There is a proverb from the Akan language of Ghana:
Se wo were fi na wosankofa a yenkyi,” which translates as: “It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten.
One word is used by the people to demonstrate the meaning:
Ezra assembled all the people and leaders at the Ahava River and camped there for three days. He began to check his list and realized not a single Levite had volunteered! Levites were pivotal to the Temple. Why did they not volunteer? Why did they get missed on the journey?
Ezra succeeded in persuading only thirty-eight Levites to return with him ( Ezra 8:15-19 ). The fact that many of the menial tasks of temple service were the responsibility of the Levites and that the temple first had to be rebuilt and when it was, it was not as glorious as Solomon’s temple ( Ezra 3:12 ), may have affected the willingness of the Levites to return. Some of the Levites became involved, however, in the interpretation and teaching of the law ( Neh 8:7-8 ) and in the leading of the people in worship ( Neh 9:4-5 ; Nehemiah 12:8-9; Nehemiah 12:27-47 ).
If you’ve ever been on a mission trip, Chapter 8 of Ezra reminded me of the organized chaos and out of control feeling you have when traveling to an area that is different from your comfort zone and the unexpected events that occur.
Ezra stopped to assess and assemble the people around the purpose of the mission. He was okay with reflecting back and checking the list to see what had been forgotten. It’s one thing to forget the Ziploc bags, but can you imagine forgetting a group of people who were essential to the rebuilding of the Temple? I’m reminded of the importance of looking outside the four walls of your home, mission, or church. How can we expand our walls to include? It’s okay to “go back” in order to make positive changes for the future.
The influence of the Babylonian culture on the Levites is clear. Menial temple tasks and a rebuild was not glamorous. I’m taking artistic liberties with their lack of volunteering and the fact that Ezra forgot them. It reminded me of menial tasks in our job, church, and family that causes burn out, or the attitude of “Not doing that anymore!” Dishes, laundry, keeping nursery, years of running to the copier only to find it jammed, and the “same old same old”, day in and day out can cause a season of hiding and hoping someone will forget you. “Please do NOT ask me to do another thing!” It’s time to remember the “why” of the journey, and the magnificent purpose of the menial or seemingly ordinary. After 26 years of washing floors from baby spills, I no longer hear the pitter patter of little feet. Do you remember that sound of a toddler running? Moments turn into days, and days turn into years, and soon in all your labor and toil the journey will be done. Make the moment count. Rest in the journey. Refocus.
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9
Ezra did not trust in the protection of man, but on His God, who appointed him to rebuild the Temple. They fasted while they were at the Ahava River. Why? So that they could humble themselves before God. They prayed for humility, protection, and a good journey. Ezra had told the King that God would protect them, and although he did not see into the future, he had faith to believe in a God that would answer their prayers.
So we fasted and begged God to take care of us. And he did. Ezra 8:23
Glory! I love the small sentence “And He did!” We know that things were not always perfect in this mission, and many unexpected things occurred, but they claimed that God is faithful, and His will is perfect. Your mission or work may not be what you envisioned, but know that it is what God intended.
Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and he will establish your plans. Proverbs 16:3
At the close of chapter 8, Ezra reported that the king’s decrees were delivered to his lieutenants and the governors of all the provinces west of the Euphrates River. The decrees supported the rebuilding of the Temple, and “of course they then cooperated in the rebuilding of the Temple of God (verse 36). Those in leadership have a powerful position of persuasion and authority over a mission. We are all leaders. If you are a parent, an adult child, a worker on a job, or a member of a church you will find yourself at times in a position of leadership. What you decree in writing, action, and words matters to the person’s mission.
I’d like to close out with the word humble. If we, as workers on a mission, could grasp the importance of humility, imagine what could be accomplished! Jesus humbled himself and came to earth to save us. Philippians 2 says this:
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
I read another Bible study this morning that emphasized humility. As I was reading Ezra chapter 8, the word “humble” was highlighted by the Holy Spirit again. Twelve Ways to Humble Yourself by Janet Chismar was the article noted in the earlier Bible Study. You can click on the title, or the devotional is below.
- Routinely confess your sin to God (Luke 18:9-14). All of us sin and fall short of the glory of God. However, too few of us have a routine practice of rigorous self-honesty examination. Weekly, even daily, review of our hearts and behaviors, coupled with confession to God, is an essential practice of humility.
- Acknowledge your sin to others (James 3:2, James 5:16). Humility before God is not complete unless there is also humility before man. A true test of our willingness to humble ourselves is willingness to share with others the weaknesses we confess to God. Wisdom, however, dictates that we do so with others that we trust.
- Take wrong patiently (1 Peter 3:8-17). When something is unjust we want to react and rectify it. However, patiently responding to the unjust accusations and actions of others demonstrates our strength of godly character and provides an opportunity to put on humility.
- Actively submit to authority…the good and the bad (1 Peter 2:18). Our culture does not value submission; rather it promotes individualism. How purposely and actively do you work on submission to those whom God has placed as authorities in your life? Doing so is a good way to humble yourself.
- Receive correction and feedback from others graciously (Proverbs 10:17, 12:1).In the Phoenix area, a local East valley pastor was noted for graciously receiving any negative feedback or correction offered. He would simply say “thank you for caring enough to share that with me, I will pray about it and get back to you.” Look for the kernel of truth in what people offer you, even if it comes from a dubious source. Always pray, “Lord, what are you trying to show me through this?”
- Accept a lowly place (Proverbs 25:6,7). If you find yourself wanting to sit at the head table, wanting others to recognize your contribution or become offended when others are honored or chosen, then pride is present. Purpose to support others being recognized, rather than you. Accept and look for the lowly place; it is the place of humility.
- Purposely associate with people of lower state than you (Luke 7:36-39). Jesus was derided by the Pharisees for socializing with the poor and those of lowly state. Our culture is very status conscious and people naturally want to socialize upward. Resist the temptation of being partial to those with status or wealth.
- Choose to serve others (Philippians 1:1, 2 Corinthians 4:5, Matthew 23:11). When we serve others, we are serving God’s purposes in their lives. Doing so reduces our focus on ourselves and builds the Kingdom of God. When serving another costs us nothing, we should question whether it is really servanthood.
- Be quick to forgive (Matthew 18: 21-35). Forgiveness is possibly one of the greatest acts of humility we can do. To forgive is to acknowledge a wrong that has been done us and also to further release our right of repayment for the wrong. Forgiveness is denial of self. Forgiveness is not insisting on our way and our justice.
- Cultivate a grateful heart (1 Thessalonians 5:18). The more we develop an attitude of gratitude for the gift of salvation and life He has given us, the more true our perspective of self. A grateful heart is a humble heart.
- Purpose to speak well of others (Ephesians 4:31-32). Saying negative things about others puts them “one down” and us “one up.” Speaking well of others edifies them and builds them up. Make sure, however, that what you say is not intended as flattery.
- Treat pride as a condition that always necessitates embracing the cross (Luke 9:23). It is our nature to be proud and it is God’s nature in us that brings humility. Committing to a lifestyle of daily dying to ourselves and living through Him is the foundation for true humility.