Then the whole group answered Ezra with a loud voice, “Ezra, you’re right! We must do what you say. But there are many people here, and it’s the rainy season. We can’t stand outside, and this problem can’t be solved in a day or two, because we have sinned badly. Let our officers make a decision for the whole group. Then let everyone in our towns who has married a non-Jewish woman meet with the elders and judges of each town at a planned time, until the hot anger of our God turns away from us. Ezra 10:12-14
When have you experienced a problem that can’t be solved in a day or two?
When have you experienced a problem that didn’t just involve you but needed a small (or large) group of people to solve (as well as to create) the problem?
At first glance, the people speaking to Ezra seem to be whining, making excuses and shirking responsibility. I wonder if that’s our response because we often make excuses and shirk responsibility, especially when we’re surrounded by tough problems that can’t be solved right away. But the people weren’t complaining. They were looking to leadership. Ezra 10:4 says, “Get up, Ezra. You are in charge, and we will support you. Have courage and do it.” Ezra has proven himself to be a good leader, and people are ready to be led. There’s more baggage here than what you might assume, because the people Ezra led were captives. Coming out of captivity can lead to a couple responses: (1) following any leader, good or bad, because they don’t know how to do things on their own; (2) responding in protest to any leader, good or bad, because of past experiences.
Problem-solving isn’t done in isolation. God created us to live in biblical community, and there is no area of life immune to life in community. We certainly don’t share everything with everyone, but we’re intended to share our experiences, struggles, and triumphs in order to encourage others and be encouraged. Our culture treasures independence in many ways, so we’re told to problem-solve for ourselves. Learning to assess a situation and find feasible solutions is a good skill to have, but doing so in isolation is simply not biblical. Whether we take the lead in reaching a solution or follow another’s lead, we need to be learning from others and our own experiences in order to grow. The people following Ezra were aware of the need for community. Ezra was aware of the need for community. It was their combined efforts that would help them solve the problems at hand, meet the challenges and grow in faith and community.
Problem-solving takes patience, humility, and discernment.
Problems rarely get solved overnight. We want to snap our fingers and get things “back to normal” as quickly as possible, when the truth is, change and adjustments are typically more normal than smooth, non-winding roads with no detours. Sometimes we get impatient with the situation, and sometimes we’re mostly impatient with the people involved.
Do you tend to be more impatient with people or situations?
Situations always involve people. We often blame people for situations. We could entwine the two so much that we get stuck in the process of evaluating root causes. Knowing root causes can be good in some situations, because they can help us move forward in resolution, but if we become too focused on causes, looking exclusively in the rearview mirror instead of keeping our eyes forward and only looking backward as a safety precaution and perspective check, we can end up crashing into something because of our negligence or getting lost. In order to get to where we’re supposed to be, we need to know where we’ve been and where we are…but also look on the horizon to drive as straight as possible to where we’re going.
When we begin to play the blame game, we get stuck. We get stuck in anger, shame, guilt, anxiety and frustration. We feel victimized, mistreated, or overlooked. The truth is we might be all of those things, but we don’t have to get stuck in the situations. We can acknowledge the truth of our lives and experiences but know that we’re not the sum of our experiences. We are who God says we are, and people around us are who God says they are – not who we want them to be, believe them to be, or expect them to be.
Problem-solving includes humility. It involves humility with others, acknowledging that we don’t have all the answers. Humility is being who we are in God. That means that when God wants us to stand up, we stand up. When God wants us to sit down, we sit down. When God wants us to speak up, we speak up. When God wants us to shut up, we shut up. We don’t personally decide what is best for each situation. We let God decide. We’re humble in his presence because he knows what is best for us. His will becomes our will because what we want most is whatever God wants. Without humility, we will attempt to take charge – among people as well as with God – and might get a false sense of success at times but will be out of the will of God in our jaded self-sufficiency. Humility – setting ourselves aside – is one of the most difficult but best lessons we can learn.
Problem-solving involves discernment. No matter what your role in coming to a solution, you must discern God’s will. You can’t figure it out all by yourself. You also shouldn’t believe you’re not capable of figuring anything out. God made you in his image, so you are a thinking, rational person. Relying too much on the intellect he’s given you or setting it aside and ignoring it isn’t his intention. Both are self-centered. Discernment cannot be self-centered or self-serving in its very nature. It is yielding to the Holy Spirit for guidance. It is letting God decide and consequently pour into you, equipping you to hear, follow, and complete his path. You were created to discern because of the relationship you can have with God. Ignoring him isn’t discernment. Setting him aside isn’t discernment. Only listening and yielding, giving yourself to his will and ways, is discernment.
Patience, humility and discernment are all needed in solving problems in community. You might or might not have been part of the problem, but you are likely part of the solution. You might be the formal leader of a group solving a problem. Whether or not you are, you will have influence on others, so choose your reactions and actions wisely. Reflect God in all you say and do. When you are leading, lead well. When you are following, follow well. In most cases, you will be leading and following simultaneously. You will be listening and taking in information, sharing ownership, and stepping out it faith. Ezra stepped out in faith, and so did those following him.
Trust God. He will always guide well.
Are you currently faced with a problem that needs to be solved? Without betraying confidences, feel free to share how you’re being challenged in patience, humility or discernment through the situation.