Friday, April 8, 2016

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

Day #100

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 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 exile.  Ezra had already returned to Jerusalem and God had sent Haggai and Zechariah to encourage the people to rebuild the temple.  Now, some 13 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). Then he fasted and prayed!!  We can learn much from Nehemiah about approaching God with humility and sincerity of heart.

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.  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 did.

As Nehemiah prayed, it was not only for himself, but for the remnant.  He asked God to 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 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).

The rebuilding required organization, skill and perseverance.  But more than that, it required FAITH!!  The ruler of Samaria, mocked the Jews, but 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 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!

Nehemiah and the people prayed and posted guards day and night.   The people 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 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).  

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!  

God calls you and me to be at work as His servants today through faith in Jesus Christ and through the empowering presence of His Spirit.  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!  Families and churches are being destroyed by 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).

"Heavenly Father, the God of heaven and earth, I draw near to You in the name of Jesus, for through Him You have given me 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.  Renew Your work in us, 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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