Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 5; 145, Nehemiah 6:1-19, Revelation 10:1-11, Matthew 13:36-43
Not all our best efforts at self-improvement will be accepted positively by others. Some people just have a knack for criticism and suspicion of things that don’t remotely affect them. Decline a cocktail at a party, and someone will suggest you “loosen up” without bothering to ask why you don’t drink. Stick with your portion control plan at a holiday meal, and someone will be miffed you passed on their thumbprint cookies. Withdraw from office gossip, and become the latest victim of side-eye.
It’s seems we’re even more susceptible to doubts if we drank too much, ate too much, or gossiped too much in the past. And just mention that you want to lose weight or value your virginity in the wrong forum and you’ll find out you are fat-shaming or slut-shaming when you were only talking about yourself.
When the citizens of Jerusalem decided to rebuild the wall that protected their city, the surrounding people grew suspicious. They started rumors that the wall meant the Jews intended to rebel. They tried to stop the work from being completed by distracting Nehemiah, who led the effort. When distraction didn’t work, they tried discouragement. But the citizens of Jerusalem persisted, and after fifty-two days the wall was complete.
What happened to the doubters and naysayers? According to Nehemiah, “they were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem.” The successful completion of the wall told them the Jews had something driving them that the rest of them didn’t: the Lord. Like many people who feel the need to express discouragement and doubt, their actual motive was to disguise their own emptiness.
Let’s be conscious of not becoming one of the naysayers. If we experience an urge to criticize or belittle someone’s efforts, let’s ask ourselves why. Are we trying to help them? Should it matter to us? Does it hit a little too close to home? If we can’t encourage, we can keep silent.
If, when embarking on an effort to make positive changes in ourselves or our communities, we don’t get the support we’d like, let’s remember Nehemiah working atop that ever growing wall. His enemies thought it was the wall they feared, but it was the possibility of Nehemiah’s success. If someone can see our improvement only in terms of their (real or projected) failure, we don’t need to defend our choices to them – our choices will defend us.
Comfort: Good choices are their own reward.
Challenge: Examine what your urges to criticize say about you.
Prayer: Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. (Psalm 82:4)
Discussion: How do you handle discouragement from others?
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