that I might know you as you are, and manifest the image of Christ in this world,
and the world to come. Amen.
Because I lived on high ground some distance away, I did not see the disaster with my own eyes, and thus did not appreciate its severity. So when one of my brethren came back with a firsthand report, I peppered him with questions. His news was not good:
“The refugees, particularly those who haven’t given up and want to rebuild the city, are in really bad shape. For one thing, the gates that were supposed to protect them are still down, and they have no shelter. Not only are they living in the debris from last time, but they are sitting ducks if it happens again. But that’s not the worst of it. Because they were too weak and slow to defend themselves against a disaster that everyone knew was going to happen, they’ve made themselves laughingstocks in the eyes of the world. Especially those who delight in exposing the shame of others.”
I fell back, stunned at the enormity of their disaster. I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried. The levees of isolation and indifference that I had built up around my heart cracked and were swept away in the flood of shared horror. Their agony became mine, and I tasted their despair. Why? How could God allow this to people He’s supposed to love? Is God too weak to save? Is He too fickle to be trusted? Is He too angry to be appeased? Is there nothing that can be done?
These questions oppressed me, haunting my mind, troubling my sleep. For days I did my work as if in a dream — mourning, fasting, and praying every waking moment, searching for answers. Asking God for answers. Asking God to show me who He really was. Who I was in His sight. Wondering whether what I said I believed in was really true, or just a pleasant fantasy that couldn’t withstand the storms of life.
The finally, it came to me. When everything else had been stripped away, and I was forced to face the emptiness of my own soul, I realized there was only one thing I could trust. I lifted my eyes and prayed:
“O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant of love with those who love him and obey His commands. Please, listen to my voice, and look with favor upon me your servant, and upon the prayers I pray day and night for your people in that broken city — people who are called by your name, and are supposed to be under your protection. Not that we deserve it. I know that we are sinners, deserving of your judgement. Not just those people over there, but I myself, and my own family, would be found just as wanting if weighed in your scales of justice. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses. If the Law was all you gave, I would have nothing more I could say.
“But God, in addition to the Law, you gave a Promise. Yes, you promised that our unfaithfulness would result in us being judged and scattered. But you also promised that if we return to you and submit to your will, then you will bring us back together. You will gather all your people who are called by your name, and allow us to worship you with one voice in your holy temple.
“And God, I am not going to wait for everyone else to repent and turn to you. I’m not even going to wait until I’m perfect and blameless. My petition is not based on my righteousness under the Law, but on your promise of Grace. You are the one who chose to call this people by your name. You are the one who redeemed them by the spilling of blood, and your own strong right arm. And it is because of Your great love for these people that I have boldness to ask you to hear my prayer. And not just my prayer, but all the prayers of all your people who are in desperate circumstances, and cry to you for salvation. Who trust in your Name, and want to see it glorified.
“Dear God, in that Name, grant your servant success by giving me favor in the eyes of The Man who holds the destiny of your people in his hands — but whom You hold in Your hand.”
For — in case you didn’t know — I was the eyes and ears of the King.
About the Title:
Today’s devotional, a retelling of Nehemiah Chapter 1, is dedicated to the city of New Orleans, whose floodwalls have been broken down by Katrina, and whose people (along with the rest of us) are in great trouble and disgrace.