John LathropBlog

The Old Testament book of Nehemiah tells the story of the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. The key earthly character in the book is Nehemiah. He became aware of the situation in the city, secured building materials for the job, went to Jerusalem, and mobilized the people there to rebuild the walls. He did a great work. However, there is one detail in the narrative that we dare not overlook. The biblical text tells us that God had put this mission in his heart (Neh. 2:12).

In the New Testament we find a phrase similar to the one that I just called your attention to in the book of Nehemiah. In 2 Corinthians 8:16, the apostle Paul, while writing about one of his coworkers, said that God had put into Titus’ heart the same concern that Paul had for the Corinthians.

In the remainder of this article I would like to offer some observations about these two verses. It is obvious that these texts were written in very different time periods. They also concern very different people groups. Even though these things are true, I think that these texts have some very significant things to say to us. With that said, let us engage in a brief examination of the words of Nehemiah and the words of Paul.

The first truth that we can glean from these passages is that God can deal directly with an individual. He can minister to a person without the intervention of another human being. The Lord does not always need a Moses or a Nathan the prophet to communicate with His people. He dealt directly with Nehemiah and he dealt directly with Titus. He ministered to them internally; He placed His concerns on their hearts. This is in a sense a divine impartation. When the Lord does this it is because He wants the person to get involved.

A second truth that we can glean from these texts is that the Lord has not changed His ways. He put things into the hearts of His servants in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. This being the case we can expect that He will do the same for us as believers today. He can place into our hearts things that are on His heart; He can give us a sense of divine mission.
A third thing that we can learn from these verses is that it is possible for a person to know that God has placed something in their heart. Nehemiah recognized that it was the Lord who had put the burden to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem on his heart (it was not just his own idea). He spoke with certainty about it (Neh.2:12). In 2 Corinthians 8:16, when Paul wrote about Titus his words reveal that he recognized that God had put in Titus the same concern Paul had for the Corinthians. This tells us that it is possible, at times, to recognize that God has placed a burden or ministry on the heart of another. Paul could discern it in Titus. Paul may have recognized God’s work in his coworker’s heart because Paul had the same burden in his own heart.

Another truth that can be drawn from these texts is that in both of them the Lord placed burdens or ministries on the hearts of individuals so that they would serve others. Nehemiah’s actions did not benefit him alone. What he did benefited all of the people of Jerusalem. The actions of Titus also helped others, the believers in Corinth. In both cases the burden was to serve other people. Those whose hearts God touched did not seek to build a name for themselves. This should not surprise us. God still works this way today. The Lord frequently speaks to the hearts of His people in order to enlist them in carrying out His purposes, and these purposes often involve serving others.

Sometimes a person will say to a friend or family member “listen to your heart.” This can be good advice. It is especially good advice if we discern that what we are hearing is what the Lord has been speaking to our heart. It is important for us to hear what He is saying. However, hearing is one thing, heeding is another. It is obedience to what the Lord is saying that pleases Him and accomplishes what He desires. Let us be open to the possibility that the Lord will place things in our hearts, and when He does, may we obey.

John P. Lathrop is a graduate of Zion Bible Institute and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and is an ordained minister with the International Fellowship of Christian Assemblies. He has written articles and book reviews for a number of publications including: the Pneuma Review, the Africanus Journal of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Christian Trends Magazine, in India, and Berita Mujizat and Jurnal Jaffray, both in Indonesia. He is also the author of four books.