During our Unruined series at Awaken, I’m posting content that is from the overflow of my notes and knowledge of the book of Nehemiah. I’m never able to say all the things I’d like to, and inevitably, some great content can’t be squeezed into the short time that I have to preach. So this blog is the platform for some of that content to find new life.


In the last installment of this Overflow series, we discussed the royal access that Nehemiah had as the king’s cupbearer. This week I’d like to go a little deeper into that idea.

As cupbearer, Nehemiah had direct, daily access to the king of Babylon. That position came with some perks, but also plenty of expectations.

One of those expectations was his attitude and demeanor. In the courts of many ancient kings, it was forbidden to be sad in the presence of the king. Just the presence of the king was supposed to make everyone forget about their problems. And if you couldn’t manage to turn that frown upside-down, it could be considered a terrible insult to the king, and an act that could have your head removed from your neck.

No thanks. I’d rather fake a smile! 😀

Not Nehemiah. His heart was broken for his people and the city of Jerusalem. He stayed prayerful with his God and faithful to his work, but he couldn’t shake the God-given burden on his heart. One day, his internal turmoil became externally visible, and the king noticed…

So the king asked me, “Why are you looking so sad? You don’t look sick to me. You must be deeply troubled.” – Nehemiah 2:2 NLT

Regardless of the pain he was feeling on the inside, when he walked into the king’s court, he was expected to hold his head high, slap a smile on his face, and not mention a word about any potential problems in his life.

Sounds like a few churches that I’ve walked into before.

Too many churches today resemble the courts of ancient kings, in that you are expected to act happy and pretend like you have no problems. Put on your Sunday best. Smile big. Give some side hugs and “God bless yous.” Lift your hands during worship. Serve with a smile…and if you don’t feel like it, just fake it.

We would never say that, but it’s the vibe that a lot of churches give off.

churchsignI saw a church sign recently that read, “You cannot be right with the Master and wrong with the Pastor.” Right underneath those words, the sign read, “Everyone welcome.” Seems oddly contradictory.

I want to believe that they didn’t mean to offend everyone before they even had a chance to step foot into their church, but I’m a pastor, and I don’t feel welcome at that church! I thought about calling the pastor, but then I realized maybe I wasn’t right with the Master. I digress…

Churches shouldn’t be a place where fake smiles are allowed. We should feel the freedom to be who we really are.

After all, God doesn’t love us for who we should be or what we could be. He loves us for who we are. (tweet this)

I’m not talking about wearing your heart on your sleeve or giving clearance for a perpetual pity party. That’s not helpful for anyone. There’s a fine line between choosing joy when times are tough and faking it, pretending like things are ok.

Ancient kings made the mistake of thinking that just their presence and wealth were enough to make people instantaneously forget about their problems. If anyone was able to pull that off, it would be God Himself. And yet, even the King of Kings, encourages us to come to Him as we are, not as we should be. Weary, heavy-laden, stressed, burdened, and beat up. He offers rest for the weary, strength for the weak, forgiveness for the sinner. God’s presence does not equal pain’s absence.

Elijah was suicidal, Paul wanted to quit, David was so heartbroken that he quit eating, Job and Habakkuk questioned God, Jeremiah almost gave up his calling, and even Jesus Himself cried at His friend’s funeral.

There’s a time and a place for sorrow. Embrace it. It’s part of human nature.

Pastors: let’s fight hard to make our churches places that anyone feels welcome. It start with us. Model transparency and acceptance. Don’t confuse accepting someone in their sin with condoning their sin. They’re not the same thing. God didn’t condone our sin, but He loved us in it (Romans 5:8).

Christians: weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. We are commanded to bear one another’s burdens, but how will we ever do that if they feel like they have to pretend that they are burden-free?