I find it quite interesting that Nehemiah lead a nation in repentance of their sins and a reception towards God’s grace by returning their focus back to his Law. The Torah reminded them that, “You in your great mercies did not forsake them in the wilderness. The pillar of cloud to lead them in the way did not depart from them by day, nor the pillar of fire by night to light for them the way by which they should go. You gave your good Spirit to instruct them and did not withhold your manna from their mouth and gave them water for their thirst. Forty years you sustained them in the wilderness, and they lacked nothing. Their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell” (Nehemiah 9:19-21, ESV).
The Exodus narrative recalled the covenant faithfulness of God – even when they least expected it or deserved it. Imagine a God loving enough and loyal enough to guide, provide, and protect a people for over four decades? Remember, they only wandered for that long in the wilderness because of their doubt and disobedience. Even so, he chose to feed them every day, clothe them every day, and lead them every day. He refused to abandon them even though they absolutely asked for it. He provided for them even when they requested to return to the alleged security of their slave-days.
Nehemiah used the phrase, “They lacked nothing.” These words would serve as a precursor to when Jesus challenged his own peers by saying, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” (Matthew 6:25-27). In the spirit of Moses, he told his disciples not to be anxious about what they were to eat, what they were to wear, or what they would call home.
I must be careful not to draw out my own twenty-first century concerns and Western world experiences from this passage. The original listeners had no concern a stock market crash, a health care policy, a mortgage crisis, or a college tuition bill. Many of them were greatly impoverished. Imagine parents who legitimately were worried about what they would have for their next meal, or how they would provide a pair of sandals for their youngest child, or who would hire them for tomorrow’s labor, or how they would pay tomorrow’s Roman taxes, or even where they would find shelter in the midst of tonight’s freezing temperatures?
Is it any coincidence that the southern hemisphere is home of not only many of the most impoverished places on the planet but also the epicenter of the rise in Christianity? Could it be that the center of authentic conversion and discipleship is the idea that Jesus Christ is truly to be the Center and Source of our provision? I fear that many wings of the church have fallen into the trap of consumption and gratification – chasing prosperity rather than piety. That being said, I also will not be entrapped with the idea that I must for some reason apologize for living in the wealthiest era in human history not to mention that I enjoy being a citizen of the wealthiest nation on the globe. That being said, I want to use that blessing to be a blessing – I want to be apart of a church that is generous with what we have – I want to be an answer to the issues of the day. I want to make a difference. Following Christ means that I will not only share his good news but that I will also show his good works.
On a personal level, I ought to be truly grateful for all that I have been given. The list is just too long to write here. My Heavenly Father has created me, saved me, and empowered me to live a life that is rightly connected to him and to others. My wife and children offer me joy that so far exceeds my wildest dreams. My extended family and friends offer me the opportunity to be shaped and sharpened. Our church is healthy and continually asks the question, “What can we do to be true to the mission that we have been entrusted with?” Sure, there are moments that I worry about the spiritual, social, economic, and political direction that our nation and world are quicly heading. I am reminded every day that we live in a broken and bruised place that is desperate for the reconciliation and restoration that will only come with the return of a King.
My worries pale in comparison with many in the world. I have a home. I have food. I have clothes. I have a job. Even so, I worry. Maybe I stress and strive too much over my dreams and not enough about God’s dreams? Maybe I worry too much about what is next and forget to seize the present? Maybe I exert too much energy in the attempt to make things happen rather than trust and obey that God will allow things to happen in his timing? I see many of these attitudes and actions in myself – and I don’t like them. I choose today to follow the counsel of the Apostle Paul who once wrote (to a very generous church, by the way), “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:4-7, ESV).