Saturday, August 24, 2013

Unfinished business

The Old Testament books of Ezra and Nehemiah have been my Bible reading over the summer. I've read them before but like most of my Bible reading, I realized how much I missed this time through. Ezra was a priest and Nehemiah was working as the butler for the King of Persia when the story of   Nehemiah begins. He's a pretty interesting guy. Nehemiah, I mean. He was living in Susa, the capital of the vast Persian empire (Susa was near Babylon). It's about a hundred years after Cyrus said the Israelites (Judahites really) could go back to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple. It was also about half way through the era of the Persian Empire which was ended by Alexander the Great in 330 BC. It is 13 years after Ezra left to go to Jerusalem and Nehemiah's mission will overlap with Ezra. When Nehemiah hears how bad things are in Judah he asks for his leave from his job. This was no small request. He was like the King's chief of staff. More importantly, he was in charge of the King's wine cellar and he personally tasted the wine before serving the King so if it was poisoned he would die rather than the King. That meant they had to be close. As close as you could be to a King. So close that the King noticed Nehemiah's moods and when Nehemiah was especially down one day the King asked him what was bothering him. Still a King was a King and you don't mess with Kings so Nehemiah shot one of his blunt prayers to the LORD and then told the King exactly what was on his mind. Not only that, but he lays out what he needs for his expedition which he had clearly been planning for awhile. God is mindful of Nehemiah (another of Nehemiah's favorite expressions) and the King sends him off with his blessing. Which comes in handy several times throughout the book. Nehemiah's main task was to rebuild the walls around Jerusalem for the protection and prosperity of the city. But he was trying to rebuild the moral and spiritual life of the people, too. And, that was a much harder job than working with bricks and mortar. The walls got built. Working alongside Ezra, the rebuilding of the people's faith was an unfinished job. That was frustrating. You can see the frustration building as you read through Nehemiah. Then, in chapter 15, it explodes and he literally tears his hair out as well as the hair of few others, as well. The end of the book is unfinished, too. Did Ezra's and Nehemiah's reform efforts work? Was their rebuilding project a success? It looks like they never knew. They worked hard but they never had the satisfaction of knowing that their work was not in vain. The concluding chapter of Nehemiah's story suggests that some of the people never got the message. Nehemiah's closing prayers were LORD be mindful of us (me). It's a prayer that is equal parts anxiousness and trust. It's a necessary prayer for church workers. We never know if what we are doing will be effective and how long lasting it will be. There is a lot of anxiety in our work but it does not have to prevent us from keeping at it or discourage us. Simply because we don't see the results we want, or it looks like our efforts failed, doesn't mean much. LORD, be mindful of us. Naturally, we forget sometimes that our best work is limited, and in the end, it is not even our work. LORD, be mindful of me, and my anxiety, and I leave the results (all the rest) with you.