The scene of devastation was extreme. Walls were destroyed, gates burned, dwellings razed. Sorrow and discouragement must have been rampant.
But one man did more than weep.
In a detailed biblical account, we're told that Nehemiah mourned over the ruins of Jerusalem, his people's major city - and then he prayed, fasted, and set out to rebuild it. Less than two months later, the city walls and gates stood restored, sturdy and strong.
Prayer, fasting, and rebuilding add up to a great three-point plan for remediating any destruction. And, as Nehemiah's story shows, the success of the third is rooted in a commitment to the first two.
First, prayer. Turning to God with expectation, acknowledging His power and presence, opens the way to good. That's because God is the real source of all good, and He never withholds goodness from His creation. Thinking about God's nature makes it easy to tailor prayer to what's specifically needed - abundance for dearth, order for chaos, beauty for waste.
Such God-given qualities are more than human elements gone missing from a site or situation in ruins. Each quality of Spirit is spiritual, and therefore indestructible. So considering in prayer abundance, order, and beauty - or any divine quality - affirms the lasting, uninterrupted nature of their infinite source. This prayer replaces images of destruction with lively spiritual realities, which in turn bolster confidence and inspire action.
Next, fasting. In the face of devastation, whether shown graphically on TV or felt closer to home, a simple but firm discipline of thought keeps us alert to God's goodness. Choosing praise of Him over hand-wringing, and gratitude for good over recriminations or despair, enables us to be guided by wisdom.
Fasting mentally - maintaining our consciousness of God, free of human reaction - helps us detect and eliminate thoughts that oppose what is positive and constructive.
In Nehemiah's case, his enemies tried mockery, intimidation, and trickery to pull him from his commitment to rebuilding Jerusalem. His discerning, steadfast rejection of their ploys ensured his success.
Our alertness to ungodlike opinions and fears, and our refusal to sanction them, promote our progress. We experience victory not only over feelings of doubt and discouragement, but over any roadblocks in the path to reconstruction.
Finally, rebuilding. With prayer and fasting given precedence, restoration follows naturally. Reliance on God directs our work. Supplies, personnel, and resources come to light as evidence of His goodness. And a growing certainty of God's supremacy over material circumstances keeps us calm and unflappable.
Nehemiah's repeated turning to God during the rebuilding process wasn't a mystical rite or the exercise of personal will. The encouraging message of Nehemiah is that the nature and will of the one God, good, is to uplift, regenerate, and bless.
Centuries later, another builder, Mary Baker Eddy, who founded the Church of Christ, Scientist, wrote, "How blessed it is to think of you as 'beneath the shadow of a great rock in a weary land,' safe in His strength, building on His foundation... ("Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896," p. 263).
Whether we are dealing with evidence of destruction in a home or city, a relationship, business, or life, the example of one prayerful and devoted man who lived centuries ago is clear. We can pray to our Father-Mother God with expectation and trust, as Nehemiah did. We can consciously exclude - fast from - thoughts of defeat and depression. And we can count on having the wisdom, inspiration, and abundance we need direct from God.