it was clear that no one should be allowed to live in the Temple of God created for God. To make matters worse, however, Tobiah was an Ammonite that was an enemy of Nehemiah’s during the rebuilding of the wall. Not only was he an Ammonite (someone the people were restricted to engage with), but he despised the building of the Temple. Thrown out of the Temple of God, Nehemiah threw everything of Tobiah’s out of the room and set the room back to proper use. Sometimes, for lasting change to occur, we have to be willing to throw out everything seeking to destroy us.
Second, Nehemiah saw that because the Levites instructed for service were not given food, and they had returned to work to offset the finances, they could not serve in the Temple. Rebuking the officials of their neglect of God’s House, restoring these distributions and positions was a priority. For lasting change to occur, we have to be willing to serve God first, but we also have to make sure we take care of ourselves; no one can pour from an empty cup.
After rebuking the first two sins through financial reforms, Nehemiah moved to align priorities. Noticing that the Sabbath was being ignored and people were buying and selling or doing work, Nehemiah reminded them that this was a day of rest and trusting God. In addition, he sternly told those in intermarriages with pagan nations to turn from their wickedness and seek the God they once claimed to be revived through cleansing, forgiveness, and restitution. Often, for lasting change to occur, we have to adjust our priorities, rest and trust and turn from our sin.
At the feet of God, Nehemiah threw himself down and asked God for help. To not only see the leadership he demonstrated, but to see that amid his striving, the people went back to the sins of their forefathers they knew of and promised never to commit. And on behalf of others or even ourselves, we often have to do the same.
Today, I think that many people, including myself, are more like those Nehemiah had to rebuke than those he didn’t. Because while they once had a great revival when their leader was present and encouraging them, they didn’t last the test of time when he left.
For many of us, our relationship with God is like the relationship Nehemiah had with his people. He told them God’s Law, they promised to obey, and they started well. As soon as he trusted them to continue following the Lord’s ways on their own, however, they fell short and returned to their ways of disobedience.
For others, some of us feel like Nehemiah in his relationship with the Lord. You try to be a good leader for your students, kids, or family, but when you return to check on them, they have fallen away and thought it is all your fault. At the feet of Jesus, you’ve thrown yourself upon Him that He might remember you with favor (Nehemiah 13:31).
Wherever you are today, I want to leave you with a simple question: Is Your Revival Real?
The people with Nehemiah once claimed to be significantly transformed by the Word of the Law (Nehemiah 8-9). They confessed and turned from sin, acknowledged their need for a Savior, and diligently listened to the Law read to them. But if our revival is as passing as sunrise to sunset or the change of the waves that are here one moment and gone the next, I ask you, were they ever really real when you first felt awakened?
While we will continue to battle, struggle, and fight, genuine revival is characteristically marked by long-lasting withstanding change. Every day is a process that begins all over again, but 2 Chronicles 7:14 reminds us of this grace:
“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14, ESV).