I will never forget a particular experience in junior high school (7th – 9th). As a close knit group of friends, my buddies and I did everything together. Sports, youth group, hobbies – chickening out of going to school dances. We did everything together. Lunch was no exception. We always sat at the same table, practically eating the same meal, always minding our own business. As lowly seventh graders there was social safety in the anonymity of routine. Our daily routine included a quick stop at the bathroom before heading on to our afternoon set of classes. It never failed, every time we stopped in there was another group of guys who apparently had the same schedule. Finally, one day, this older group of ninth graders could not resist any longer the temptation to pick on us. “You guys are such losers”, the leader of the group said. “You guys are always coming in here to go to the bathroom together. Y’all are such weirdos.”
[Now don’t get ahead of me.] In that moment we were left speechless, intimidated, embarrassed. Our only option to finishing washing hands and sulk our way past them and out the door. The four of us sat together stunned, freshly picked-on – it could have been a scene from Stranger Things. Then finally one of my friends spoke up and said, “Wait a minute. Aren’t they in the bathroom every time we are?” And with that one comment, the bullies’ premise was debunked and the sting of their insults muted.
That experience has stuck with me. Less as a principle about bulling, but more as a reality that far too often we are guilty of being unable (or unwilling) to see ourselves as part of the very thing we are insulting. Perhaps the most poignant example of this is whenever people will complain about “these days.” You can’t go a whole week without reading or hearing someone say that phrase with great sadness, lamenting some supposed period of time when things were better.
A great example of a life counter to this reality is the life of Nehemiah in the Old Testament. It could have been very easy for him to sit around at the local Starbucks or take to his social media accounts and ramble on and on about the deplorable conditions in which his people found themselves. It would have been understandable for him to daydream about a bygone day of prosperity and kick to the curb the days in which they were living. But he didn’t.
Nehemiah hears of the shame and ruin of his people and the great wall of Jerusalem. What he did next was not throw his hands up in the air. Instead he hit his knees in prayer. He prays an incredible prayer of humility, honesty, and responsibility. If we are ever going to see a difference made in “these days” we have to begin by living with hearts of humility and responsibility. Nehemiah was humble. He knew it was not man alone who could make a difference in his generation; it was only by the favor and power of God that any positive difference could be made. He was also responsible. He knew his people we not innocent of their own shortcomings. There are great organizations and well-intending people in our society. But without a proper perspective of who God is, who we are and our need for Him – we will never see any difference in “these days”.
We as God’s people living in the twenty-first century must also learn that we cannot give up simply because “these days” are tough. Like those bullies in the bathroom, we can’t be in the midst of the situation and refuse to see our presence in it. Later in Chapter 6, Nehemiah is invited to quit the work he has remained so committed to achieve. His response, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” In order to ever see a difference made with our lives in our generation – our time on the wall – we must never give up doing what we know God has called us to do. Don’t be motivated by the praise of man. Don’t be discouraged by a lack of recognition. Paul’s writings in Philippians 1 is a fantastic motivation. Let us never forget we are called to advance the Kingdom with our everyday lives. According to 2 Corinthians 5:18-20 it is we who will be the difference.
Let’s never be found guilty of being unwilling to see the role we play in the current condition of our society. Let’s remain faithful to doing our part – in the power and with the presence of God – to make “these days” better every day.