While we were visiting family in Florida, we had an orange peeling contest.
My mother-in-law laid butcher paper across the length of the room, and our children, nieces, and nephews lined up on either side of the paper.
Each child was given five oranges. They have often seen their fathers, native Floridians, peel an orange while keeping the peel in one piece. Their fathers always tell them that they learned this trick from the crafty Floridian raccoons.
All twelve children sat cross legged with their hands behind their backs, ready for their grandmother to say, “Go!”
As soon as she did, they were off to the races. Some used their teeth. Others poked one finger through the peel. All peeled intently while the adults cheered and advised.
The older children had the advantage of more years’ experience and training in orange peeling, and they proceeded more quickly than the little ones. However, all were motivated by the tasty treat awaiting them when they finished: a bowl full of orange slices!
The orange race reminded me of the book of Ezra when it says, “Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.”
Ezra prepared the foundation of his heart just as my mother-in-law prepared her floor for the flurry of juicy, sticky orange peeling. He got it ready and prepared it for the task of study by leveling it out and clearing it of any obstructions or distractions.
Study is repetitious practice. As the oft-quoted saying goes, “Repetition is the mother of learning.” Ezra read and reread. He memorized and disected. He meditated on and cherished Scripture, just as our children have peeled oranges all of their lives. The repeated practice of the action makes it second nature, especially to our older children who have had more time to practice repetition.
Their study translated into action when one of the older children peeled his five oranges in 51 seconds.
Ezra transformed his study into action when he volunteered to leave Babylon and lead a group of Israelites to Jerusalem in order to rebuild the Temple and to teach God’s Word to His people. His teaching would be similar to the fathers who give instruction in how to peel an orange while also offering judgment calls on what works and what doesn’t.
The youngest of the children asked his father to help him with the contest. There, again, Ezra’s Gospel shone through.
“The hand of our God is for good on all who seek Him, and the power of His wrath is against all who forsake Him,” Ezra told King Artaxerxes.
When we seek God’s face, asking for His help, then He extends His good to us in such a personal way that He uses His very own hand. This is so much sweeter a reward than a bowl of oranges.