What Breaks Your Heart?

Text: Nehemiah 1:1-11

“As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” —Nehemiah 1:4

I have a friend in Germany who is a pastor, and he begins every day with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. He told me this practice came from the Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth, who is attributed with the quote: “Take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.” One of the reasons my German friend begins his mornings this way is because he wants what he reads in God’s Word to have an application to the times in which he is living. In short, he wants his heart to be broken with the things that break God’s heart, and to have his prayer life shaped inseparably by the scriptures and the world’s present need.

We will have a hard time being light in a dark world if we are not attuned to its plight. Ignoring the ills of our society isn’t the mark of true biblical compassion. God’s Word tells us to “clothe” ourselves with compassion (Colossians 3:12). It should be just as much part of our normal daily attire as putting on a shirt or pants, shoes, or makeup. Compassion is required of us daily.

As we begin a new devotional series in the book of Nehemiah, we meet a man who woke up one day, read the headlines, and it broke his heart. It was a divine interruption to Nehemiah’s norm. Mind you, Nehemiah lived in a palace—the safest place in all the land at that time. He was cupbearer to the king of Persia. But he got word that his people were in “great trouble.” The wall of Jerusalem had been broken down, the gates destroyed by fire, and folks were suffering severely.

In the midst of all of his comfort, luxury, and security, Nehemiah’s spirit is crushed and his heart is broken for what has broken God’s heart. Suddenly he has incurable heart trouble. What did Nehemiah do? Turn off the news, rationalize why those disobedient souls deserved their plight, and go about his business as usual? Hardly…

“As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.”

Nehemiah isn’t able to hit the “recall” button on his remote control and switch back to the highlights on ESPN—he is a wrecked man. This newsreel of a devastated community and hurting people crushes his heart. He turns off the TV, pushes aside his gourmet meal, and goes into his prayer chamber. He appeals to the God of heaven, confesses the sins of his people, and recalls the promises of God to restore the unfaithful when they return to Him. Then he asks God for “success,” the capacity to do something and make a difference.

Over the next few weeks we will be seeing the magnificent ways in which God answers Nehemiah’s prayer. There will be plenty of miracles to come, yet we must not forget that it all starts with a man who has his heart broken for the things that break God’s heart, in humility, on his knees before the God of heaven, pleading for a way to make a difference.

Warren Wiersbe once said that if you really want to learn about a person’s character, ask three questions: What makes him laugh? What makes him angry? What makes him weep? When we read about Jesus entering Jerusalem for the last time during his triumphal entry, it says, “when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it” (Luke 19:41). What makes you weep about the times we are living in right now? When was the last time your heart was incurably sick because of someone else’s pain and suffering? Is your prayer life being shaped by the brokenness around you? Think about that as you seek to abide in Christ, and clothe yourself in his compassion this week.


Heavenly Father, break our hearts for what breaks yours. Give us eyes to see the devastation and align us with the hurts you want us to respond to. Holy Spirit, teach us what it looks like to daily clothe ourselves in the compassion of Jesus—to take on his garments of justice and mercy. In His blessed name we pray, Amen.

Questions for personal reflection, small group discussion, or dinner table conversations:

  1. If you could rid the world of one pain, what would it be?
  2. How does our knowledge and image of God affect our prayers?
  3. In his prayer, Nehemiah identifies with the sins of his people, their current plight, and the faithfulness of God. Why is identifying in these ways so important if we aspire to make a difference in the world today?
  4. What is the connection between prayer and obedience in your life?
  5. Where do you need to implement margin in your life so that compassion can clothe you and the Holy Spirit can guide you?

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