“I wish I had a heart like that!” I found myself thinking these words as I read Nehemiah’s response to the news. He did not have access to 24-hour cable news or the all-pervasive internet. He got his news slowly from a traveller from Judah. During their conversation (an interactive relational activity) he inquired about Jerusalem. This was his ancestral home, though Nehemiah probably had never set foot there. The response was that it was in ruins and the remnant of Israel who had returned were in a bad way. Nehemiah’s response was to weep.
I see tragedy play out on my various screens every day and I remain ‘dry eyed’. I found Nehemiah’s reaction an inditement of my own attitudes and practises. At first I tried to excuse myself. I get so much tragic news I would be bawling all the time if I reacted in like fashion. Life would be too overwhelming! Though that might be true, I am responsible for my intake. Should getting news really be like drinking from a fire hose? Could I be more selective about my viewing? Should I be sensitive to God asking for help in knowing what my response ought to be?
Nehemiah gives me some examples of how to approach situations in a way that is sensitive to the prompting of God’s Spirit. On hearing the news, he is moved with empathy. He prays for days. He fasts. He takes a serious chunk of time and devotes it to seeking God. He claims the promises of a covenant keeping God. He prays for God’s will to be done.
Later when faced by a question on the topic, from the king, he prays again. This prayer is not recorded, but seems to have taken mere seconds, as the conversation with the king continues seamlessly. This a different sort of prayer. It is what I call an ‘arrow’ prayer, a “Help!” shot heavenward in the midst of life.
It seems to me that our response to the tragedies that fill our screens ought to be one or the other of these. I ought to be careful not to get overwhelmed but in the face of much of the news I ought to be whelmed (is that even a word?). Too often my response is underwhelming! I may not be able to respond after the first of Nehemiah’s responses, but I can respond by his second!
Nehemiah had another response. He rolled up his sleeves and did what he could with what he had. If as a Christian I am not somehow actively involved in the mission of ‘bringing His Kingdom’ of justice and peace more and more, then I am not living a life worthy of the Name.
Yes the tragic news can be overwhelming but I believe God wants me to develop the discipline of listening to Him in order to discern which of Nehemiah’s responses is appropriate for me. Having heard, then, it is mine to obey!
Tomorrow, weather permitting we will hold our Barbecue for the neighbourhood, local church, and Street Hope friends. We are praying for meaningful conversations and deepening relationships.
Our renovations are going slowly but the pace will soon pick up. The costs have risen significantly this year and even the availability of supplies is becoming a challenge. Your prayers for our building project are appreciated. I do not have King Artaxerxes to go to, but I have better than that, I have access to the King of Kings!