Across the street from our house, where the Costco, the Best Buy and the Lowe’s live, something new is moving in. We’ve watched the construction with interest, our 4-year-old son, especially, as he watches the equipment move in, the workers gather and the frame take shape.
Since the early stages of its construction, when it was little more than a cleared piece of land, we’ve speculated about what it will be. We’re hoping for a restaurant.
We’ve seen it take shape, just a shell of a building without much definition. We can still see through the sides and it still lacks a roof. But driving by, we watch with expectation.
Those workers, they’re building something, and we’re waiting to see what it will be.
They complained about the coffee. Again.
These sweet older ladies of the church who’ve probably been in the faith longer than I’ve been alive. God love ’em because it’s hard for me to when they turn up their noses at the weekly offering of snacks and drinks after the service.
I shouldn’t take it personally but I do. I’m angry just thinking about it because for the love of all that is holy these are just snacks, not a gourmet meal. I fear I’m reaching my limit for holding my tongue and I’ll say something I’ll regret. After all, who am I? We’ve only been attending this church for a year. I should be more mature about this, but some days, it’s just frustrating.
And not just because I want them to like me and appreciate the effort.
But also because there are bigger things to complain about in this world. I’m finding it hard to care about the quality of our snacks when people are literally dying from lack of water. How did we become so spoiled?
Many centuries ago, a man named Nehemiah attempted a lofty task. He wanted to build a wall, repair it really, as an act of obedience and worship to God. He left his prestigious job in the king’s court to assemble a crew to build the wall.
In the midst of their building, they faced ridicule, enough that I would have given up.
What are these feeble Jews doing? Are they going to restore it for themselves? … Can they revive the stones from the dusty rubble even the burned ones? … Even what they are building–if a fox should jump on it, he would break their stone wall down! (Nehemiah 4:2-3, NASB)
That last one? Ouch. If I heard that day after day, I’d begin to wonder, too. What are we doing here? This is a ridiculous idea! There’s no way we can finish this!
Discouragement. It’s ugly and mean and destructive yet oh, so easy to speak. It tears down walls, literal and figurative, demolishes dreams, and sinks projects. I wish I could tell you that I’d never done any of those things to someone else, but I am the guiltiest among the guilty. Because sometimes I believe that destroying someone else’s dream will ensure the success of mine.
This man, Nehemiah, he didn’t give up, though. Instead, he fought harder.
He prayed. And set up guards for protection. He encouraged the workers.
When I saw their fear, I rose and spoke: Do not be afraid of them; remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives and your houses. (Nehemiah 4:14, NASB)
And they continued the work.
I imagine they drew a crowd, not just of hecklers but of interested onlookers. I can almost hear the whispers of hope.
Can they really do it?
I never dreamed …
When I was a journalist what feels like a lifetime ago, I was always on the lookout for new construction or “sold” signs on businesses. Because a new building or a formerly empty space being filled was news for a small town. Jobs, taxes, income, entertainment. We’re a curious bunch and anything out of the ordinary gets our attention. It doesn’t always hold it, but for a short time, we’re interested.
The church should be getting people’s attention.
Have we forgotten that we, too, are building something and it’s not just happening someday but now?
I’ve been reading N.T. Wright’s impressive Surprised by Hope and I’m ruined for it because of calls to action such as this:
The church, because it is a family that believes in hope for new creation, should be the place in every town and village where new creativity bursts forth for the whole community, pointing to the hope that, like all beauty, always comes as a surprise. (232)
What we all need from time to time is for someone (a friend, a spiritual director, a stranger, a sermon, a verse of scripture, or simply the inner prompting of the Spirit) to say “It’s time to wake up! You’ve been asleep long enough! The sun is shining and there’s a wonderful day out there! Wake up and get a life!” (252)
People who believe that God will turn the world upside down … are not going to be backward in getting on with some world-changing activities in the present. … It is, rather, that people who believe in the resurrection, in God making a whole new world in which everything will be set right at last, are unstoppably motivated to work for that new world in the present. (214)
Unstoppably motivated. I wish. Instead I linger in a place of drowsiness, lulled by meaningless work and survival. I shrink at the first sign of discouragement and convince myself that I didn’t really have any dreams anyway so it’s okay if no one catches a vision.
And I am wrong.
It is time to wake up. It is time to stop bitching about food and drinks offered to us free of charge and start being ridiculously grateful for our stupid lives. And the sooner we quit thinking about ourselves and whether all of our needs are met to our satisfaction, the sooner we can start building the kingdom right where we are.
Because I don’t know about you, but I’m not nearly as excited about a crew of construction workers taking an extra long lunch break when there’s work to be done as I am about seeing progress on the work they’re doing.
If we are serious about the world seeing Jesus, then we need to start working. And if we can’t do the work ourselves then we need to encourage the ones who can and protect them from discouragement.
Friends, I am preaching to myself. Those coffee ladies don’t deserve my wrath anymore than I feel like I deserve their complaints. Neither of those actions is particularly loving nor is it particularly surprising or unique to the world we live in.
If we want to do something that draws attention, we should love when we want to hate, bless when we want to curse, encourage when we want to complain, restore when we want to destroy.
It’s big, terrifying, seems-impossible work. But if we all work together, we can attract the right kind of attention for a time.
I’m in for that kind of life. Are you?