I read an article about a big box retail store in my hometown of Philadelphia ransacked from rioting. A protest of another recent tragic police shooting spawned the riot. The article went on to describe the chaos that ensued around the city. I then thought to myself, “not again!”
A feeling of deep sorrow came over me. I started asking myself, “How has America come to this?” Why does it feel as if we are so divided as a people? Are we not better than this? Have we not come further than this? We are supposed to be the home of the “free and the brave.” We are one of the most diverse nations in the world. How can this be happening? Where is God in all of this? Is He just looking down at us in disappointment? Some may even ask, is He there at all?
Later that same evening, I was reading the book of Nehemiah in the Bible. Nehemiah was the cupbearer for the king of Persia. The cupbearer would test the wine before the king drank it to ensure it was not poisonous. In those days, this was a prestigious position.
Nehemiah was very close to the king and went with him everywhere. He had to advise the king and converse with him frequently. He was a man of influence and culture. Nehemiah was also a Jewish man and was far from his homeland of Jerusalem.
One day his brother Hanani came to visit from Jerusalem. Nehemiah asked his brother how things were in his homeland. Hanani went on to tell him how the city was in shambles. There was only a remanent of people left, and much of the once-great city was in ruins. These were God’s chosen people living in poverty and destruction from the hand of its enemies.
Extreme sorrow came over Nehemiah from this news. Nehemiah then said, “When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days, I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.” (New International Version, Nehemiah 1:4).
Why did he even care? He was in a prestigious position in a land far away. He had all the comforts of life and protection of the palace of the king. If he did care, why was he not outraged by this? Why did he not blame his people for letting this happen? Why did he not curse Jerusalem’s enemies? Why did he not curse God for letting this happen to his chosen people? Instead, he wept and prayed. What Nehemiah did next was even more surprising.
He started his prayer with praise to God. He said, “Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love… (Nehemiah 1:5).” He then went on to ask God for forgiveness for his people. Much of the destruction that came upon them was because they had rebelled against God and made poor decisions. He asked God to have mercy on them, as he had promised. Finally, Nehemiah asked God for favor with the king so that he could help his nation.
In those days, going to the king for a request such as this would be very risky, especially in his position. He would have to leave his post for an extended period and would require resources from the king for this project. Nehemiah was willing to risk it all to help his people. To his relief, the king responded with support, and Nehemiah was successful in his endeavors to help Jerusalem rebuild.
God came through with his promise to His people through the hands and heart of Nehemiah. What a great lesson for us to learn from Nehemiah. Our nation is not in complete ruins, but it is in turmoil. We could get angry at our politicians, the system, the mistakes we have made in the past or present, a group of people, or even God. We could also follow Nehemiah’s example and weep, pray, and take action to help our brothers and sisters, even when it means making significant sacrifices or taking risks.
We are one people created by God. He made us for love and to do His work. If we all acted like Nehemiah, there could be peace and unity in our nation. With God’s help, this is what is possible for America. Let us unite as “One Nation, under God.”
Rich Foster, Life Management Advisor at Vital Guidance