Bible Study

React or Act? On hearing bad news..

When you hear bad news of events that are occurring in your country, does it ever make you cry with sadness, anger, or frustration? Does it make you feel powerless, that there is nothing that you can do? Although of course, we all feel that someone, should do something! The story of Nehemiah reminds us that when we have a strong reaction to bad news, it should create in us one action – to take it straight to God in prayer.

Let us listen to a little bit of Nehemiah’s story¹. He is a man who openly admits that he cried and wept on hearing some bad news. Nehemiah was living in Susa, part of the dispersion of the people of Israel throughout Persia. He had a trusted position working in the palace as a cupbearer to the king. This was a bit more than being a waiter or a butler. Part of Nehemiah’s job may have been to sample the king’s wine to make sure that it was safe for him to drink!  

Some years earlier some of the Israelites had been allowed to return from captivity to Jerusalem. They had resettled there and had started to restore the Temple. A group of travellers now come to Susa, from Judah, with the latest news. Nehemiah seeks them out to hear how the returned exiles are getting on in Jerusalem. The news is not good, for the walls of the city have been broken down. In addition to that, the city gates have been burned with fire and the people are in trouble and disgrace. The community is under threat, and they have no protection. Nehemiah was so overwhelmed by this bad news that he sat down and wept. His hopes and dreams to hear that his people were safely re-established in their homeland, were dashed.

React or Act? On hearing bad news…

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The bad news brought Nehemiah to his knees, to mourn and fast and pray – for some days. I believe during that time God stirred Nehemiah’s heart to respond. He was inspired and given the motivation to act. With God’s guidance and favour there was something that could be done to help. There was something that Nehemiah could do. He could take action.

Through prayer God turned Nehemiah’s despair into hope! Nehemiah started where he was, uniquely placed in the palace as a trusted servant to the king. He used what he had, his position, to be able to speak directly to the king. Prayerfully he looked for an opportunity to do what he could. When he was able to make a request to the king, he trusted in God for the outcome.

Although Nehemiah would be asking a favour of the king, he understood that ultimately the outcome was in God’s hands. He was seeking God’s favour. Nehemiah had to wait, about four months, before an opportunity came. When the moment arrived, he was ready and spoke with wisdom.

This was not a hasty reaction, this was a prayed through, thought out action.

Prayer changes everything

His request was to ask for permission to go to the city of his ancestors. He wanted to supervise the rebuilding work. The king not only grants his request, but provides him with letters of safe conduct and the authority to obtain the materials that would be needed. This step of faith for Nehemiah started a chain of events that changed his whole life and propelled him into the forefront of national events. He went from obscurity, taking with him all that he had learned there, to prominence and significance.

Nehemiah’s work started with the restoration of the city walls. However, it progressed far beyond that to restoring faith and trust in God. This then led to restoring right relationships between the people, to restoring justice in the community and to restoring purity in the temple. Structural, social, and spiritual reform. This is what God can do with prayer and the willingness of someone, to do something!

When we feel strongly about something we need to check and examine prayerfully our reaction. Is it care and concern for others, and for the honour of God’s Name, or anger, resentment, and frustration? If it is the latter, then are those painful emotions, rooted in past hurts, which still need to be healed and forgiven? If it is the former, then prayerfully we seek God as He stirs and challenges our hearts. God provokes a response from us, that we might act, and work for change and restoration.

“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”

Frances of Assisi

The necessary is always prayer, the beginning of any change. Through prayer we begin to see the possible. How to start where we are, and to use what we have in front of us. Then, as we do what we can, by taking a first step of faith, we place the outcome in God’s hands.

The impossible is always what God does, and we give all the glory to Him.

Someone who should do something, could be you….

¹Nehemiah Chapter 1

11 thoughts on “React or Act? On hearing bad news..”

  1. Yes, prayer is always my first go to, then listening to God’s wisdom through scripture in how to go into action.

    You’re most welcome to join me in a cuppa at Tea With Jennifer,
    You may find God has a theme going 😉

    1. Thank you for the encouragement – I have to say I find Nehemiah inspirational as he is so considered in his planning and responses – I always seem to find something new in the story!

  2. Thank you for sharing this very encouraging post written with humility and pointing us to the Word of God and to prayer for the right way to react/act in any given situation really.

    Love the quote from Francis of Assisi!

  3. Sharon, this is such a thoughtful application of Nehemiah’s life … and I agree with other commenters that it is also so very timely. We are far more likely to respond graciously when we stop to pray about our response first, aren’t we?

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