In church we have been working our way thru the book of Nehemiah and chances are if I asked you what its about you’d say what everyone says; ‘a bunch of people building a wall.’
If like me you have always read it to ch 6 or 7 and then shut the book because the lists of names that follow bore you to tears, then chances are you missed out on the utterly disturbing contents of ch 13.
You see Nehemiah and crew build the wall, get it all done despite serious opposition and then when its finished the people gather to hear Ezra read the law and teach. They weep and mourn for the way their lives have been so far from the mark. There is genuine sorrow.
In ch 9 there is a long prayer that begins with worship, confession and repentance and then moves into recounting God’s faithfulness over many years as they have cycled through periods of rebellion, disobedience and punishment, before being rescued by God and then choosing to live in alignment with him again.
In their prayer they describe this cycle several times over before saying ‘NO MORE! NEVER AGAIN!’
And they then recommit themselves:
- not to marry foreign women
- to keep the Sabbath
- to honour the jubilee year every seven years
- to keep the temple holy
- pay first fruits offerings and a bunch of other laws.
Essentially they say we want to do life right again. We want to realign with what you have called us to.
So I’m guessing they get rolling with the new plan, but in Ch 13 we read of Nehemiah going back to his job with the king for a couple of years before returning to Jerusalem to check in on how things are going.
And they are ugly… butt ugly!
In ‘The Message’ Petersen describes the situation well and captures Nehemiah’s rage as essentially the people have lost their way (yet again) and completely gone against everything they said they would do.
How does that happen?…
This is not an encouraging chapter for those of us who lead Christian communities… seriously… As I read this i begin to lose hope. It seems to be saying that despite what we may think of our ability to be faithful, communities cycle through periods of commitment, blessing, rebellion, before finally reaching such a low ebb that return again to God. I’m not sure how this works in an individualistic culture – and I’m not sure it does at all. But for these folks they seem to be caught in a cycle and despite their best intentions they can’t get out.
What I observe is that sometimes people get to the ‘rebellion/disobedience’ stage and this is where they can lose their way. After a few cycles of this you begin to think ‘hey I suck at ‘Christianity.’ I should just give it away and do something I am better at…’ I wonder how many people eventually give up because they just can’t ‘cut it’.
So there are a few ways we can go at this point – either we give up because we can’t do it, or maybe we try harder… or… maybe this is where we get the point.
Maybe this is where we encounter God’s love, grace and forgiveness and get energised in a different way to keep going. If its just down to me steeling myself and white knuckling my way back into it then the game is over. Because sooner or later I fail yet again.
But if we can encounter God at this point and experience grace and forgiveness then maybe we get re-wired away from our best efforts and back into responding to him from love.
Every time we fail we move in a direction according to how we respond. Some – driven by the desire to ‘get it right’ move further out of the orbit of grace, while those who accept their brokenness and God’s healing move further into experiencing the life he has for them.
That’s not to say getting our lives on track isn’t important, but it is to say that if we think its down to our grit and grind then we are probably going to kiss the faith game goodbye because we will certainly suck at it…