Sunday, October 30, 2011

Seeking The Well-Paved Paths of Righteousness

Thanksgiving came and went before I got the news my teaching contract would not be renewed for the Spring semester. Two week's notice was like a death sentence in the education industry where teachers are mainly hired in August with the occasional January opening.

Yet, in what seemed to be a God-placed newspaper advertisement, a local community college had an opening for an English teacher like me. I applied, got an interview, and then a second interview. Only one other person and I were left standing.

A few days before Christmas, the department head finally called. I would ring in the new year among the ranks of the unemployed.

As days turned into weeks of applying for every advertised job (even the distasteful ones) and being rejected or just ignored, my relationship with my mother grew tense. She wanted me to return to college and get my teaching certificate so I could teach high school English, but I balked. Even as a senior in high school, I had felt God's strong calling for me to teach English in college. I had followed that calling with almost tunnel vision, everything including extracurricular activities selected with care to lead me to that goal.

But here I was--23 years old, living with my parents, no income, and no job prospects. Even Wal-mart turned me down. Had I heard God wrong?

Many Christians have this concept that if we are in the center of God's will, if we are fulfilling a task, mission God has set before us, we will not encounter difficulty, that God will make our path smooth . We may not verbalize this philosophy, but we live it.

Scripture, on the other hand, shows all too many examples of men and women who prove life in Christ is quite the opposite.

Consider the prophet Nehemiah, a man who felt God's calling to return and rebuild Jerusalem's walls. God set forth the path, setting it in the king's heart to grant Nehemiah's request, send letters for the "governors of the provinces beyond the River, that they may allow me to pass through until I come to Judah," provide free timber to rebuild the city gates, as well as lend "officers of the army and horsemen" for the journey (Neh. 2:7-9).

Smooth sailing.

Yet in the very next verse, Nehemiah recounts, "When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about it, it was very displeasing to them that someone had come to seek the welfare of the sons of Israel" (2:10).

These three enemies rose up to stop the project that was God-ordained. First, they "mocked us and despised" the builders, disparaging their building efforts saying, "Even when they are building--if a fox should jump on it, he would break their stone wall down!"(2:19, 4:3). No sticks and stones, but harmful words that "demoralized the builders" (4:5).

Then, when words didn't stop the building project, "All of them conspired together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause a disturbance in it" (4:8). Two verses later, though, the enemies' plan escalated from causing a disturbance to murder: "They will not know or see until we come among them, kill them and put a stop to the work" (4:11).

So much for smooth sailing.

Until the wall was completed, Nehemiah and his workers "set up a guard against them day and night...From that day on, half of my servants carried on the work while half of them held the spears, the shields, the bows and the breastplates...Those who were rebuilding the wall and those who carried burdens took their load with one hand doing the work and the other holding a weapon" (4:9, 16-17).

The atmosphere was one of constant danger, one of fear. By Chapter 6, the enemy changed tactics, this time seeking to destroy Nehemiah, himself, even going so far as to threaten to tell Babylon he was planning a rebellion.

In the end? Nehemiah and God's people were triumphant: "So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of the month Elul, in fifty-two days" (6:15).

Such an awesome task completed in that short a time span? Even the opposition recognized this was not something man could have done alone: "When all our enemies heard of it, and all the nations surrounding us saw it, they lost their confidence; for they recognized that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God" (6:16).

God had set in Nehemiah's heart a plan to rebuild the city of Jerusalem's walls, to remove this shame from God's holy city. God had opened the door of the king's heart for Nehemiah to be able to walk this path. But it was still not a path of ease and pleasure. It was a hard fifty-two day path filled with back-breaking labor as well as both daily and nightly peril because of real in-the-flesh enemies literally lurking in the shadows.

It was a path that required faith and constant reliance upon God. It was a path that gave God all the glory.

These wouldn't likely be three outcomes of the journey if He lay an endless winding ribbon of smooth asphalt before us.

Image: Climbing Mt. Kinabalu

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