I’m pretty sure I had a good idea a while back for what discipline to write about in Ezra month. Sadly, I didn’t have the sense to write it down anywhere (or if I did, I haven’t come across it!) I also intended to write it more than 16 hours before the deadline. And we’ve currently got an ofsted inspection going on here… So I figured I’d flick through my BST commentary and cheat slightly. But I don’t seem to be able to find my BST commentary. So cheating’s out of the question. I’ll just have to keep trying.
So I read through Ezra and find a whole load of great names, a title character that doesn’t feature a whole lot in the first half of the book, and a people who have to keep plugging away at what they’ve been called to do. And I think of perseverance (the particularly sharp among you will recognise that choosing this discipline is, in itself, kind of cheating…)
The opening chapter of Ezra seems like the perfect start. Cyrus is moved to direct the rebuilding of the temple at Jerusalem. It couldn’t be better, really. The people are packed off with stuff that was historically theirs anyway, and with a command to fashion a new temple. One of those big answer-to-prayer type moments. The ones where you pinch yourself to check it’s really happened.
But it’s not all plain-sailing. We learn they fear the nations around them, and indeed there is much trouble that comes their way. I remember my old school putting on a play called ‘The troubable of Zerubbabel’ – (yes, I did go to a very Christian school!) Progress slows rather, as troubles from outside the community take over.
Then we see that more support is offered, and things seem to get back on track a little. But next comes trouble from within the community (there’s also rather an amusing reference to the distress caused by the rain, in 10:9). The question of intermarriage causes much consternation, and the people have another difficult path to navigate. Yet they persevere, and a solution is found and (for the most part) accepted by the community.
We can face the same difficulties today. There are plenty of troubles that come from outside the church, and we need to make sure we resist the temptation to run off and hide in a cozy church clique somewhere (and there are plenty of digital equivalents!). We are called to persevere in the midst of persecution, not to avoid it at all costs. When responding to such ‘troubles’ online, we need to do so with conviction, determination and grace.
But we know, too, that there are plenty of troubles that we in the church generate for our own brothers and sisters. That’s not a great position to be in. If the difficulties relate to right and wrong decisions, then we need to persevere, if they merely relate to right and left decisions, we should probably aim to avoid them turning ugly! We risk entereing into dialogue online that is ungodly and insensitive, and we need to operate with humility. We must cling tightly to the gospel, but hold a little more loosely to our own church traditions. Remember, harmony isn’t everyone making the same sound – it’s people singing the same song in different ways.
Is there a particular area in which you need to persevere at the moment? Either in the face of trouble from beyond the church community, or from trouble within it?
And now for something slightly different, here’s a little lesson in perseverance from a frog.