Monday, November 24, 2014

"Doing the Lord's work while facing opposition … "

Day #332:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - November 25th

Scripture Reading:  Nehemiah 1 - 4 …

Somehow the idea that serving the Lord our God is easy and fun has caused many to be unprepared to face opposition when it comes.  Believing that following Christ brings instant calm and peace to life, people often become discouraged and frustrated when they believe they are doing God's will and yet face opposition.  However, few things of any importance have been accomplished for God without trials, without the need for dependence on God, without opposition from those who do not know God (though they may claim to know Him, and even to serve Him).  If we only attempt those things which we believe will be easy, we will fail in glorifying God by accomplishing those things that only HIS power and grace can bring to pass through the service of His people.  God wants to display His glory in and through His people.

Such was the case with Nehemiah and with the remnant that had returned to Jerusalem and Judah from their captivity and exile.  Ezra had already returned to Jerusalem and God had sent Haggai and Zechariah to encourage the people to rebuild the temple.  Now, some years later, Nehemiah, who remained in exile as a servant of King Artaxerxes of Persia, heard news about the remnant and was grieved that they were facing "great trouble and disgrace" (1:3).  The walls of Jerusalem were broken down and the gates to the city had been burned.  When Nehemiah heard this he "sat down and wept" (1:4).  But he didn't stop there!  He fasted and prayed!!  We can learn much from Nehemiah about approaching God with humility and sincerity of heart.

How often do we "throw up a prayer" to heaven and expect God to respond?  Do we understand that we are drawing near to the Creator of all things, to the God who rules over the nations, to the One before whom the angels bow as they cry out, "Holy! Holy! Holy is the LORD God Almighty!"?? Nehemiah KNEW God, he didn't just know about God.  He comes to Him as the "LORD, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, Who keeps His covenant of love with those who love Him and obey His commands" (1:5).  Nehemiah realized the privilege of approaching God in prayer and He came humbly before His throne.  "I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father's house, have committed against You" (1:6).

Nehemiah didn't just point out the sins of the people around him, but he confessed his own.  His prayer is much like David's prayer in Psalm 51:  "Have mercy on me, O God; according to your unfailing love; according to Your great compassion blot out my transgressions.  Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.  For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.  Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight …" (Psalm 51:1-4).  Humility leads to confession and we who know God's love in Jesus Christ, who have been born again by His Spirit, should be even more willing and ready to approach God as Nehemiah and David did.

As Nehemiah prayed, it was not for himself, but for the remnant that he prayed.  He asked only that God would show him favor before the king.  And God answered his prayer.  King Artaxerxes was moved by God to grant Nehemiah's request for permission to travel to Jerusalem, for letters for safe travel to Judah, and for materials to rebuild the walls.  Once there, Nehemiah inspected the walls and found them as reported, broken down and the gates burned.  God had apparently given Nehemiah the gift of organization, for in a short time the people were gathered together to begin rebuilding the walls of the city.  And when their enemies began to take notice, Nehemiah answered by saying, "The God of heaven will give us success. We His servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it" (2:20).

These words echo through the hallways of time right up to today.  Sovereignty over parts of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount continue to this very day, yet Nehemiah's statement is as true now as it was then:  this city belongs to the God of heaven and He has given it to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the descendants of Judah and David.  So the rebuilding began in earnest and Chapter 3 gives a detailed account of all those involved in rebuilding the walls and the gates around the entire city.  It is obvious that this was no small project!  It required organization, skill and perseverance.  But more than that, it required FAITH!!

Sanballat, the ruler of Samaria, mocked the Jews, making fun of what they were trying to do.  Once again, the remnant turned to prayer:  "Hear us, O our God, for we are despised.  Turn their insults back on their own heads.  Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity.  Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from Your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders" (4:4-5).  The people and their leaders would not be discouraged from their task.  They believed that God was with them and they were determined to move forward with the rebuilding.

Nehemiah reported that the walls had reached half their height because "the people worked with all their heart!" (4:6).  The rapid progress incited the anger of their enemies all the more and they plotted to come against the remnant.  Imagine this!  These were not soldiers or builders.  While there may have been some skilled people among them, these were a remnant who had returned to a city that had been destroyed and they were there with their families, exposed to their enemies, with nothing but their swords to defend them … nothing except their God!

What did Nehemiah and the people do?  They prayed and posted guards day and night.  Can you picture this?  Waiting for your enemy to attack; not knowing if or when it may happen.  The stress was getting to the people and they were becoming discouraged.  Before they could build in places they had to clear out the rubble.  They were physically and emotionally exhausted and the constant threat from their enemies seemed too much.  But the LORD their God strengthened them.  Nehemiah posted guards at all of the exposed places, with their swords, spears and bows, and he spoke to the leaders and the rest of the people, "Don't be afraid of them.  Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes!" (4:14).

God had inspired Nehemiah with strength and faith and he was a leader of men!  When their enemies heard that their plot had been uncovered and that the remnant was ready to fight, they hesitated to attack Jerusalem.  From that day on, Nehemiah put half of the men to work on the wall and the other half were ready to do battle, "with spears, shields, bows and armor" (4:16).  Even those who carried materials "did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked" (4:17-18).  The man who sounded the trumpet remained with Nehemiah and they watched for the enemy to come.  Because they were so spread out, Nehemiah instructed them, "Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, join us there.  Our God will fight for us!"

Such commitment, such devotion, is inspiring!  WE need to be so inspired today as we work to build God's temple, the Church!!  Prayer, fasting and perseverance must be combined with humility and confession as we depend upon the same God to fight for us!  We are told in that familiar passage in Ephesians 6:10-18, that we must be ready to fight by putting on the full armor of God:  the belt of truth,  the breastplate of righteousness, the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.  Too many who are part of God's remnant in the world today go about unarmed, unaware of the danger and of the enemy who prowls around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.

We must "resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings" (I Peter 5:9).  Peter knew the same God that Nehemiah knew, and so he says, "The God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To Him be the power for ever and ever, Amen!" (I Peter 5:10-11).

God calls you and me to be at work as His servants today through His faith in Jesus Christ and through the empowering presence of His Spirit within us.  Through prayer and fasting God reveals His will to us in His Word and calls us to be "watchmen," sounding the warning of the approach of the enemy and being ready to engage in battle with the living Word!  Ours is no easier task than that of Nehemiah if we take it seriously and realize who we are as we live in the world today.  Families and churches are being destroyed from the influences of the world around us and from within.  We need to hear Nehemiah's words:  "Don't be afraid of them.  Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes!" (4:14).

We who believe in Jesus Christ are not called to be spectators in the battle, but to be armed with God's Word and sent out to those around us, lifting up the weak, showing mercy to the brokenhearted and encouraging those without hope.  And as we do His will, our God is with us!  We will overcome, "by the blood of the Lamb and the Word of our testimony!" (Revelation 12:11).

"Heavenly Father, the God of heaven and of earth, we draw near to You in prayer in the name of Jesus, for through Him You have given us access to Your throne.  I humbly confess my sin and the sin of Your people, for we have not obeyed all Your commands or served You with the zeal that You desire.  Too often we have spent Your gifts on our own pleasures and have failed to accomplish Your purpose in our lives, either as individuals or as a part of Your body.  Renew Your work in us, I pray, and begin with me.  Use me, O God, to glorify Your Name, and as we seek to rebuild what has been broken down, give us wisdom and grace to do all that You desire.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

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