What I like about Ezra’s story is that he shows us what everyday faith looks like. Though it is easy for us to read about Biblical characters and view them like movie characters, ideal representations of this or that personality or attribute, the fact is that those Biblical characters were people, too. They were ordinary. Ezra was completely and totally human.
And what Ezra teaches about faith and prayer is that most of the time our prayers are not necessarily exemplary–nor do they have to be. One would think that Ezra, being the scholar and man of God that he is, would have trusted God all along. Surely a Biblical hero should have no doubts, no wavering to his faith.
But, there are no Biblical heroes. At least there are no heroes in our contemporary understanding of men and women who are always courageous, always steadfast, always enduring, always full of faith. It turns out the heroes are the ones who have discovered, because of the circumstances in their lives, and often because of the poor choices they made, that God is the only One who can be relied on. Heroes stagger through life like the rest of us, but they come out on top, and become heroes, because they have enough of their wits about them to stumble toward God.
By Ezra’s own admission, he stumbled into prayer and faithfulness. He had boldly (and rightly) told the king of Persia that his God could protect those who seek Him. But, Ezra had not completely thought through the implications of his statement–or the consequences.
So, when the time comes for Ezra to rely on God for protection, Ezra runs to God in prayer: but not because of his extraordinary faith, or his superior reliance on God. Ezra runs to God because he is ashamed to do anything else. He has no other choice.
And that is exactly the position God wants us to be in. He wants us to come to the point where we have no other choice but to pray. He wants us to make those bold statements and risky moves. He wants us to step out of boats and to be faithful in the face of lions and fiery furnaces.
Sure, God would rather us choose to make Him our last and only resort, but He is also satisfied when we back ourselves into corners and discover, in the pains of hopelessness, that He is our only way out. And the heroes are those who have the sense to take His way out.
Ezra wanted and needed protection that he was too ashamed to ask the king for. So, he fasted and prayed, humbling himself before God, recognizing his predicament, and imploring God to get him out. And God listened.
He will listen to us, too.