Food insecurity, spiraling debt, unfair taxation, a poverty cycle that is leading to exploitation and slavery… cries to address social injustice are reaching Nehemiah. As if he didn’t have enough on his plate already! He is busy rebuilding the walls (and the people) of a ruined city, keeping everyone on task, united and safe, while outmaneuvering enemies who are working day and night to make him fail.
I don’t know about you, but when my plate is already full, I tend to become exceedingly good at ignoring everyone else’s needs. My eyes look but choose not to see. My ears listen but choose not to hear. The needs of others become unwanted interruptions, inconvenient and a potential drain on my finite time and resources. If someone asks for help, I might get “protective” or “deflective” and quickly rationalize away any responsibility to get involved. Usually in the name of “staying focused” or “maintaining healthy boundaries” or to excuse my own indifference I simply judge others in my heart. “Maybe they did something to deserve it? They should have planned better, tried harder… I didn’t create the problem, so why am I being asked to fix it?”
Friends, I’m so glad Jesus didn’t take this approach with us! Neither did Nehemiah in his time. His response in chapter 5 is a great pattern for us to reflect on and follow:
- Nehemiah HEARD THE CRY for help (vs. 1-6). Am I ignoring an injustice or need around me?
- Nehemiah CHOSE TO CARE (vs. 6). In fact, he burned with righteous anger at the injustice. When was the last time I felt a righteous anger in response to injustice around me?
- Nehemiah PONDERED WHAT TO DO (vs. 7). Sometimes a compassionate heart alone is not enough to address systemic injustice. It takes reflection and strategy, as well as resolve to sustain the effort over time. What would justice look like? What is the right thing for me to do?
- Nehemiah CONFRONTED INJUSTICE (vs. 7-13). He spoke out against injustice, confronted the perpetrators and brought about a practical solution. It takes both courage and wisdom to stand up for what is right and actually make a difference. This is never simple, easy or without personal risk. Am I willing to do what is right?
- Nehemiah LED BY EXAMPLE (vs. 14-18). Embracing limitations of the situation, he deliberately chose to accept a personal loss, so that others may gain. So simple, yet so difficult and so rare in our world. Am I willing to accept the cost of helping?
Ok. Let’s bring it home… I suggest we all do a small experiment today:
1. As you start the day, ask God to reveal to you an injustice or a need in someone else’s life that you might have been blind to.
2. When God reveals something to you, follow Nehemiah’s example. Ask God how he wants you to respond and do it!
I know, it’s a little “dangerous” to ask open-ended questions of an unpredictable God. He might ask us to do something that is on His agenda, but not ours. Perhaps, something that makes us uncomfortable. But friends, that is exactly what putting our faith into action looks like in our everyday lives. This is how we follow in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus. This is how we join God on His mission to restore His lost children and bring every square inch of this world under the just reign of His kingdom.
Fortunately for us, a very big God who literally hears every single cry for help in our city and the world is the one sending us, His people, to be the answer. There is no limit to what He might do through us. Like Nehemiah in vs. 19, we can expect God’s favor to be upon us, along with the joy reserved for those who partner with Him.