How long does it take for Christians to realize that they are not in a place they want to be? Whether someone fell in a situation by confusion, accident, or deliberate intention to seek the place they find themselves in, they need to think about how they will get out of it when they aren’t happy there. It really sucks not knowing how you ended up there or how to get out. I hope my attempt at being vague made some sense.
A Call in Distress
I recently finished reading the book of Ezra and I was intrigued by the actions of Ezra, the priest towards the end of the book. The people of Israel began to live a lifestyle opposing God’s commandments. The exiled began to intermarry with the non-exiled. It was a big mess in their time, but Ezra felt sorrow and pain for something that they did not do. In chapter 9, we see Ezra give this long and heartfelt prayer towards God. It carries such intense imagery. Ezra is at one of the evening sacrifices and he kneels down with his face towards the floor. His arms are stretched wide open so that he could make himself as vulnerable as possible to show his full submissive self to God… for something that he did not do. He takes on their guilt and shame and uses pronouns to make himself a part of the sins of those around him in Israel.
Of course, we see this same picture at a much more gruesome scene in the New Testament when Jesus is crucified. As Jesus is breathing his final moments, he cries towards God, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” Again, we clearly see a shepherd hurting for the decisions of his sheep. Jesus had no reason to be on that cross. He lived a sinless life and was punished as one of the most sinful men on Earth.
Shepherd Like Sheep
I also want to make you and myself aware of something that happened at the time of Ezra. We have this profound case of a priest crying in distress to give such a passionate prayer because he cares for his flock. This reminded me of today’s sheep and shepherd. Like a pastor in today’s day and age, Ezra led a public prayer of confession because he knew something was not right with the people’s lifestyle. A pastor or leader feels very linked and connected to those who they guide that they cry in distress out of responsibility when someone in their flock trips or finds themselves in a confused state where they don’t know how they got there (some of that vagueness that I mentioned above).
I love how the book of Ezra because it doesn’t end in this call of distress by the priest. In chapter 10, the people of Israel confess their sins. They realize that they are not in an ideal situation. I am not sure if they sense that Ezra is at the sacrifice or if they hear his cries for God to forgive them, which would be so cool if that was the case. Many of them meet with him there. At this point, in verse 5, Ezra makes them take an oath for their new decision. He holds them accountable for what they want to proclaim, which is to flee their lives of intermarriage (and probably other issues not stated).
It is such a touching image to see these sheep seek help from their shepherd. Just as we go to Jesus for forgiveness, we seek help through accountability from the leader/mentor/pastor in our lives. We all need that shoulder and ear from the shepherd. We seek to make an oath so that the burden is not ours to carry alone.
Action awaits Responsibility
I write this to remind each one of you as well as myself that there is always someone in our lives who are like Ezra. There is a man or woman out there crying in distress when we find ourselves in a not-so-ideal situation. They are taking the guilt and shame by becoming responsible even though they don’t need to be and, most importantly, because they love you. It doesn’t matter how we got there, but that we don’t have to stay there.
So, I will stop this post here. I have to go talk to the person in my life and vent because I found myself in a circumstance I don’t want to be in. I need to confess some ugly things and make that same oath as the Israelites. If you need to, join me in taking this big step with that person in your life… your shepherd.