Nehemiah faced a disastrous situation. He receives news that the exiles who’ve returned to Jerusalem are in great trouble. The city walls are broken down and the gates burnt. The people are vulnerable, defenceless and in disgrace.
When Nehemiah hears this dire news his first action is to pray (Nehemiah 1:4 onwards). Nehemiah pours out his grief. He’s honest about his part in the responsibility for what’s gone wrong. ‘I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself, have committed against you’. And then, depending on God’s faithfulness despite our unfaithfulness, he asks one simple thing: that ‘God gives his servant success by granting him favour in the presence of this man’. ‘This man’ is King Artaxerxes and Nehemiah is his cupbearer. Nehemiah is required always to be serene and cheerful in the presence of the king. To show his grief is to take a huge risk. But this is his opportunity.
We face a dire situation. Nature is damaged. Our environment is vulnerable. The future is in jeopardy. How do we, like Nehemiah, take our opportunities to speak out?
First Nehemiah prays; then he acts and comes up with a practical plan. He’s a man of prayer and a man of action. I love it! There are some interesting features to his plan. He requests the logistical help of the Persian empire, and the king grants it. Then he involves all the people of Jerusalem in a unified plan. Everyone has a part to play: within the plan each tribe, clan, and family has a section of the wall to rebuild, a different section, but part of the same whole.
Maybe there’s a model for us as we work ‘to restore the integrity of creation’. We have our own tasks, our own bits of the wall, so to speak, but it’s all part of the whole.
There’s a model for us in prayer – prayer which is heartfelt, humble, honest, acknowledging that we have been part of the problem and seeking wisdom for the way forward – and then a model in practical action – working collaboratively, each making a contribution to the restoration of God’s earth.
This reflection was written by Andy Jowitt for our Wild Christian email, ‘nature and the COPs’. Andy is A Rocha UK’s Volunteer Community Engagement Officer at our Foxearth Meadows Nature Reserve in north Essex.