Toddlers in the dirt | Broken under the weight of reality

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Special thanks to Pastor Jan de Haan (Nazarene church Haarlem, The Netherlands) and Ray Stedman

These images from today’s newspaper penetrated deep into my mind, heart and soul. They signify so much and at first glance may induce a strong emotional response, a sense of helplessness, grief and anger, an awareness of our personal and collective inability to deal with severe pain and brokenness as depicted here, all the while knowing how un dealt with reality, pain and trauma can nest in our minds and hearts and unintentionally work outward to our own and other’s detriment.

Allowing images and the full extent of their meaning to enter even our minds is difficult, not just because of the complex and emotionally charged reality. They may also resonate with unresolved brokenness in our inner being and every day lives, hence even glancing at them is painful and therefor – if possible – easily pushed aside. Confronted with severe pain and despair of others we identify with, we often do not know how to respond and subconsciously or willingly dissociate, deny or even fence up in a feeble attempt to keep the perceived external ‘problem’ at bay and ‘protect’ our inner and outer status quo.

These toddlers and their presumably close relatives lying nearby, after taking a closer look and connecting with them emotionally, share a wonderful story as well. A story of being able to find stillness, a place to rest, a space to surrender and ability to find some comfort under extremely difficult circumstances. Finding sleep in the relative softness of roadside leaves or a sibling’s belly, curling up against one another or merely being in each other’s vicinity and lying face to face. We are given intimate insight into our God given ability to restore ourselves by giving in to sleep, aware of the necessary build up of strength required to move forward again the next day in hope of a better future.

I pray they find or consciously walk with God in their plight.

Most of the world seems to have forgotten that place of oneness with God and the privilege to re-establish our relationship with Him from which He extends Himself to and through us. Where hope is found and walls of protection can be rebuild, where healing can take place as well as basic material provision is secured under any circumstance. Let us pray they do and will receive his mercy, grace and provision by loving hands and hearts of the people they encounter along their way.

The Lord provides. He provides a way to both inwardly as well as outwardly cope with even the extent of brokenness and difficult circumstances we witness here and possibly experience in our own lives. He does not only provide a way through. He is the way.

Scripture reveals.

The book of Nehemiah depicts the way of recovery from breakdown and ruin to a condition of peace, security, restored order, and usefulness. It is designed to teach us that only with God’s help can we actually change ourselves and recover from the damage and ruin of the past. God calls us to look upward, inward before we extend outward.

Pastor Jan said it this way on Sunday; “before we can change the earth, we should change our own garden”. Wonderfully said.

The steps Nehemiah took, cover seven chapters of this book. They are very specific steps, very orderly and very effective! Taken in order they will lead to a full recovery of usefulness. God will lift us beyond our brokenness and be an extension of him in this world. Let us take a few steps together.

Nehemiah 1:4 (KJV)

4 And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven,

Nehemiah was deeply concerned and allowed to fully experience his brokenness. He is willing to face the facts as well as its full emotional consequences, to weep over them, and tell God about them. That is always the place to begin. There is nothing superficial about this. What is needed is an honest facing and partaking of the ruin, whatever it may be, and, without blaming or attempting to involve somebody else, tell it all to God. In private, pouring our heart to God. Tell him all the hurt, the fear, and the pain. That is always the place to start, according to Scripture. A broken spirit and a contrite heart God always welcomes.

Let us follow the pattern of Nehemiah’s prayer.

First, he recognized the character and authority of God:

Nehemiah 1:5 (KJV)

5 And said, I beseech thee, O Lord God of heaven, the great and terrible God, that keepeth covenant and mercy for them that love him and observe his commandments:

The ruin you are concerned with may be both personal as well as extended outward. It may be that of someone close to you whose life you see falling apart because of certain habits or attitudes they have allowed to enter their experience. It may also be a response to reading the newspapers and seeing toddlers forced to sleep in the dirt while we are not building walls but fences.

We feel like Nehemiah, and you want to weep and mourn and tell God about it. That is always the place to start, for God is a responsive God. He gives attention to the prayers of his people. And he is a God of power and ability, and, above all, a God of love.

The second thing Nehemiah did was: he repented of all personal and corporate sins:

Nehemiah 1:6-7 (KJV)

6 Let thine ear now be attentive, and thine eyes open, that thou mayest hear the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee now, day and night, for the children of Israel thy servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee: both I and my father’s house have sinned.

7 We have dealt very corruptly against thee, and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the judgments, which thou commandedst thy servant Moses.

This is an honest facing of his own need for repentance.  Notice the absence of self-righteousness. He does not say, “Lord, I am thinking of those terrible sinners back there in Jerusalem. Be gracious to them because they have fallen into wrong actions.” No, he puts himself into this picture, saying, “I have contributed to this problem. There are things that I did or did not do that have made this ruin possible. I confess before you, Lord, the sins of myself and my father’s house.” There is no attempt to excuse or to blame others for this. It is a simple acknowledgment of wrong.

It has always been true of the people of God that any degree of self-justification will cancel out recovery. If you try to excuse yourself for what is wrong in your life, you block your own recovery. Just admit it, declare it. This is exactly contrary to the spirit of the age in which we live, but this is God’s way and it is the first step in the process of recovery.

Then, third, Nehemiah reminded God of his gracious promises:

Nehemiah 1:8-10 (KJV)

8 Remember, I beseech thee, the word that thou commandedst thy servant Moses, saying, If ye transgress, I will scatter you abroad among the nations:

9 But if ye turn unto me, and keep my commandments, and do them; though there were of you cast out unto the uttermost part of the heaven, yet will I gather them from thence, and will bring them unto the place that I have chosen to set my name there.

10 Now these are thy servants and thy people, whom thou hast redeemed by thy great power, and by thy strong hand.

Nehemiah reminds himself of the nature of God: He is a God of forgiveness, a God of restoration, a God of great power. When the heart is right, God can change all the external circumstances of a situation and make it entirely different. And he will do so, according to his promise. Let us, like Nehemiah did remind him of his promise.

Only once in the history of the world has there been a prediction made of the entire history of a nation. It is found in the book of Deuteronomy, Chapters 28-30. There, in a marvelous message, Moses prophetically outlines the entire history of Israel. He said they would disobey God; they would be scattered among the nations; they would go into exile. But if there they would turn again and acknowledge their evil, God would restore them and bring them back to the land. Nehemiah reminds God of that wonderfully gracious promise.

Even the prodigal son in Jesus’ story in the New Testament, languishing in the far country, eating pig’s food, reminds himself that his last resort is, “I will arise and go back to my father,” (Luke 15:18a KJV). When he comes back, to his great surprise, he finds his father with open arms ready to receive him.

The fourth thing Nehemiah did was: he requested specific help to begin this process:

Nehemiah 1:10-11 (KJV)

10 Now these are thy servants and thy people, whom thou hast redeemed by thy great power, and by thy strong hand.

11 O Lord, I beseech thee, let now thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servant, and to the prayer of thy servants, who desire to fear thy name: and prosper, I pray thee, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man. For I was the king’s cupbearer.
Nehemia had a place to start. It was not going to be easy, but he knew what he had to do. It was going to take the authority of the top power in the whole empire (in fact in the whole world of that day). That is not easy to arrange, but Nehemiah believed that God would help him. And so he started to pray, and asked for grace and strength to carry out the steps that are necessary to begin recovery.

No matter what the ruin of any life may be there is always a place to start. There is a place where we must begin. After acknowledging our brokenness and allowing to feel and work through the accompanying feelings, we may need to apologize to someone, pay restitution or extend outward in prayer toward others to the best of our ability. We may need to stop some practice that is wrong. We need to open ourselves up to counsel. We need to get some guidance. There is always a first step. That is where we must begin.

And whatever we pray, pray that God will give us the grace, strength and determination to take that step. Then, the process of healing, restoration and recovery has begun. When we are responsive and take responsibility, God will take his. Move mountains or nations, stop the sun from turning if he has to. He will put us before the kings of this world to influence them and be an extension of him to the world.

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