Ezra and One Radical Truth About Formation
It has been a while since I've written here - much has been going on that I'll write about later but for now - I'm back. If you read this blog, you know that I quote a lot of really competent and intelligent people on the topic of spiritual formation. I may even, on occasion, have a flash of brilliance myself but I have to credit that entirely to God's Spirit.
I have nothing good or original to say without Him.
However, I came across one of my heroes - let's say someone who is "growing heroic" to me these days - and was startled to see a similarity between he and I.
Ezra the Scribe, who is written about in the Old Testament in the book titled - shockingly - "Ezra" led Israel back to Jerusalem after the long Babylonian exile. It was a time of renewal, of growth, of hope, and more than that it was a time of God's favor.
Throughout the book the phrase "the hand of our God was on/with us" is repeated over and over again.
That's a good situation to be in.
Then I ran into a passage that at once made me feel better about myself and more realistic about spiritual maturity. Ezra and a select group of "wise" and "discerning" folks were headed back to give life and structure to the faith of Israel again. And then:
And there by the Ahava Canal, I gave orders for all of us to fast and humble ourselves before our God. We prayed that he would give us a safe journey and protect us, our children, and our goods as we traveled. For I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to accompany us and protect us from enemies along the way. After all, we had told the king, “Our God’s hand of protection is on all who worship him, but his fierce anger rages against those who abandon him.” So we fasted and earnestly prayed that our God would take care of us, and he heard our prayer. (Ezra 8:21-23, NLT)
Ezra the great, Ezra who would lay the foundations of a new life in the temple, land, and presence of God, had a moment like I have on a regular basis. Ezra who was so mature and faithful that God would use him to restore Israel to life thought about calling for back-up.
I've done that - made the grand confident statement about God's goodness & protection, only to have inner unease at the moment when it was time to flip the switch. God will take care of us, King. However, in the quiet of night Ezra suddenly had a question in his mind.
Here's the radical truth about spiritual maturity we learn from Ezra:
Spiritual maturity is not about having unshakable convictions 100% of the time. Maturity is about knowing what to do when those convictions get shaken.
Ezra does two things when the convictions are wobbling:
1. Calls it what it is - Ezra doesn't rationalize, make excuses, gloss it over - he names his doubt and fear. Ezra was likely writing this passage himself, so whatever was going on in his head he could have kept to himself. Instead, he outed himself and cleared his soul.
When was the last time you called out your doubt for what it is? Who is that person you'd confide this truth to?
2. Seeks humility - Ezra calls for fasting and prayer. Realize that the fast wasn't to persuade God to protect them - read the rest of Ezra and you'll see an ungodly king suddenly giving God's people everything they need. Coincidence? No, the fast is to get their minds focused on reality. Yes we doubt. Yes this is crazy. But we believe God is going to do this - and God we ask you through prayer to do this.
Where do you need some clarity today? Where is God leading that you need a boost of confidence?
The path of acknowledging our doubt and unease to God is the far harder but more life giving path, and if we follow it true maturity is not far away.