Has Heaven Abandoned Us?

Their lives were already on the verge of disaster when the skies opened up and bombs rained down on them. An old Middle-Eastern woman saw hundreds of people killed or maimed around her as the fury of the shelling ravaged the parched land. “The heavens have abandoned us!”she sobbed, as the true horror of destruction emerged. Hope had vanished and all that was left was a tragic feeling of being alone, stripped of relationships, loved ones, and the bare necessities of life. Somewhere in Ukraine, that theme was a recurrent one as Russia attempted to deprive people of light and warmth with the darkness of winter setting in. Ukrainians were trapped in the smoldering rubble of their homes, wondering if a miracle would rescue them. The silence of the heavens was louder than the bombs that leveled everything around them. And somewhere in Turkey, a 4-year-old miraculously emerged from the ruins of the devastating earthquake ten days later. There were no tears of joy, but a deep feeling of lostness, knowing he would never see his family again.

To be abandoned is a feeling that is all too familiar to us. It may not be a complete lostness and hurt like we see in many parts of the world today, but we experience our own sense of abandonment in which we feel undesired, left behind, insecure, incapacitated, and discarded. It’s a crushing feeling of being alone that brings us to that cry of the old woman, ‘Have we been abandoned by the heavens? Is God not fair?’

The reality is that tough times do come and we do not always like the timing.

A gust of wind hits our sails and takes us into the choppy waters of uncertainty and failure. But something does happen when we feel deeply abandoned. The things around us go strangely dim and our focus on help from God becomes a prayer that is somehow more intense and personal in our lostness than in our abundance.

The prophet Nehemiah wants to remind us of how God can be found in the midst of the feeling of abandonment. Nehemiah was an employee in a pagan court in Persia. Born in captivity, his parents knew the ravages and inhumane treatment of the Babylonian army who had dragged his people away from Jerusalem and confined them to slavery for 70 long years. Many had been released by a decree of King Cyrus and had made the long trek back to their homeland. They returned to a once walled city that was now in ruins. The people of Jerusalem had a bad case of the blues and spiritual lethargy set in.

So what do we learn from Nehemiah’s life when life starts to unravel?

    1. Understand that to be human is to be frail and vulnerable (Nehemiah 1:1-4).
      Emotions were at an all-time low in this passage. Victory was not theirs at the moment and Nehemiah learned from his brother Hanani that the people 700 miles away in Jerusalem were “in great distress.” We are all susceptible. No one is exempt from tough times. Notice the depth of emotion that this man Nehemiah experienced. Having never been in the city of Jerusalem, he was now fasting and praying (v. 4) for the people. His prayer was a classic illustration of a man after God’s own heart. Nehemiah also knew that he had an audience with a loving Heavenly Father. I love this beautiful quote from Hudson Taylor that really embodies Nehemiah’s disposition during tough times. “I am no longer anxious about anything, as I realize that He is able to carry out His will for me. It does not matter where He places me, or how. That is for Him to consider, not me; for in the easiest positions He will give me grace, and in the most difficult ones His grace is sufficient.”― Hudson Taylor

    3. Realize that we have a God who keeps His promises (Nehemiah 1:8-9).
      Herein is a graphic reminder of the God whom we serve and His ability to keep His promises. The people had broken a covenant with God which read, “Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations.’” He did just that. This covenant was given to Moses. It is referred to in Leviticus 26:33. Our Lord Jesus Christ is also the One who restores, for which Nehemiah prays for in v. 9. In a true sense, listening to God and remembering what He has done in the past is helpful in getting through tough times. And one of the promises we can always hold onto is that God will never leave us or forsake us.

    5. Realize that tough times are God’s tools to build character (Nehemiah 4:1-6).
      Henry T. Blackaby said, “Wisdom is not what you know about the world but how well you know God.” There is no greater time to grow in an intimate knowledge of God than when you are going through tough times. Nehemiah prayed and he built the wall, even when his critics resorted to discouragement. Not to be deterred, Nehemiah ignored the critics and stayed with the task that the Lord had entrusted to him. The fruit of his labor was character and a successful completion of the project. Romans 5:4-5 says, “And patience produces character, and character produces hope. And this hope will never disappoint us, because God has poured out His love to fill our hearts. He gave us His love through the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to us.”

    7. Evaluate the source of our struggle (Nehemiah 4:7-10).
      Many of us try to protect ourselves by refusing to accept the truth of what’s happening. Accepting our situation can free us up to devote our energy to the things we do have control over. Though opposition to the rebuilding was mounting, notice that Nehemiah “prayed and posted a guard” (v. 9). Many of us would do one or the other. He did both. Faith and diligence are not exclusive! Meanwhile, there were things happening as word came to Nehemiah. “The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall”(v. 10). We may see the end of the rope, but God’s vision for our lives begins at that moment. In our weakness we are made strong.

    9. Appreciate God’s incredible gift of grace in the midst of our predicament (Nehemiah 4:14).
      Nehemiah reminded God’s people, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome” (V. 14). God’s grace had been given in the past, yet they were unwilling to act upon the experiences God brought them through. What have we forgotten about the things God has done for us? Do we question the heavens and forget the answers from our past? That choice is ours to make.

God was still at work then and He is working right now during our tough times. No matter how difficult your trials or what the cause, seek the Lord for His wisdom and trust Him to work for His glory and your good. We must learn that God’s delays are not denials. Nehemiah’s dependance on the Lord is a perfect example to persevere through the rebuilding process. God’s time is not our time and His ways are not our ways. But the heavens do open up when God gets the work started in our lives.