Here’s a picture from this past Sunday. Believers from several local congregations gathered in a technical college auditorium. It was the first meeting of it’s kind that we know of. It was packed, I counted around 110 in total, plus a dog. Our church family had the most young families/kids, and we all sat in the back. It was a long meeting, 3.5 hrs… without a break, so things got a little hairy toward the end, even for the dog.
I’m still digesting the experience, and pondering. What is unity? What does it look like? What is the purpose of unity as it relates to God’s heart for mankind (those that need salvation!). Probably for us younger folks, it wasn’t a huge deal on the outside to sit in a room with 100 other believers, mostly older babushka’s (grandmothers) and older couples. But as I watched the faces of the older generation, head covered in the traditional scarf (and it was baking in there!), I thought, “Don’t underestimate this.” Many congregations are filled with older folks, their time is passing and they’ve run their race. For them to rub shoulders with the next generation, young men and women, famlies serving Christ, it must build their faith and strengthen their resolve to finish well. Christ is not finished in this town, though He may be coming back soon, He wants to do so much more.
I’ve been thinking about Nehemiah. Reading again the account of the re-building of the walls in Jerusalem. The progress has struck me as so simple, but staggeringly difficult without God. It would have been one thing for Nehemiah to get some folks together, especially those of financial prominence. Strike a deal for a business loan, hire some contractors, and make it a beneficial event for those around. Could have printed (no kinko’s then, but they had their ways!) some fancy promotional material, met with those that were in opposition and got them on board, putting them in charge of something or naming part of the wall after them.
Step 1- Nehemiah hears the report of the city and the mockery God’s people have become.
Step 2- Nehemiah is burdened by God. He prays and fasts for days concerning this situation. He repents for HIS sin (representing Israel) and reminds God that by repenting and turning back to Him that He will restore Israel.
Step 3- Nehemiah uses his position as cup-bearer to the King, the King inquires what is bothering him? The fact that the King would even care is amazing, it says Nehemiah didn’t manipulate or ‘try’ to be noticed.
Step 4- Nehemiah holds his breath, and just goes for it.. “King, here’s the deal….” and lays it out.
Step 5- God. The King gives him permission to go and rebuild the wall.
Step 6- Crazy. Nehemiah asks for materials to build with as well, and stamps/permission (he’s thought this thing out).
Step 7- God. He receives everything that he asks for. This is a foreign occupied land now, empowering Nehemiah to help resurrect Israel.
Step 8- Nehemiah goes to Jerusalem, checks things out for a few days, takes a deep breath and then tells everyone what the deal is.
Step 9- Opposition, should we expect anything less? God likes to show Himself through victoriously providing and making statements.
Step 10- 150 or so people join in, randomly God draws folks to give of their time and energy to make it happen. Goldsmiths, guys next door, from all sorts of backgrounds grab their tools and rally to the cause. Here’s a visual expression of unity, united for a cause. Unity for it’s own sake is contradictory. It’s always for a goal. Jesus and the Father were one, and look what that accomplished! I don’t care if I ever sit around a fire and sing ‘Kumbya my Lord’ again with another Christian, but rather that I’d see them to my right and left, and together laboring for God’s work, whatever that looks like… yeah, that’s exciting.
Step 11- More opposition. Testing and Trial. Lies spread, traps set, conspiring.
Step 12- Victory, wall is built in 52 days, take that.
When we consider the tools, the lack of email, co-ordination training, promotion… 52 days is amazing. We can hardly plan a short term trip which consists mostly of feeding ourselves and the occasional organized event in less than 3 months as Americans. Nehemiah is the man. God, through this guy, is challenging me to trust Him for more. That that ‘more’ requires sacrifice (fasting/prayer), pressing into God more for His burden. That ‘more’ will attract opposition, but our battle is not against flesh and blood. The ‘more’ means more testing, possible slander and persecution, but in the end God wins and that’s all that matters.
Anyway, a bit of my heart. I hope you are encouraged as I am by Nehemiah, to look to the task before you. Here in our little town of Rz, we are few in number, but we aren’t. We are working within a cultural context that will refuse to budge, but it can. We will most certainly encounter opposition, but that’s ok. Maybe we’re exactly in the right place for God to show Himself again in a special way. I see our gathering this Sunday as a sign that God is at work, with imperfect people, His speciality. Are we willing to pay the price for God to do ‘more’? Most of us aren’t even past step 1, we could care less about the world around us if we are perfectly honest. We’re self preservationists, especially when the world/economy shakes and rattles. I’ve been miserable today, burdened to see God do something that I can’t. Partly my own apathy making me miserable, and I’m glad that it does. But, I think it’s more than that. I’m looking at step 2 with caution, because I know my weakness and unwillingness to sacrifice through prayer & fasting (particularly fasting…hey, I like food). What if we did all seek Him? We don’t need our pastor to organize this for us. We don’t need a flyer or program with babysitting lined up for us to prioritize it. I’m pretty sure He simply wants to use those that avail themselves… and continue to do so:
4 When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. 5 Then I said:
“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, 6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s house, have committed against you. 7 We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses. –Neh 1:4-7