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Posts Tagged ‘prayer’

success
In Nehemiah chapter 4, we find the enemies of God’s people becoming increasingly angry.  The Jews have begun to rebuild their city walls and gates under the direction of Nehemiah, and have already made some significant strides in that work.  As soon as the neighboring Gentile rulers hear of their progress, their anger at these people becomes even more intense.

In verse 1 we find Sanballat, the governor of Samaria, become enraged and begin to mock and jeer at the Jews.  He tells everyone he knows including his army about the work of the Jews and pokes fun at them.  Funny how he tells everyone what a crappy job these guys are doing and how their wall isn’t strong enough for even a fox to stand on, yet he is angry about their progress.  Well, which is it?  Why would the ruler of an army be mad about a bunch of fools who aren’t accomplishing anything?  Apparently this guy was insecure and afraid that the Jews were indeeding succeeding…which they were, by the way.  He was jealous and angry so he set out to stop them anyway he could.  What he didn’t know was that he couldn’t stop them because this was God’s work.

Nehemiah realizes what is happening with his enemies and he prays.  He prays a curse on them and he continues to do exactly that which God gave him to do.

Nevertheless, Sanballet and his big, bad temper decides to try to pick a fight with these guys.  He calls on all his ruler friends to help him cause confusion and problems for God’s people.

Again Nehemiah and the Jews pray.  This time they pray day and night for protection against their enemies.

In verses 10-12 we see the odds stacked against the Jews.  They didn’t think they could accomplish the job.  Their enemies didn’t think they could accomplish the job, and just in case they could, they were doing all they could to make sure of it.  Even their friends urged them “ten times” to stop trying.  This is a sad scene for God’s people!

Good thing they had a good leader who was resolved to do what God sent him to do.  Nehemiah gave the people each specific positions with their families and their weapons, and he encouraged them to remember God and fight with honor for the things that are most important: God; family; community; home.

What do you do when you have a really hard job to accomplish?  When the enemy is mocking and making war against your success?  When you doubt your own ability to succeed and everyone is telling you to quit?  Consider what Nehemiah did.

  1. Nehemiah prayed.  If you know that what you’re doing is God’s will and God’s holy work for you, pray for help and protection in it.
  2. Nehemiah organized his people and his plan.  He put groups of families together in order to strengthen their morale and give them confidence.  If you are working for the Lord, don’t work alone.  Get organized and find a group of people who love and support, and help you and always have your defenses in hand.  Our weapons are the sword of the Spirit, the Word, and the promises of God.
  3. Nehemiah reminded the people to remember whose idea this work was.  He told them to remember God.  He wanted them to remember to trust God and to know that he was the one behind this plan so they would not doubt or get discouraged in the hardships.  When God’s work gets hard and you come up against obstacles and enemies, it is always helpful to remember whose work it really is.  When we are doing God’s work and God’s will, we have nothing to fear because Our God is trustworthy.  Remember that.  When we remember that, we also remember that there is great honor in striving, working, and fighting hard for the things that matter, namely, God’s glory, the good of our families and communities, and our homes.If you are leading a group of people like this one, pray, organize, and encourage them in the Lord.  This is a great model to follow in difficult circumstances…or any circumstances!  If you are part of a group like this one, pray, organize, and encourage yourself and others in the Lord.

    Pray.  Organize.  Encourage yourself and others in the Lord.  This is the way to defeat the Enemy.

    “…Do not be afraid of them.  Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.”  ~Nehemiah 4:14

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brother
The book of Nehemiah is believed to have been written by Ezra the scribe around the 430-400 B.C.   Originally, Ezra and Nehemiah were a single book.  Here, we have the memoirs of a trusted, honorable, pious man whom God uses to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity.

In Nehemiah chapter 1, we find Nehemiah residing in a palace in Susa, the capital city of the Persian empire.  Nehemiah is a Jew who has been elevated to the most trusted position to the Persian King.  Nehemiah is serving as cupbearer to the king, although his humility does not speak of it save to inform his readers of the historical background.  He initially tells us only that he lives in Susa, not that he holds this distinguished position.  Matthew Henry says, “From hence we may learn to be humble and modest, and slow to speak of our own advancements.” 

Some men come from Judah and he inquires about the state of Jerusalem and all the exiles who had returned there for the building of the temple.  When he is told that the remnant is in “great trouble and shame” and that the “wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.” (Nehemiah 1:3)

For a city in that day and age, having a broken down wall and burning gates was tragic.  The people living there had no protection from enemies and no security.  Nehemiah immediately turns to the Lord in prayer.

The text tells us that Nehemiah sat down.  He didn’t stand up to lead a charge or an army in his own strength or with his own position and power.  No.  He sat down in deference to God and began to weep and mourn.  It says he “continued” fasting and praying.  Consider his position.

Nehemiah was living in comfort, luxury, and high esteem, yet he has been faithfully praying for his brothers who were not so fortunate.  The first thing he does when he sees his kinfolk is ask what’s going on back home.  Many men who live in the lap of luxury  have no concern for anyone who they’ve left behind or who are less fortunate.  Nehemiah teaches us that a good man never forgets where he came from and always remembers his brothers and sisters who belong to the family of God.

Furthermore, Nehemiah has been praying all along.  He doesn’t just jump into a, “God, help them!” prayer when he hears bad news.  No, Nehemiah has been faithfully, steadily fasting and praying for his homeland and the people of God.  How many people do you know who regularly fast for the help of those less fortunate people of God who are suffering?  Nehemiah makes a regular practice of personal sacrifice in care and concern for his people.

Consider also how Nehemiah prays.  Nehemiah begins by praising God and confessing.  He not only confesses the sin of his people, but for his own sin.  He bears responsibility for sin he and his family have committed against God and begs the Lord’s pardon.  He is very specific in his confessions saying, “We have acted corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses.”  (Nehemiah 1:7)  Many a man will pray for others, but it takes a noble and humble man to pray sincerely about his own faults and failures asking mercy for the sake of his friends.  Nehemiah could have easily said, “Not my fault; not my problem.” Instead, he takes personal responsibility and does so for the good of others.

Nehemiah relies on the mercy of God and points to God’s promises as he asks for help and pardon for himself, his people, and his broken, burning down  land.  Nehemiah doesn’t say, “Save our name!  Save our town!  We deserve it!  We don’t deserve this terrible destruction!  We’re your people!”  Nope.  Nehemiah says something like, “Save us and save Jerusalem because your good name and your promises are at stake.   We don’t deserve anything; we made this mess from our disobedience.  Forgive us and save us for your good namesake.”  We ought all take note.

Nehemiah’s very name means, “the Lord has comforted.”  God’s use of this man is going to bring big results and much comfort for suffering the people of God, however, it will not come without much opposition and overcoming.  Let us look to Nehemiah for wisdom on humility, integrity, tenacity, faithfulness and determination over the next few months.  Surely he can teach us how to love our brothers better and rebuild the broken, burning down walls in our lives.

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prayer

The people of God have just demanded new gods.  Aaron, their surrogate leader, has just fashioned an idol – a golden calf – out of the gold the true God had given to them from the oppressive enemies – the Egyptians – he had just delivered them from.  Moses is still up on the mountain getting instructions on how to serve and worship the living God as the leader of his chosen people.  Now, God informs Moses of their disobedience in his absence.  In Exodus 32:7-14, God and Moses have a conversation about what will become of these insubordinates.

God is angry.  He has just been sold out for the inanimate gifts he gave to his people.  He tells Moses about the conspiracy and idolatry.  He says he’s going to destroy the people, exalt Moses, and make a great nation out of Moses.

This is quite an offer.  Forget those infidels, Moses.  I’m going to give them what they deserve for their foolish, purposeful disobedience.  But you are my star.  I’m going to make you great.

Moses is not interested in his own glory.  Instead of accepting this self-serving (and, likely well-deserved) offer, Moses asks God why his is mad.  (Exodus 32:11)  Well, God had just told Moses exactly why he was angry – so angry, in fact, that he was willing to annihilate all of His own people save Moses.  Moses’ question was rhetorical.  He wasn’t literally asking the reason why God was mad.  The text tells us that he was “imploring” God.  He was desperately interceding on behalf of his people – people whom, at this point, God would not even own.  In Exodus 32:7, God refers to them as “your people” meaning Moses’ people, not his own.  In turn, in 32:11, Moses returns calling them “your people” meaning God’s.  Can’t you hear Moses’ desperate plea?  These ARE your people, God!  Save them!

Moses goes on.  He pleads with God to stop being angry; to save them.

Here is a lesson for us.  We cannot save people, but we can work to win souls.  However, we cannot work to win souls with whom we are actively angry.  It is a God-like attribute to be righteously angry when people sin.  But the only way to help sinners be saved from sure destruction – the rightful penalty for their/our sin – is to turn from our anger and to intercede on their behalf; to seek to save them from being lost.  This is what Moses does; it’s what he begs God to do.  He does it by denying the opportunity God gives him for his own glory and exaltation.  I believe this shows us that we cannot have it both ways.  We cannot desire self-promotion if our heart is truly set on bringing salvation to others.  We have to pick one or the other.  God exalts the humble in due time, but our agenda cannot have both self-promotion and others’ salvation written on it together.  They are mutually exclusive goals.  Pick one.

Moses uses God’s reputation as the catalyst for answering his prayers.  What will the Egyptians think, God? What will the world think, God?  When your people die because you have destroyed them?  That’s not who YOU are, God.

We ought to follow Moses’ example.  Because it’s not about those who are in need of mercy being deserving – none of us ever are.  It’s about the character, reputation, and integrity of the one giving mercy to the underserved.  We must turn from our own righteous anger over other men’s sins for the sake of our own good name.  We must intercede for them and implore God’s mercy on the unrighteous for the sake of his glory, not theirs.  And we, like Moses, must consider their salvation as of greater worth than our own advancement.  This is how a humble person leads.

Moses wasn’t looking out for number one.  Moses was always most concerned with God’s people and their welfare.  Matthew Henry says of him, “Had Moses been of a narrow, selfish spirit, he would have closed with this offer; but he prefers the salvation of Israel before the advancement of his own family.  Here was a man fit to be a governor.”

Because of Moses’ righteous actions in the face of others’ unrighteous actions, God had mercy on the unrighteous.  Let the same be said of us.

“And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.” ~Exodus 32:14

 

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altar

In Exodus 30, God instructs Moses on building the Altar of Incense.

The Altar of Incense was to be made of wood and gold and it was where the priests were to burn incense every morning and every evening when the lamps were tended to.  It sat in front of the veil which divided the Holy of holies where the Arc of the Covenant and God’s presence was from the sanctuary.

This altar, along with its daily requirements, was a symbol to point us to prayer and intercession.  The lamps symbolized the Word.  These together, tended every morning and every night, show us a great example of diligence and duty in our relationship with God.  Luke 1:10 sites an example of the people of God praying at the time of burning incense on this golden altar. Matthew Henry says it this way:

“When the priest was burning incense, the people were praying, to signify that prayer is the true incense.  This incense was offered daily, it was a perpetual incense; for we must pray always, that is, we must keep up stated times for prayer every day, morning and evening, at least, and never omit it, but thus pray without ceasing.  The lamps were dressed or lighted at the same time that the incense was burnt, to teach us that the reading of the scriptures (which are our light and lamp) is a part of our daily work, and should ordinarily accompany our prayers and praises.” 

The priest was to make atonement on this altar once a year only and nothing unauthorized was to be offered on it.  The Brazen Altar was where the daily animal sacrifices were to be made.  It symbolized Christ, the lamb of God, taking away the sins of the world by dying in our place.  The Golden Altar of Incense was where the pleasing aroma was to be offered to God.  It symbolized Christ’s sufficient work on the cross and the pleasure of His Father.

“As by the offerings on the brazen altar satisfaction was made for what had been done displeasing to God, so, by the offering on this, what they did well was, as it were, recommended to the divine acceptance; for our two great concerns with God are to be acquitted from guilt and accepted as righteous in his sight.” Matthew Henry

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meeting

Exodus 29:38-46 indicates important parallels to our daily needs and duties.  Let’s consider these verses carefully.

Once the priests were ordained and consecrated, they were to begin making daily animal sacrifices on the altar for God’s people.

 “Now this is what you shall offer on the altar: two lambs a year old day by day regularly. 39 One lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight.” ~Exodus 29:38-39

A one year-old lamb in the morning and a one year-old lam in the evening…every…single…day.  The offerings were given with bread and wine and made at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.  I don’t know about you, but when I read this I thought, “Wow.  That’s a lot of work every day.”  Not to mention how messy it must have been.  And these were only the bare minimum requirements as far as sacrifices went for each day.  Many other offerings and sacrifices often had to be made in addition to these.  Nevertheless, if Israel were faithful to do this, God promised to meet them there and dwell among them.

This is a great passage to consider.  Clearly, the duty to continually offer these daily sacrifices point to our duty to offer daily prayer and devotions to God.  This is our meat; our daily bread.  To meet with God faithfully and offer our prayers, praise, and worship assures and confirms to us God’s faithfulness to meet us there and dwell with us.  If we will not obey him in offering daily devotion, we will not know rightly his great faithfulness and concern for us.  Great assurance comes with consistent obedience to God’s instruction.

On the contrary, if we’ll not commit ourselves daily to his commands and our Christian duties and devotions, we’ll not know his faithfulness, his guidance, his direction, or his heart for us.  God is always faithful, but we only know and understand the reality of his commitment and love toward us when we commit to and show love toward him; when we continually meet with and obey him in time spent with him personally.

Remember, these daily offerings were required.  They were not mere suggestions for God’s people.  They were costly, bloody, and a great amount of real work.  Such is daily prayer and devotion to God.  Yet, we ought never treat these things as if they are optional.  These things are required for a healthy spiritual life.  Communion with our Lord is paramount every single day of our lives.

“God will not fail to give those the meeting who diligently and conscientiously attend upon him in the ordinances of his own appointment.” Matthew Henry

In other words, if we are faithful to consistently and seriously do that which God has instructed us, he will not fail to meet with and encourage us. God personally meets with those who honor and obey him.

 

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Print

Life is so long and so short at the very same time.  We close our eyes exhausted from chasing toddlers wondering if the day will ever end and when we open them we are looking back wondering how they could possibly look so much like adults.

Every single day is so very important.  Every day.  Our time here on earth is short.  We have but a few minutes before we are gone.  It seems it is only the good things that pass by so fast.

The seasons of discouragement and doubt seem to last and last.  If we are not careful, bad days can turn into bad years, and bad years can turn into joyless lives.

Every single day is so very important.  Every day.  Our time here on earth is long.  We have years upon years to make a difference and influence those around us for the good.  We cannot allow personal setbacks or problems distract us from our purpose and the greater good.  If we do, we will end up looking back on a life poorly spent and largely unaccomplished.

I have taken somewhat of a hiatus from writing my personal thoughts over the past couple months.  I have not felt particularly inspired.  Truth be told, I have felt unloved, discouraged, and even unnecessary.  I have experienced heartache, hardship, and hurt over the past year.  If I am being honest, it has been a hard year. Still, a good year. I have gotten to know my Father so much better. What could be better than that?

And, I have been healing.  I have been sitting at the feet of my Lord and allowing him to be all that I need.  Healing is not a process one can easily explain and share while undergoing it.  But by God’s grace, I can see light.  His provision is evidenced in so many blessings that I can’t help be be thankful.  I have finally come to the place where I can honestly say to the Lord, “Whatever your plan is, that is exactly what I want today.  Suffering?  Give me that.  Miscarriage?  You’re sovereign; I surrender.  Shunning?  OK.  It’s your world, Lord, and I am just your kid. It’s your plan.  It’s your will.  It’s your authority to which I bow and none else.  USE ME.  Whatever that means in my life, do that.  Just use me.  Somehow, someway, get glory from my meager little life.  That is all I want and it is all that truly matters to me anyway.

I open my hands.  I unfold them and I wait.

When I was a young Christian, I used to pray every single day that God would allow me to die a martyr for him.  What I have found over the past twenty years is that it is likely easier to die for Christ than it is to truly live for him.  We die once.  As each day begins, we must live over and over and over again.  So I changed my prayer:

Lord, whether I may or may not die a martyr, please allow me to live a martyr.  Allow me to live dying daily for you that you might use me.  Give me peace with your perfect, sovereign plan.  Let me not miss the opportunities you give.  I do not need to understand, I just want to be used.  Please use me in this long, short life.  Amen. 

Every single day is so important.  Don’t waste it.

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screwtape

In 2 Corinthians chapter 10, Paul begins to defend himself within the Corinthian Church.  He had been encouraging and instructing in the preceding chapters.  Now, his tone completely changes.  He began to deal with the fact that there were false apostles, false teachers, and false teachings in this church that were presenting in the form of competition and defaming of his own personal character as well as a concerted effort to discredit him personally and deny him the authority he had been given by God to lead and teach in this church.

Paul begins with humility agreeing with his accusers that he was indeed low and mild when present among them.  Paul makes clear that he has no desire to be rough or overbearing even despite the severe and abusive slander being spread about him personally.  Paul is not about to stoop to that level, although he does make it very clear that he is both equipped and prepared with the authority given to him by God to punish offense done against him.  It was hindering the gospel which, in turn, made it an offense done to the gospel itself.

Paul points not to his own power, but to the wonder-working power of God over the spiritual realm.  Consider his words:

“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.” ~2 Corinthians 10:3-6

He’s like, “Hey, guys!  This confusion and conflict and disunity we find in this particular church has nothing to do with the superficial problems or isolated issues that everyone wants to argue over.  This conflict is spiritual.  Everything going on here is a result of unseen forces working to destroy and devour God’s people and God’s plan.  There is bondage here – spiritual bondage that we must wage war against.  Spiritual strongholds are just that – spirits strongly holding people captive by deceit, by confusion, by ignorance, by prejudice, by lust, by lofty, high and prideful thoughts and opinions which contradict God and His will. These things are not trite or trivial.  They are a force waging an all out war against us all.  Thank God, that in his grace he has given us weapons with divine power.  Divine power!  The very power of God!  These are weapons which are able to defeat these forceful, spiritual strongholds.

That’s why I’m not gonna play your game of fleshly and worldly comparison.  We have a war to fight and that war is not against each other.  We have only one enemy and his name is Satan.  The war is against demonic forces evidenced in these conflicts and character assassinations being brought against me personally.”

“Ignorance, prejudices, beloved lusts, are Satan’s strongholds in the souls of some; vain imaginations, carnal reasonings, and high thoughts, or proud conceits, in others, exalt themselves against the knowledge of God, that is, by these ways the devil endeavours to keep men from faith and obedience to the gospel, and secures his possession of the hearts of men, as his own house or property.  But then observe, the conquest which the word of God gains.  These strongholds are pulled down by the gospel as the means, through the grace and power of God accompanying it as the principal efficient cause…The apostle speaks not of personal revenge, but of punishing disobedience to the gospel, and disorderly walking among church-members, by inflicting church censures.  Not, thought eh apostle showed meekness and gentleness, yet he would not betray his authority; and therefore intimates that when he would commend those whose obedience was fulfilled or manifested others would fall under severe censures.” Matthew Henry

Paul had every right and reason to punish this blatant disobedience to the gospel but he was waiting for the fulfillment and completion of their obedience first.  Later, in verse 10-11, he references again their complaint of him and responds:

For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account.” 11 Let such a person understand that what we say by letter when absent, we do when present.

In other words, Paul doesn’t say things right.  Who does he think he is?  Writing corrective letters but showing up and speaking softly?!  His speech is all wrong.  Why would we listen to him?!

If you hate what someone is saying and you want to avoid the truth of it, a great strategy is to just personally attack them and incessantly complain about how they say it.

Paul answers by pointing to his actions.  Actions speak louder than words.  If you find someone who doesn’t talk like you or walk like you but they walk like Christ, think about who they are called to follow and imitate.  It isn’t you or your preferences.  It is Jesus Christ and His practices.

Paul goes on to oppose their worldly comparison games and refuses to participate.  He restates his purpose – which was edification for the church, not destruction as he was so often and brutally accused.

Herein we find both the cause and the remedy for conflict, confusion, and disunity within a divided church.  The cause is spiritual strongholds and evil influence warring against God and His people.  The remedy is using the weapons which are listed for us in Ephesians 6 as truth, righteousness, readiness, faith, salvation, the Word of God, and prayer.  These are the things which, when used appropriately, have divine power to destroy the enemy’s schemes and free our brothers and sisters from spiritual bondage.  Thank God!

“Do not be deceived, Wormwood.  Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”  C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

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