I began the Bible in a Year podcast with Fr Mike Schmitz late last year. I have been plugging away (binging at times) and am pleased to report that I have reached day 278. Yeah me! I know it is still far off, but God’s timing is always perfect. I love that Fr Mike has often reminded us that any day is a good day to begin and that we are right where we are supposed to be. Rather than kind platitudes for slackers, it is, in fact, a true statement. Over and again, the day I was on was where I needed to be. It sounds like a God thing!
What’s happening on day 278, you query? The wall around Jerusalem is being rebuilt, with Nehemiah leading the charge. Exiled Jews were making their way back to Jerusalem and invited to pitch in to repair the wall and gates. Despite many attempts to thwart the reasonable efforts, they completed the wall. Be reminded, says Fr Mike, that when doing God’s work, there will always be efforts to stop or distract us. I found this especially true in my ministry and family life. So many obstacles placed in my path thwarted, delayed, or frustrated my good intentions. The best solution is always prayer, remaining faithful, and persevering. We must realize there is an enemy who wants to disturb our inner peace and our excellent work to build the Kingdom. Fr. Jacque Phillippe writes in his book, Finding and Maintaining Inner Peace, “The first thing we must be convinced is that all the good we do comes from God and Him alone: “Apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5) He writes, “The Christian life is a combat, a war without mercy…a struggle against evil, temptation and the sin in him.” This combat, or work, as God’s children, is as unique as each of us. No effort is sublime or inferior to that which seems more notable. First Corinthians twelve comes to mind,
“The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I do not need you.” Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary…” (21-22)
All work has dignity and is a source of imitating our Creator. We create clean homes and cities, safe roads, and societies. We heal bodies, foster trusting relationships, raise habitable structures, draw, teach, and spread love. We must keep our eyes on the Lord and the work he has chosen for us.
So back to what’s happening with Nehemiah. The people gathered, and the work was complete; Ezra the Scribe reads clearly from the scroll of the Law of Moses, so all the people could understand. When the people hear these words, some for the first time, they begin to weep. Ezra reminds them,
“Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the LORD is your strength!” (Neh 8:10)
Why all the tears? They knew they were Jewish but had forgotten what made them so. Their hearts understood the words of God, thus convicting them of the truth of how far off track they had gotten.
I suggest we forget who we are as Christians in these tumultuous times. We do not know HIS story; maybe we’ve forgotten, perhaps no one ever told us. Christian is not something we claim when it is convenient and everything is going our way. It is conforming ourselves to Christ. We have gotten off track and aren’t even in the arena anymore. Like those around us, we are living immoral relativistic lives, failing to practice our faith with regular prayer. We have kicked God to the curb while wondering why He has neglected to help us.
Finally, the other book featured on day 278 is Esther. Wow, so many lessons there for our times. Esther is a beautiful Jewish young woman living in the palace of the pagan King as one of his concubines. She has kept quiet about her heritage. An edict goes out by command of the King to exterminate any Jews living within the Kingdom. Esther’s foster father, Mordecai, who raised her after her parents died, implores her to speak to the King on their behalf. Esther responds,
“All the servants of the king and the people of his provinces know that any man or woman who goes to the king in the inner court without being summoned is subject to the same law—death.” (Es 4:11)
She is afraid to approach him and is also a convenient excuse to avoid getting involved. Mordecai reminds her,
“Do not imagine that you are safe in the king’s palace, you alone of all the Jews… Who knows—perhaps it was for a time like this that you became queen?” (Es 4:13, 14)
Brilliant! “Who knows—perhaps it was for a time like this that you became queen.” It is not a random cosmic accident that you and I are in this time and place. God does everything with purpose. We have work to do as followers of Christ, American citizens, and people of God. We are not here by mistake but to be part of the solution.
Esther’s response is our marching orders- fast and pray. She asks Mordecai to spread the word to the other Jews to fast for three days and nights. She and her maids do the same. Mordecai prayed this prayer,
“Lord, Lord, King, and Ruler of all, everything is in your power, and there is no one to oppose you when it is your will to save Israel….”
This is faith in action. I invite us to mobilize and rally together in this manner to save our own country from certain doom. It’s not complicated. God asks so little of us, and the rewards are unimaginable. I recommend reading Esther in its entirety, or better yet, do the whole Bible in a Year podcast. Listening to Scripture will affirm that there is no new problem that we deal with today in which God is unaware nor unprepared. I was also made aware of the abundance of faithful, courageous men and women who stepped up and let themselves be led by God. They were simple folks empowered to perform incredible acts at crucial moments in history. We each have work to do in our life, some great, others almost imperceptible but momentous. Fr. Mike reminds us, “God wants to work with our weaknesses.” He isn’t waiting on our perfection; it is when we are weak that he is strong.
The LORD will fight for you; you have only to keep still.”