Monday, January 14, 2013

A Frangible Heart

Hanani, one of my brothers, arrived with men from Judah, and I questioned them about Jerusalem and the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile. 3 They said to me, “The remnant in the province, who survived the exile, are in great trouble and disgrace. Jerusalem’s wall has been broken down, and its gates have been burned down.”

4 When I heard these words, I sat down and wept. I mourned for a number of days, fasting and praying before the God of heaven (Nehemiah 1:2-4, HCSB).

In approximately the year 444 B.C., a Jewish exile named Nehemiah served Artaxerxes, king of Persia, in the privileged capacity of cupbearer. While the king and his staff were in residence at Susa (favored winter home of the Persian kings beginning Darius the Great), Nehemiah received a visit from one of his brothers and other Jews newly arrived from Judah, their homeland.

Sadly, the men brought bad news. The remnant of Jews residing there (not or no longer in exile) were suffering. Although the temple had been rebuilt already under Zerubbabel and temple worship reestablished under Ezra, Jerusalem's wall remained in ruins, leaving the people and their place of worship vulnerable.

Nehemiah, living in luxury as one of the upper echelon of royal servants, could have shrugged off the news. "What has that to do with me?" he could have said.

He didn't. As referenced above, he sat down and wept for his kinsmen and his city, God's city. This wasn't just a passing spasm of sympathy as an evening news story might generate in us. He mourned for days, expressing his sorrow with fasting and prayer. His heart broke for the suffering of others.

The ladies' Bible study I joined a year ago began this last week to study Nehemiah using Kelly Minter's DVDs and study guide, Nehemiah: A Heart That Can Break. In the opening DVD and homework lesson, Kelly challenged us to pray that God would show us where our hearts were "cold or numb" and to pray "that God will give you compassion..., that He would develop in you the heart Jesus has for others" (study guide, 14). She urged us to pray for a heart like Nehemiah's, a heart that can break with the needs of others.

I had already worked through this study last summer with an online community. It was tempting to wait out this first six-week session of the year, but I signed on to continue growing the relationships begun last year. During the first session of this second time through, I realized perhaps why the study didn't bowl me over the first time.

I'm not sure I want a heart that can break, or in any event a heart more frangible* than the one I have already. Life is hard and full of heartbreak. Wouldn't a heart of stainless steel or silicone or Kevlar be more beneficial?

In the short term, perhaps it would, but God takes the long view with us. Furthermore, He desires to do us the unfathomable good of conforming us to the image of Christ (Romans 8:28-29). Christ of all men had a heart that could break. He wept over Jerusalem's obdurate refusal of her Messiah. He wept at the tomb of his friend Lazarus. "Compassion" is one of the gospel writers' favored terms for Jesus, and Jesus' own term for the good Samaritan and the prodigal's father, both models for our emulation.

At least I recognize my hesitation now. I do not (yet) truly desire a more tender, frangible heart, but I do desire to desire it. I am willing to be made willing, Lord. Give me a heart after Yours.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit,to sustain me.
Psalm 51:12, NIV1984

*Frangible, per Merriam-Webster Online, is "readily or easily broken." It is distinct from "fragile" in that frangible implies susceptibility to being broken without implying weakness or delicacy.

Thank You, Father in heaven, for
::challenging examples
::our tenderhearted Savior
::Your living and active Word, always performing heart surgery
::Your patience with me
::second chances
::the Bible study ladies
::resuming that routine
::a cancellation for the ankle doctor to see me today instead of next week
::rehab exercises generating some improvement
::another prescription to seek more help from formal physical therapy
::another opportunity to say yes to Your will instead of mine
::a prayer ministry through which I can serve my church
::lunch with family Wednesday
::layer cake with frosting
::3" rain in 48 hours
::my Nonni's voice on voicemail
::nephews singing on phone
::another lost tooth for Lightning
::birthday emails
::splendid sunrise Friday
::date supper from favorite local Italian restaurant
::new tableware
::sister's gift of a new hat
::Ebony photobombing my modeling attempt in said hat (operative word there being "attempt")
::a second shower to use while the primary one is under repair
::sister's household is fever-free after two weeks of passing flu around (despite vaccines for all)
::full refrigerator, a luxury in this world
::"Jesus calling" us in truth, calling by name, calling home in repentance, calling forth in service
(counting gifts, #8746-8774)


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