How to Restore a Broken World
How can I be confident when so much of my life is crumbling?
The biblical book of Nehemiah contains the account of a servant of God who was used by Him during a time of calamity for the Jewish people. More than 70 years after the destruction of Jerusalem, Nehemiah led the monumental task of rebuilding the walls of defense around the treasured-but-collapsed city of Jerusalem.
Years ago, someone challenged me to read through the story of Nehemiah and circle every reference to God. It was explained to me that people tend to put Nehemiah at the center of the drama. The title of the book may unwittingly suggest the wrong hero, directing our attention toward the efforts of Nehemiah and away from the heroics of the restorative God. Highlighting God’s work has helped me focus on the true hero.
As I read the story again in this season, I processed the passage in a way very helpful to my soul. I grabbed a blank sheet of paper and wrote “God” in the center. Around the edges, I wrote the various situations of concern mentioned in the story. The concerns were many: worry about the homeland, the response of the king, safety in travel, the daunting task of rebuilding, threat of enemies, exhaustion of workers, conspiracy of “friends,” ignorance of God’s law, need for forgiveness, oppression of the poor, and neglect of spiritual leaders.
To illustrate how the text showed God’s work in the story, I drew arrows from “God” at the center to the concerns around the perimeter of the page as the story progressed. It was helpful to see how God’s presence and power solved every concern. Though I used to read the story as if “Nehemiah” was at the center of the page, I have begun to see it was truly God working and solving these dilemmas.
We are in another state of calamity. COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on families, communities, and nations around the globe. Many hearts can relate to the heavy grieving described in the opening of the book of Nehemiah, “As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days” (Nehemiah 1:4). Many aspects of our lives are in an upheaval of chaos, aptly illustrated by the crumbled, charred ruins of Jerusalem. This may be a good time for us to apply the exercise to our own story.
Around the perimeter of a blank page, write down the aspects of concern in your life: health of loved ones, your own health, employment status, finances, distance from friends and family, basic needs, fragility of community systems, decisions of the government. Be as specific as you can, including names where applicable. And now, consider what name you can honestly put at the center of the page.
One option is your own name. This is one way to live, trying to control and manage the concerns of your life. Our tendency is to be the “hero” holding things together through our planning and efforts. Times of calamity remind us how hopeless and futile our attempt at “control” really is.
Times of calamity remind us how hopeless and futile our attempt at “control” really is
Instead, I encourage you to write “God” at the center.
The God we worship today is the same God who has brought His people through countless crises throughout biblical history. Notice the astounding ways God is described in Nehemiah’s story:
· O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant (1:11)
· The good hand of my God was upon me (2:8)
· The God of heaven will make us prosper (2:20)
· God had frustrated their plans (4:15)
· Our God will fight for us (4:20)
· O God, strengthen my hands (6:15)
· This work was accomplished with the help of our God (6:16)
· The awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love (9:32)
· God turned the curse into a blessing (13:2)
In a spirit of prayerful surrender, begin drawing arrows from “God” to the concerns you have written. Thank God for ruling over the specific situations as you ask Him to work in a powerful way. Offer yourself to Him as His instrument to use for His glory.
I hope this exercise has helped you recalibrate your source of confidence. The story of Nehemiah is inspiring, not because Nehemiah was superhuman or faultless, but because God is shown to be powerfully working amid trouble and chaos. Though we can feel overwhelmed by the crumbling circumstances around us, we have a God who is at work and will be true to His promise to care and provide for us. As we trust Him, He will invite us to join Him in His work — not to be the Savior, but to serve Him. May we be daily inspired to keep God at the center of our lives, entrusting to Him all our concerns and challenges.