Summary: How do you respond when you’re hit with distressing news? Do you respond in anger? Do you respond in fear? Do you respond by immediately jumping up and trying to fix the problem? None of those responses were Nehemiah’s first response.
A few years ago, I remember sitting in my office in Asheville, NC, one quiet Tuesday morning. Of course I was in uniform. As an Air Force recruiter, I spent most of my time in uniform. But as my office partner and I sat there that morning taking care of some paperwork, it seemed like everything started to happen at once. Emails started pouring in. I started getting instant message after instant message. Our fax machine started pouring out papers. All of our phone lines and both of our cell phones started ringing off the hook. You see, just a few minutes before, at 8:46, a group of al-Qaida terrorists flew American Airlines Flight 11 into the World Trade Center’s North Tower. Of course we all know what happened from there. My office partner and I immediately turned on the radio to try to catch some of the news as we were fielding calls and trying to respond to emails and such. Try to remember back to when it first happened. Nobody really knew what was going on. Nobody really knew the extent of it. It was chaos. But in the midst of the chaos, people began responding. Fully armed F-15s were scrambled over the capital for the first time ever. The military was put on high alert. We had to lock our doors and perform patrols and bomb checks. And then within a day, others were responding in different ways. On the one hand some churches were calling impromptu prayer meetings. On the other hand, Palestinians and other Arabs were celebrating in the streets of the Middle East. But even the response within our own country wasn’t universal. Federal buildings all over the country were receiving bomb threats. Where I was, on September 12, hundreds of people gathered around the fountain in the middle of downtown Asheville—to protest America. The point is, everybody responded to the attacks on 9/11. What happened was so brazen and violent that it had to evoke a response. But different people responded differently. Some responded courageously. Some responded cowardly. Some even responded humbly and repentantly. All events in life are that way. Especially tragic events. They don’t have to be on the scale of 9/11, but every event we experience in life prompts a response. Sometimes we respond the right way. Sometimes we respond the wrong way. Sometimes we respond by lashing out in anger. Sometimes we respond by crying out in pain. Sometimes we respond by turning to God. That’s what Nehemiah did in our passage tonight. He had just received the report back from his brother and the team he had sent to Jerusalem. And the report wasn’t good. The news was devastating to him. So he responded. His response was immediate. It was decisive. It was bold. So what did he do? Did he start working on a rebuilding plan? Did start recruiting a team to help him fix the problem? Did he start gathering materials and money? No—he didn’t actually DO anything. Instead, verse 4 says, he sat down and wept and mourned for days. And then he did something that was the best response he could have possibly had. He fasted. And he prayed. Nehemiah’s first response wasn’t like my typical first response. In my flesh, my typical first response is to figure out how to fix it. But not Nehemiah. He fasted. And he prayed. And the summary content of his prayer is recorded for us here. I say it’s a summary, because verse 4 says that he mourned and fasted and prayed for days. We don’t have all the words of his prayer recorded here. But we do have a summary of the content. And what rich content it is. Because in these verses, we see how we should respond. We see how, when bad news hits us… whether it’s something as big as 9/11 or something a whole lot smaller… before we jump up to do something in response… we need to respond like Nehemiah did. These verses show us how he did it. They show us a five-fold response to bad news. The first response is recognizing prayer. Look at verse 5: