Failure and disappointment is one thing, disillusion and despair is quite another. Most of us live with ‘failure stories’ of ideas, jobs and relationships that have gone wrong. We’ve all had our fair share of disappointments. But when that niggling pain grows into a driving despair, that is something entirely different. In his book, “Our Deepest Longing”, Ronald Rolheiser describes the first kind of pain, that of failure and disappointment, as that which impacts us emotionally and psychologically. But adds that the second kind of despair, especially in terms of the post exiled Jews, was something very different..... “Real despair...is infinitely more subtle....It is the death of our sense of surprise, the belief that nothing new can happen to us”.
Rolheiser explains how despair comes at the precise moment when, consciously or unconsciously, we resign ourselves to the belief that the way things are is the way they’ll always be. Once we accept this, he concludes, “we are in the tomb. Much of us is dead, and more of us is still dying”
It is imperative we understand this of Nehemiah’s Jews. They’d become a people of despair. Much of Israel was dead or dying by the time Nehemiah arrived at Jerusalem. They had lost their sense of surprise, the belief that where they were at could be any different. They had resigned themselves to the belief that this was the way things were going to be. This was the new reality, and they mustn’t expect any advance on that.
Into this bleakness Nehemiah speaks six awakening words; “Let us rise up and build....”
This simple six word reply reveals a world of hopeful activity. While Nehemiah speaks, something unseen and truly remarkable is taking place in the hearts and souls of these Jews. Nothing short of a resurrection is occurring. For the first time in however long they can remember, they feel the embers of enthusiasm, the stirrings of hope, the movement of expectation. At this point they didn’t need to have all the “i’s” dotted and “t’s” crossed. This is not what God or Nehemiah was asking. At this point they simply needed to muster a genuine, heartfelt though underwhelming “Yes”.
This reminds us of God’s habit of often choosing the unlikely and, at times, even the unsuitable ....
He chooses an under qualified Moses to lead a nation
He hand picks an untried boy in David to defeat a nation
He selects a young naive prophet in Jeremiah to confront a people
He summons an ill prepared Gideon to lead an assault against a nation
The New Testament likewise offers some clarity on God’s habit of working in this way —
‘Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not —to nullify the things that are...“ (1 Cor.1:26-28)
It is not the award-winning builder’s, or the celebrated designers that often top God’s list when it comes to executing his will. But rather the ‘foolish’, the ‘weak’, the ‘lowly’ and the ones ‘that are not’. Under the enabling and empowering of God’s spirit, they become the ideal resource to build something truly remarkable. To the credit of these dispirited, under-qualified Jews, they each put aside personal preference, each refused to be hampered by a lack of skill or talent. For the greater good, they gave of what they had and who they were....”the people worked with all their heart” (4:6). It is a wonderful testament to the way God and grace can build the most beautiful and magnificent things with the most unlikely. God can do so much, so well, so impressively, with such relatively impoverished skillsets.
Never let your ordinariness, your apparent lack of skill or talent, or the ghost of past disappointments become the determiner of how far your “YES” extends to God’s invitation. What God calls us to do he equips us to do, just as he provided for Nehemiah’s Jews every step of the way.