Learning to Listen to the Outcry of Others
Apathy—the lack of concern for others—may be the worst of human characteristics. Helen Keller observes, “Science may have found a cure for most evils, but it has found no remedy for the worst of them all—the apathy of human beings.”
Apathy may be the worst of human characteristics but it is not characteristic of God.
The Bible reveals a God who is not apathetic about us but who cares passionately about us. If the passionate God of the Bible is at work in our lives, then we, like God, will not be apathetic toward others but passionate in our care for people
Nehemiah 5:6 shows Nehemiah to be a person of passionate care rather than apathy. The verse read, “When I heard their outcry…I was very angry.”
The word translated here as “outcry” is a word that taps into the passion of God.
Ray Vander Laan explains, “Ze’akah, one of the most impassioned, power-filled words in Hebrew, communicates intense emotion. Usually translated as ‘cry’ or ‘outcry,’ the depth of suffering that causes such a cry is not conveyed by English words. Ze-akah implies a heart-wrenching wailing; though there are no recognizable words, when you hear it you know what it is. Such an outcry rises out of great pain, suffering, and despair caused not simply by impersonal suffering but by the brutality and cruelty of other people. Scripture reveals that God never fails to hear Ze’akah, and his response against those who cause it is frightening…. Nahum Sarna, the great Exodus scholar, notes, ‘Ze’akah is one of the most powerful words in the language. Pervaded by moral outrage and soul-stirring passion, it denotes the anguished cry of the oppressed, the agonized plea of the helpless victim.’” (Fire on the Mountain Discovery Guide, p. 107-108)
Over and over again in Scripture, when we find the word “outcry,” we find God responding compassionately on behalf of those who cry out. In Nehemiah 5, we find Nehemiah responding compassionately on behalf of those who cry out.
How do you and I respond to the outcry of people around us?
I am challenged by a story told by Dr. Barbara Chesser: “A man was standing at the side of the highway throwing clumps of mud at cars passing by. Finally one irate driver stopped, stepped from his car and yelled, ‘Hey, man, what’s the idea?’ Before he could say anything else, the man who had been throwing the mud said, ‘Thank you for stopping. I tried to wave others down, but no one would stop. My son and I were hunting and he accidentally shot himself. He’s over here in the bushes. Please help us!’”
Dr. Chesser adds, “When people are acting their worst, they usually need help and understanding the most.”
It makes me wonder: How often have I missed the outcry of others because I have been too hurried or too obsessed with my own activities? And how often have I missed the legitimate outcry of others because it wasn’t made in the polite way I would have liked it?
As the passionate care of God grows in us, hopefully we will become more alert to the outcry of others.
Do not be distracted by fear
Around 100 times, the Bible instructs us, “Fear not,” or “Do not be afraid.”
Why is the same command repeated so many times?
Because God knows us, and He knows how often and how deeply we struggle with fear.
Indeed, our struggle with fear comes up early in the Bible, in Genesis 3:10, just after Adam and Eve’s original sin. God came into the garden calling to Adam and Eve, but they were hiding from God. Adam explains (in Genesis 3:10), “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”
Ever since that time, out of our broken human nature, we have struggled with fear.
Queen Latifah points out, “Fear can be good when you’re walking past an alley at night or when you need to check the locks on your doors before you go to bed, but it’s not good when you have a goal and you’re fearful of obstacles. We often get trapped by our fears.”
Fear is often an obstacle in our lives, blocking us from becoming what we would love to become, diverting us from doing what we would love to accomplish. Fear is often a trap, imprisoning us, and keeping us from getting where we would like to get in life.
Angela Liddon shares personally, “When I think about my struggles with anxiety, I realize that I live in the future too much. It’s crazy how much I worry about things that haven’t happened yet and probably never will happen. I’ve spent my entire life battling the anxiety monster and I’ve missed out on so many great opportunities due to debilitating fear.”
How many of us, like Angela, have missed out on opportunities in life while running away from the “anxiety monster”?
When we are driven or propelled by fear, we shrink, we retreat, we hide, we lash out, we blame, we cling, we lose sleep or we sleep too much, we miss out, we diminish our opportunities.
But 1st John 4:18a announces, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.”
I find this to be incredibly accurate in my life. When I am moved by love, courage and hope and faith overpower my fears, but when love is lacking fear overpowers me.
I see this truth lived out in the Old Testament character Nehemiah. Amidst great opposition from those who surrounded the city of Jerusalem around 430 B.C., Nehemiah took on the task of rebuilding the walls of the city. At times the people were so afraid that they wanted to quit, but Nehemiah’s love for God and his love for the people of Jerusalem moved him, so he persevered in the face of threats to his life and plots against him.
I want to be like Nehemiah. I want to be moved by love to do good in the world around me. I want to be so moved by love that fear will not distract my focus from the good that God lays upon my heart to do.
What will kill a church?
Scripture (Genesis 1:26-27) tells us that God created human beings in His own image. Apparently God takes this seriously for God has chosen to do His work in this world through us.
I would have thought that God’s work in this world is too important to leave it in the hands of fallible people like you and me. I would have thought that God’s work in this world requires far more wisdom and integrity and truth and grace than we tend to demonstrate in our lives.
Yet God trusts in the fact that we are made in His image (and He trusts in the power of His Spirit working in us), so He chooses to do His work in this world through us.
1 Corinthians 12:12-31 offers an interesting perspective on this truth. In this passage Paul describes God’s people as various parts of one body. To function properly, a body needs each of its parts to do the work it was created to do. Paul stresses that the same principle holds true for the “body of Christ”—the church. For the church to function properly, each member of the church needs to do the work God has called us and equipped us to do.
In his book, The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren points out, “In some churches in China, they welcome new believers by saying, ‘Jesus now has a new pair of eyes to see with, new ears to listen with, new hands to help with, and a new heart to love others with.’”
He goes on to add, “What happens when one part of your body fails to function? You get sick. The rest of your body suffers. Imagine if your liver decided to start living for itself: ‘I’m tired! I don’t want to serve the body anymore! I want a year off just to be fed. I’ve got to do what’s best for me! Let some other part take over.’ What would happen? Your body would die. Today thousands of local churches are dying because of Christians who are unwilling to serve. They sit on the sidelines as spectators, and the Body suffers.” (p. 230)
Lloyd Cory adds to Rick Warren’s observation:
“I think a vivid illustration of this comes from a true story of a young minister in Oklahoma who went to this little, though long-standing, church in hopes of reviving the ministry of it. He had stars in his eyes and great hopes for the future. He thought he could turn it around, and he gave it his best effort week after week…to no avail.
“Finally, he had one last idea. He announced in the local newspaper on Saturday that the church had died, and on Sunday afternoon there would be a funeral service at the church itself, and all who wished could attend. For the first time in his years there, the place was packed. In fact, people were standing outside on tiptoes looking through the windows to see this most unusual funeral service for a church.
“To their shock there was a casket down front. And it was smothered with flowers. He told the people that as soon as the eulogy was finished they could pass by and view the remains of the dearly beloved whom they were laying to rest that day. They could hardly wait until he finished the eulogy. He slowly opened the casket, pushed the flowers aside, and people filed by, one by one, to look in. Having looked in, they left sheepishly, feeling guilty as they walked out the door, because inside the casket he had placed a large mirror. As they walked by, they saw the church that had died.”
As Paul stresses in 1 Corinthians 12:27, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”
Wait upon the Lord
Waiting on God—when His timing is so different than our own—is extremely difficult for us. I am lousy at it. Perhaps you are lousy at it as well. That’s why the Bible repeats this call to us so many times: Wait upon the Lord.
Waiting is difficult for us. Waiting is painful on us. But here are two truths the Bible makes clear to us: 1: God makes His people wait far more often than we like; and 2: God is committed to working for good in all circumstances.
Since waiting is common to us all, and since God promises to work for good in all circumstances, the question we need to ask is: What good does God bring out of our waiting?
Waiting gives us opportunity to recognize who is God and who is not, who is sovereign over all that happens in life and who is not. As such, waiting gives us an opportunity to practice submitting our longings and expectations to God’s trustworthy Authority. Waiting provides us the opportunity to practice submitting our plans and our demands to God’s better wisdom for us.
The English words “wait” and “weight” not only sound identical to our ear, they feel identical in our heart. When we have to wait on God for something, it feels to us like an ever increasing weight is pressing down upon our heart. The weight of waiting becomes almost unbearable to us.
Waiting on the Lord offers us the opportunity to practice casting on the Lord the burdens and worries and fears that weigh us down.
An old illustration tells us:
“An eagle knows when a storm is approaching long before it breaks. While it is on its way, the eagle will fly to a high spot and wait for the winds to come. When the storm hits, the eagle sets its wings so that the wind will pick it up and lift it above the storm. While the storm rages below, the eagle is soaring above it. The eagle does not escape the storm; it simply uses the storm to lift it higher. When the storms of life come upon us, we can rise above them by setting our hearts toward God. The storms will rage, but, as with the eagle, God gives us the opportunity to rise above their devastating effect on us. We can allow God’s power to lift us above them. We can soar above the storm, for it is not the burdens of life that weigh us down but how we handle them.”
What should we do while we wait?
Joyce Meyer comments, “It’s just like when a woman is pregnant…. The moment she learns of her pregnancy, she begins to plan for her baby’s arrival. She starts collecting items she’ll need and busily gets the nursery ready. She actively prepares for the arrival of the baby because she knows the promise will be fulfilled—it’s just a matter of time. She is expectant and she’ll wait as long as it takes.”
As we wait, we should prepare.
That’s what Nehemiah did. The first chapter of Nehemiah ends with Nehemiah praying, “Give Your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of [the king].” The second chapter of Nehemiah reports the success God gave Nehemiah before the king. The problem is that the second chapter begins four months later. Nehemiah asked for favor “today,” but he had to wait four months before God answered his prayer. Yet during that time of waiting, Nehemiah prepared for his discussion with the king, so when the king asked Nehemiah what he wanted, Nehemiah was ready with a detailed plan.
May we learn to wait upon the Lord.