What all does being a student of your city (or country) entail? What characteristics might one such learner exude? These outward expressions will take form differently everywhere but let’s search for some principles, some land marks by which to navigate. Here are some important questions to consider:
Do our lifestyles already reflect these Godly traits?
What needs affirmed and grown?
What must go?
Do your “friends” consider you to be their friends as well? (Here’s a helpful marker: They’ll introduce you to their other friends.)
We all drown in these types of questions, when we start seriously considering the mission. At some point a student does more than observe intently, analyze, and catalog, right?
Maybe you’re saying, “Ok, I recognize these traits in the life of Jesus and I have seen (at whatever rate) the fruits of the Spirit growing in me but I can’t seem to find (or make) time to begin carving out this lifestyle.” Where do we start?
Nehemiah is one of my favorite biblical examples and happens to model the life of a student of the city. See Hebrews 11 for a whole Old Testament survey of heroes of the faith who “looked for a city whose maker is God.”
Nehemiah never held too tightly to a particular citizenship. His service was to God no matter where he was. He didn’t view his Judaism as a national or governmental system and therefore was not tempted to allow his heritage to become idols. He was first concerned with belonging God, no matter where he was or where he was going.
The focus, this time, is his dedication and heart for the country in which he was serving, not the one to which he was headed.
Before we get to the text, I just want to make sure we don’t view Nehemiah as someone who we try to emulate but as a picture of Christ. This is a way we turn the Good News of the Gospel into a moral, motivational story with a cute allegorical flavor instead of historical facts.
1 And it came about in the month Nisan,in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, that wine was before him, and I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. 2 So the king said to me, “Why is your face sad though you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of heart.” Then I was very much afraid. 3 I said to the king, “Let the king live forever. Why should my face not be sad when the city, the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies desolate and its gates have been consumed by fire?” 4 Then the king said to me, “What would you request?” So I prayed to the God of heaven. 5 I said to the king, “If it please the king, and if your servant has found favor before you, send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ tombs, that I may rebuild it.” 6 Then the king said to me, the queen sitting beside him, “How long will your journey be, and when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me, and I gave him a definite time. 7 And I said to the king, “If it please the king, let letters be given me for the governors of the provinces beyond the River, that they may allow me to pass through until I come to Judah, 8 and a letter to Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress which is by the [a]temple, for the wall of the city and for the house to which I will go.” And the king granted them to me because the good hand of my God was on me.
9 Then I came to the governors of the provinces beyond the River and gave them the king’s letters. Now the king had sent with me officers of the army and horsemen. 10 When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite[b]official heard about it, it was very displeasing to them that someone had come to seek the welfare of the sons of Israel.”
First of all let me say, I’m not talking about happiness which can often be a shell or an easily feigned emotion. Some of the happiest (seemingly) people I’ve ever met either killed themselves or fight the worst boss of depression imaginable. Extreme ups and downs are a dangerous thing for a human to rollercoaster through.
Every time I think back to this story of Nehemiah this trait stands out and I want to pick out the unique qualities about his joy, that I suggest aren’t personality fruits but fruits of the Spirit nurtured and ripened supernaturally by God for his good works for His name for an appointed time. I know there will be those that take issue with statement and is just challenge you, if its you, to switch up the wording to divine providence or sovereignty or foreknowledge or whatever. I don’t want to make light of these differences. I want you to see that in this case I’m talking about a work of only God in His people as highlighted in this particular person.
1. Overtly Outward
WOW! He had never seen me sad before. Seriously?!
This may seem hidden but as we read the story we see King Artaxerxes shocked and even dismayed at the despondent countenance and lack of joy from his servant.
Are you known as a joyful servant?
Can you honestly say your employer has never seen you downcast or saddened?
Imagine that; we can be known as both happy and a servant.
Do people notice when your joy is waning?
Do your bosses?
If you’re a boss, do your employees?
The question here is not, “Are you outwardly expressive?”, as much as, ” Are you inwardly consistent?”; and then, “Is your consistency of the right kind?”
We’ve been brought from darkness into light.
Does it appear that way?
What’s this have to do with being a learner?
(Note to self: this is me.) His hands weren’t haphazardly or begrudgingly working in this foreign land.
Sometimes the most vital tool for the student isn’t his pen, paper, or (i)pad but his gloves and hammer.
Don’t see your “position” or vocation as a means to a greater end. When I say student of the city, it’s the overall culture and a people we are talking about more than a geographical location. It’s not that this isn’t important but it is at best secondary.
The missionary must always be asking this, “To WHOM have I been sent?”
How can our fellowship grow deeper roots?
Can simply hosting others make you think differently when in the midst everyday tasks?
What if our mindset shifted from increasingly going to the church house to making the house a church and increasingly helping to heal more and better know others? I love the gathering and think they should be done with more vibrancy and zeal than ever but i think our focus eschewed and we’ve lost or sense of purpose and our understanding of exactly why we are doing these things.
This “house as a church” concept is indeed a Puritan idea but it’s really just from the bible. This comes from the Abrahamic covenant. We are blessed to be a blessing.
Who is attracted to a continually gloomy character?
Whose story will be known if there is no company with whom to share it?
We should be the ones asking of others sadness like the king but the emphasis of the story isn’t a royal empathy; it’s a servants joyful, faithful, favor-finding lifestyle and his empathy crackling through his heart all the way to his face under the heavy burden and sadness of the fallen state.
Does it still bother you?
BUT does it bother anyone that it bothers you?
A recent example of this would be seeing beheading videos of Christians and then moving about life faster than a mouse click or screen slide.
This actually got me again this week while watching this sermon.
If you can’t finish it, just watch the first bit that really drives at this point. It’s probably the best thing you can do to supplement your “devotion” or reading time today. It was for me.