Nehemiah 9:16-17 “But they and our ancestors acted presumptuously and stiffened their necks and did not obey your commandments; they refused to obey, and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them; but they stiffened their necks and determined to return to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and you did not forsake them.”
Hold.Up.Wait.A.Minute! Like me, are you wondering how your biography wound up in the book of Nehemiah? Stiff-necked much? Oh the ways I have refused to obey.
I have remained in situations that God asked me to step away from.
I have worked with stubborn persistence to try and force outcomes.
I’ve withheld encouragement from those who needed it.
I’ve celebrated the failures of people I secretly dislike.
I have worshiped my children.
I have disrespected my spouse.
I've been selfish, greedy, judgmental....
This list could continue for pages but the bottom-line is …I’ve ignored Jesus when my own will has struggled for control.
There are two paths to choose in this life, my own or His. When I choose to ignore Him (disobedience) and create my own path, I am stiff-necked.
Think literally about a stiff neck for a moment. Regularly I wake up in the morning with a sore and stiff neck due to the position in which I sleep, and as I get older the problem worsens. At times I have trouble turning my head to see when I’m driving to change lanes or merge because my neck is so sore. When I’m standing and someone behind me calls out my name, I have to turn my entire body around to communicate because the range of motion in my neck is limited. Literally, my neck is too stiff to look.
If you have naughty children or naughty pets, you may have experienced times where you discovered something they’ve done that they shouldn’t have and so you raise your voice with a disappointing tone to get their attention. It’s not unusual for me to find a mess and approach my youngest son, Shawn, with my mommy tone and say, “OH SHAWNIE – what happened here?” In his wildest dreams, he believes that if he doesn’t acknowledge me (sitting 2 inches away from his face) and doesn’t look toward me, that I might simply let it go. This is stiff-necked, the refusal to acknowledge disobedience. We refuse to look because we know. We know exactly what we’ve done or not done and we simply cannot bear the eye-contact, the confirmation. We’d much rather pretend it never happened and hope for a redemptive do-over. The error in that though is that the redemption comes when we look toward, not when we look away. When we look to, we see a God who sees us with unfathomable love.
Such beauty and comfort and joy find my heart in these words. “Abounding” is a word to describe a sense of overflowing, something that has been well provided, while “steadfast” simply means firm and unwavering. Hope lives here in the love of God. Even when we are disobedient, when we ignore the wonders of the Lord and when we choose slavery to this world over freedom in Christ, God loves us with an overwhelming, firm and unwavering love that overflows. Unstoppable love. Timeless, His love knows not only no end but also no beginning. He has always loved us. Pure, there is nothing more amazing as the healing, saving, perpetual condition of being loved by the One who gathered dust in His hands to form the first man, thereby breathing life into each one who would come next. Yet we’ve spent millenniums confusing what we were created for, substituting all manner of waste for the one thing that truly can never be wasted... love.