Nehemiah 11, Psalm 103
There was a time in history when you simply didn’t have a choice. From the day you were born, like ruts driven into the mud by the wheelbarrow of constant labor, your career and economic status would likely follow the same path of your fathers without much opportunity for deviation — or at least, if desired, requiring great effort and poor results.
Likewise, time was unkind to those not many generations ago. Death was a nasty next door neighbor. The psalmist writes,
For He knows our frame;
He remembers that we are dust.
As for man, his days are like grass;
As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.
For the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
And its place remembers it no more.
So, almost as a historical rebellion, Americans have rabidly innovated and kicked against authority and criticized those who’ve said “you can’t do that,” and so forth. There is nothing inherently wrong with this attitude — there are technological advancements, improved health care methodologies, and labor reforms, among other things that this has had a positive effect upon — but this type of self-liberation can catch fire and draw us into an overdependence on the self, which any Christian can acknowledge is the greatest stumbling block toward holiness.
Our lives are still “like grass” as the Psalm attests, but we now have another 20-30 years to expend and a lot more stuff to play with, and we’ve given ourselves more authority, conversely relinquishing God’s influence in our lives.
We see in our reading today that there were several people who “willingly offered themselves to dwell at Jerusalem.” It seems like a sweet deal, but with the newly erected walls, Israel is likely maligned by her neighbors, making any stay in that area a risky deal. Heck, it’s not a whole lot better in Jerusalem right now, really. This is, and has often been, a dangerous decision.
This wasn’t entirely by choice. The leaders were required to stay, but each city drew straws and sent representatives to the city. This sounds less voluntary, and quite less comfortable.
But you don’t hear much whining; instead, we read of a fulfillment of duty. Seraiah is the ruler of the house of God. Shabbethai and Jozabad oversee outside business. Mattanaiah is responsible for orchestrating the prayers of thanksgiving. There are gatekeepers, overseers of men, singers, and accountants. Everyone has their role, and they perform these tasks well enough to get their names mentioned in the Bible. That’s hardcore.
But what if the accountant guy got bored and decided he’d rather be a singer? Or what if the gatekeeper left his post and attempted to take up charge of business affairs? There would be a deficiency in particular areas, and a saturation in others, and it could possibly add up to dangerous results for the city.
Rather, these folks embrace their roles, remaining obedient to their calling, and as a result, are “blessed” by the community.
We Americans are spoiled with the freedom to make career choices. I believe this has caused the general populace to become jaded to the possibility that God might assign us very specific duties in our lives. By no means are we “experts” in anything without the help of the Holy Spirit, but, as the apostle Paul was once advised before undertaking his ministry, we should cease kicking against the goads, or quit resisting the role that the Lord has granted us.
Shouldn’t we be more grateful than otherwise for His grace, that He would choose us as instruments for His work, which He set aside for us to perform and designed us in order to complete? It might seem “boring” to the rebellious but to one that desires excellence and service in all facets of his life, with great intention to worship the Lord, this is incredibly motivating.
I don’t expect man to ever wholly “fall in line” — we’re sinners from the beginning, and our propensity for obedience is faulty — but we should be compelled to follow the example of these men of Jerusalem who, when inclining their ear to God, willingly offered themselves for His service, making themselves living sacrifices to glorify Him, using their specific strengths and attributes that they’ve been created with in order to do so.