Muttering under my breath, I cleaned up the mess that is called party food. Where to put it all?
My grouching escalated into a claustrophobic “ti-rage” about my cramped life until, in the quietness of loading the dishwasher, I realized that I had been complaining about one thing: abundance.
Turn it around, soul!
Instead of cursing the full fridge and the pans falling out of the cupboard, try this:
“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits,” (Psalm 103:1).
Comfortable, secure, my sheltered heart has no idea what it is to live the live of the powerless. As Nehemiah chapter five begins, three groups of people appeal to Nehemiah with their sad situation:
Group One: Families with no land who need grain to survive. Perhaps their work on the wall had interfered with their livelihood.
Group Two: Land owners who have had to mortgage their fields to provide for their families but cannot repay their debt because of famine conditions in the land.
Group Three: Those who had borrowed heavily to pay Persian taxes (leaden tax tables demanding as much as 40-50%!) and have had to sell their children into slavery because of this indebtedness. To make matters worse, the oppressors/lenders/mortgage holders/slave owners are their own countrymen, fellow Israelites.
All three groups are coming from a position of powerlessness. There is a unique fear that only the powerless experience. Most of us have no knowledge of it, but, like Nehemiah, we must find the courage to look at it squarely, for it is all around us.
I’ve been praying from the Southwell Litany these days. You can Google it and see that it’s a helpful prayer for a mum’s heart (although I’m pretty sure that George Ridding had bigger things in mind when he wrote it back in the 19th century). It asks:
” . . . from the weakness of moral cowardice, save us and help us, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord.”
If we slip the bands of “moral cowardice” for a moment and look too intensely and for too long at the plight of the powerless, we might find that we need to make some uncomfortable adjustments. A series by R.C. Sproul has been one of my resources in studying Nehemiah. He cites the startling statistic that only 4% of evangelicals actually tithe. I know that I was startled when I heard it because, in my notes, just to make sure that I got it, I wrote the converse: 96% do not tithe. The most prevalent reason stated for not tithing was this: “I can’t live at my current lifestyle and tithe.”
Like the people of God in Nehemiah’s day, we find the glory of God to be too costly. With extravagant and prophetic gestures (5:12, 13), Nehemiah calls the remnant back to the Law of God, or as Derek Kidner says in his commentary, to “making gifts, not loans.” Nehemiah, by his own example, calls Jerusalem to move beyond generosity and into radical sacrifice. Verses 17 and 18 give us a peek into Nehemiah’s private journal where he records that 150 people sat at his table on a regular basis and were fed at his expense. As governor of Jerusalem, he was entitled to a salary and an expense account, but he took neither. Seeing that it would have been a burden for the people to care for him, he cared for them instead.
This is integrity. Nehemiah looked at his own possessions and at the powerless and desperate situation of his brothers and sisters and concluded, “I have enough. I don’t need more possessions. I don’t need to be more comfortable than I already am.” Surrounded by people who love me, by warmth and comfort and convenience and plenty, Lord, banish me from the center of my universe. Open my eyes and my heart to the needs of the powerless. “From the weakness of moral cowardice, save us and help us, O Lord.”
This post is the fifteenth in a series in which I ponder “just one thing” each week from my study of the book of Nehemiah, as I travel slowly and thoughtfully through the chapters with my Sunday School class. If you’d like to make a comment or leave a link to your own blog post about your wall-building stories, I’d love to read it. If you want to catch up with previous posts, here’s the link: https://michelemorin.wordpress.com/tag/nehemiah/