My son loves action movies. Marvel superhero movies, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings — these are among his favorites. Whether it’s in the movies or life itself, we can all appreciate strong, decisive action that leads to a positive outcome in the face of crisis and danger.

In Nehemiah 1, there is very little action.

Instead, we find a man overcome with grief at the news of Jerusalem’s destruction, and the majority of the chapter becomes a prayer of mourning and confession to God. By movie standards, we would call this drama, not action.

But as in many great stories, the drama sets the stage for action. The drama of chapter 1 provides the motive, the passion and the commitment that become the foundations for the action of chapters 2–13.

Many of us long for God to use us, as he did Nehemiah, to accomplish great things for his name. But how many of us are willing to preface it with a chapter 1 experience?

According to Jesus, this kind of attitude seems to be a prerequisite for obtaining God’s kingdom. In his opening line of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus makes a startling statement: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)

Jesus is asserting that the kingdom of God is not primarily about strategy, tactics or resources, but about the condition — or, rather, the contrition — of our hearts. According to him, the spiritually productive life is characterized not so much by busyness as it is by openness — an openness to his Word and a willingness to receive it and respond appropriately. (See the parable of the soil, Matthew 13:1–23.)

In Nehemiah’s case, it was clear that God’s Word was both the reason for his mourning and the reason for his hope. He knew that God had warned his people against disobeying him, and that they had done exactly that. But he also knew that God was a merciful God who promised redemption for his people if they would turn from their sin and repent. It was his awareness of both of these realities that ultimately led Nehemiah into action.

If we want to be spiritually productive for God, we too must develop hearts that are willing to receive and understand God’s Word and then respond accordingly. In your life story, don’t impatiently skip the drama in search of the action. Let God’s Word fill you, change you, move you — and see where it leads you.

You won’t be disappointed. Neither will he.

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