Yesterday I met an engineer by the name of Richard who understands what it means for God to stir your heart. He is the founder of the San Diego Christian Film Festival. The notion of getting people of faith in the cinema industry together lodged itself in his heart and he had the same kinds of responses we do when God moves our hearts to do something bigger than ourselves:
- “Are you sure, God?”
- “You know I am an engineer, right?”
- “How am I going to pay for this?”
- “You want me to do this in addition to my job and family?”
- “Why did you choose me?”
- “Okay, if you think I can do this!”
This is exactly how the book of Ezra begins. At the beginning of the story, the people of Israel are living in exile in Persia. Their ancestors had been taken captive by King Nebuchadnezzar to Babylon which was eventually defeated by Persia. When the Babylonians took the Jewish people captive, they broke down the walls of Jerusalem so the city could not defend itself. For most of history, cities were built on a hill and surrounded by a thick stone wall. The wall was, in fact, the first thing the inhabitants would build because without it, any tribe or ambitious ruler could attack the town and wreak havoc. A city without a wall back then would be like your house without any doors or windows. There would be no way to lock it up, no way to keep intruders out and no way to create a safe sense of privacy.
The normal thing to do would be to go to Jerusalem to build the wall first and then talk about what to do next. Sometimes, however, God doesn’t do the normal thing and there would be no human way to know that. In this case, God wanted the inhabitants to build the temple first. Human reasoning tells us this is the worst thing to do first if you want to protect yourself. The temple was big so there would be no hiding the fact from the neighbors. The temple was loud as the best musicians around played and sang with all their hearts. The temple was busy since it was the place where every family came to make sacrifices to the Lord. There was no place in Jerusalem more obvious than the temple. Every step of progress would invite strangers, danger, and anger. It would be like hosting a rock concert in the parking lot of a retirement home.
In order to convince people to go along with the plan, God had to give them a big enough reason to trust him despite the obstacles. If they thought about for very long, they would stay in Persia where it was safer. If they evaluated it with just their own insight, they would stay as far away from this project as possible.
Sometimes, however, God wants us to live at his level rather than our own. God does not need walls to defend a city. He doesn’t need alarm systems, weapons, or armed guards. He can defend a city with music as well as he can with muscle. When he wants us to join him in one of his big adventures, he has to recruit us differently. In moments like these God moves our hearts at the right time.
The first person to be recruited was King Cyrus, “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and also to put it in writing.” (Ezra 1:1). The second people he recruited were the ones who would actually go to Jerusalem to do the work. “Then the family heads of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites—everyone whose heart God had moved—prepared to go up and build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem.” (Ezra 1:5)
The question for all of us is, “What will we do when God stirs our hearts?”