What do you do when you are faced by a task that’s so big that you don’t even know where to start? To make it even worse, you’re relying on second hand stories, perhaps based on fake news with a political agenda, when you really need first hand information.
It’s a familiar story and one with implications for us all right now. We may not see ourselves as trail blazers, problem solvers or fixers but we are all involved to one degree or another.
If we are part of what’s going on and going wrong, then we have a contribution to make in addressing the issues.
I’ll be dipping into one of my favourite books of the bible over the course of the next couple of weeks. Whilst the particular circumstances are different – it all happened some 2500 years ago – human need and human nature have not changed. When faced by difficulty we respond best when we work together and where we each understand our responsibilities and the part we have to play. Some will take the lead; others will support but the contribution of all is vital.
Far from home Nehemiah heard how bad things were in Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1: 1 – 3). A city in ruins reflected a society in crisis. Government was failing; asset strippers were gathering; spiritual and secular leaders alike were paralysed by the enormity of the task they faced. How would they restore not just a city but the pride of a nation? Where would they find God at work in the ruins and in the rebuilding?
Nehemiah, although only a servant in the Royal Palace as the story begins, has a key role to play in the nation’s future. The first thing that strikes me as I read this first chapter, is that we cannot rebuild broken dreams unless we are concerned about the ruins. Nehemiah’s first reaction is to fast, weep and pray: that’s because the news (and its implications), hurt so much. He knows the impact it will have on people, not just the nation.
For him – as for us today when we see suffering in terms of its personal impact and not just by the numbers we are quoted - the response is driven by a deeply felt, grace driven, compassion. It doesn’t just affect someone else: our whole way of living is under strain and will change irrevocably as a result of the C 19 virus and the implications it has on day to day activities. It doesn’t just happen somewhere else; there are sick people in our local hospital and community being looked after by people we know.
Let’s face the facts, this is not just an international incident, it’s happening in a street and family near you – and it demands big thinking and careful responses.
Then, we will not rebuild broken dreams unless we take our pain to the one who can do something about it. Nehemiah prays (verses 5 to 11): he involves God. He recognises where he and others have gone wrong but prays knowing that God can change circumstances and move even the hardest of hearts. He thinks big, looks wide and asks for strength and resources beyond his own means. In other words, he recognises that a heart for rebuilding isn’t enough: the task is bigger than he could ever hope to accomplish.
Prayer recognises our human limitations but confirms God’s ability to do more than we could ask or imagine. Prayer changes us because it means we are willing to hand things over to God and to respond in such a way as He directs. Prayer directs our minds to the possibility of change, as well as finding that elusive peace we are all searching for. Prayer will show us too what we must build rather than rebuild – and do it all to God’s glory.