Babies are born with natural reflexes. Some of these fade, some of them change, and others can be dominated by will and practise. We can build motor patterns in our brain, which enable some movements to become automatic, and thus faster and more precise. Consider when you write your name: you no longer have to think about it. When you take a mouthful of potato at dinner you do not think: “grasp fork, stab piece of potato, lift arm, close mouth . . .” These are now automated responses.
The same should be true in how we respond to situations arising from daily life. If our earthly nature is the “natural reflex”, then the Christ-like responses will be the “developed motor patterns”. We may not know at the start of the day whether we are about to be yelled at by the boss, hugged by a stranger, laugh with a friend, have an easy run with the lights, and so forth. However, we can root ourselves in the Lord and thus respond in a way pleasing to Him.
For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: but I see a different law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity under the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me out of the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then I of myself with the mind, indeed, serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin. (Romans 7:22-25).
Reading Nehemiah this week has made me wonder just how much I turn first to earthly instinct and how much is my response to seek God and what is Christ-like. The more I am in the Word of God, the more my behaviour and responses imitate Christ.
Nehemiah had rooted himself in the Word of God whilst living in exile under the Persian Empire, serving the king as a cup-bearer. To him fell the task of overseeing the rebuilding the Wall of Jerusalem when the Jews were allowed to return to Judah from exile. Whilst rebuilding, he faced persecution in the form of mockery, danger to his people as well as his self, and assassination attempts. How did he act in these circumstances? He fasted, prayed, encouraged the people to trust God, worked with a sword at his side, and continued to completion the work that God had set him.
Nehemiah returned to the king for a short period before receiving a second grant to return to Judah. When he returned he found his own people once again moving away from the Law of the Lord (the reason God sent the Jews into exile in the first place). What did he do? He acted once more in fear of the Lord and fervour for His Law. He cast out of their roles those walking in disobedience and planted God-fearing men in their place. He consistently chose fear of God over fear of man.
How did these responses become second nature to him? How did they become his automated responses? He studied the Law of the Lord, sought after God, prayed constantly, fasted when troubled, and put God’s priorities above his own comfort. Nehemiah lived with his eyes fixed on the Lord in reverent fear.
If we are to be delivered “out of the body of this death” as Paul puts it, then we must follow his example, and that of Nehemiah: Seek after God; Fear Him; Read His Word; Seek after His truths: and Mediate on Christ.