(Originally published under the title "Burnt Stones")
Nehemiah 4:2 “Will they revive the stones from the heaps of rubbish—stones that are burned?"
I was only a boy, maybe ten years old, when I was awakened on an unusually warm autumn night by the siren of the local volunteer fire department. Mom in her nightgown, Dad in his boxers, and me in my racecar pajamas stood in our back yard watching flames lick the starlit sky. It was an eerie sight. The largest, most prestigious house in our very middle class community was on fire.
The next morning Dad and I walked down the road to check out the damage. Our neighbors, who beat us to the scene, were already gawking at the white, two-story icon, now a smoldering pile of ruins. The chimney still stood like a “Washington Monument “to its former glory. It was hard for me to believe. Such a stately house, the nicest on our little street, was a heap of coals. I watched trails of smoke still rising from blackened wood and stone. The ornate furniture, up-to-date appliances, and beautiful woodworking were completely charred.
You know, houses aren’t the only thing susceptible to catch fire and burn. People get burnt too. I’m sure some of you have been burned, haven’t you? The stories are similar. With a promising future you walked into life with confidence. Then, like the big white house in my neighborhood, an unexpected catastrophe occurred and you were seared by life’s flames. Burnt. Unrecognizable. You watched as smoke rose from what was left of yesterday’s optimism and prosperity. This wasn’t supposed to happen. It wasn’t part of the plan.
You’re not the first one to experience such heartache. Nehemiah experienced the adversity of being burned. The hometown he and his people revered had been completely destroyed by fire. Jerusalem’s wall, the spiritual emblem of national strength and dignity was torched. By his own admission he was overcome with grief as he recalled its former glory.
What makes the devastation worse is in knowing what once was. Remembering how great things were makes the present misfortune feel all the more hopeless. It’s a lot like staring at the biggest house in your community lying in a pile of ashes.
We all have mental photos, flashbacks of our life before we were burned. There’s the daddy pushing you in a swing, a mother cooking, a happily married occasion, a healthy child, and a younger you. Likewise, you see the college degree you never finished, the friend who hurt you, the prayer that wasn’t answered, a worthless 401(k) with no retirement benefits, and the pink-slip from the company you invested your life in. Smoldering histories, they’re reminders of the great fire, that catastrophic event when you were burnt. The question arises, “What now?”
When Nehemiah heard about his beloved Jerusalem he was overcome with sorrow. His mind pulled up the photos of better days, the way God intended things to be, and he just couldn’t handle his emotions. Can you hear his anguish? “I sat down and wept…mourned…fasted and prayed” (Neh 1:4). Nehemiah’s emotional response is predictable, but what he did next was not.
While Nehemiah prayed, he stumbled onto praying the answer. “Give your servant success TODAY” (Neh 1:11, caps added). When you spend time calling out to God sometimes you pray the answer, if even by mistake. He knew he couldn’t go back to the innocent years when the wall was first built, but he could use what he was left with “TODAY.” From that prayer, Nehemiah determined to rebuild the wall with the rubbish of its former glory.
I imagine Nehemiah rummaging through the debris of the old, burned down wall, picking out burnt, but usable stones to rebuild with. It took some work, but he and a handful of faithful, tenacious men rebuilt the city wall using burnt stones from yesterday’s tragedy. Scripture records, “The wall was built” (Neh 7:1). Using “leftovers”, Nehemiah built a new wall that restored hope to his people and gave glory to God.
You thought you could never again be used as you once were. Ever since your “fire”, you declared you would not trust again, teach again, work again, speak again, write again, or love again. You’ve said that that chapter in your life had closed. Well, maybe it’s time to think again. Burnt stones are not only usable, they’re desirable.
Years after the neighborhood mansion had been leveled by fire I was invited into the new house the family had rebuilt. I was about sixteen years old when I walked through the front door into a large living room that was designed around the most beautiful fireplace I had ever seen. It was made from unusual looking, dark colored stones that rose to the ceiling, mounted with a stunning mantel made from some sort of darkened wood. It was built to overwhelm you when you walked into the room, and that it did!
“Whoa!” The words jumped out of my mouth before I realized it.
The owner smiled and said, “Everybody likes the fireplace. The stones came from what was left over from the fire six years ago. And the mantelpiece is made from several floor beams that didn’t completely burn up.” Amazing how something so beautiful can be built from scorched wood and burnt stones.
You need to know that God uses burnt stones. The Lord searches through the fragments of our hardships, picking up the scraps He can use again. He helps people who have been burned to get up and rebuild their dreams and fulfill their destiny. And today, of all the people on the planet, He’s chosen you, burnt, but still beautiful. Don’t you think the time has come for you to arise and rebuild.