I always enjoy reading and coming across a familiar phrase in the Bible. I also enjoy taking a moment to see how the phrase was used in the context of what was going on. A popular phrase in school was and is “context is king.” You may remember that I have been reading through the Bible chronologically and it has been fascinating to track with the Israelites from a united kingdom to a divided kingdom and now from being taken to captive to being released back to their promised land. Here we have Nehemiah returning to Jerusalem to see that the wall of the city is rebuilt with a third wave of Jewish exiles. Nehemiah walked in a steadfastness that really has inspired me in the trust he had in who God was and what God had put in his heart. He knew he had to obey the task the Lord placed on his heart.
Governing the land, Nehemiah was quick to correct and defend God’s Word and God’s people. His courage inspired others to follow his lead in not cowering to the pressures of onlookers, but to continue to walk confidently in the Lord. As the people rediscovered the truth of God’s word they responded with eyes open and an awareness of far off the path of righteousness they had wandered. As Ezra read the word it says in chapter 8.3 that “the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.”
As the spotlight displayed their guilt and shortcomings, the people responded with grief over their actions and how their hearts and deeds offended God. And although a proper response to have a heart-felt awareness of how our sin effects God, others and ourselves, they were not to stay in grief. Because of God’s great mercy and love for us, God’s desire is for full restoration. To be restored seems to be more than being aware of what is wrong. Nehemiah instructed the people to stop mourning and to celebrate. To recognize the day as holy to the Lord and to feast and receive the renewal that God was offering. Verse 10 explains, “And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” The paragraph closes up with that the people departed with rejoicing because they understood the words that were declared to them. They understood God’s word and His heart. They were reunited in a right relationship with God by turning from their sin and receiving God’s forgiveness and restoration.
There is a great truth in the fact that “the joy of the LORD is my strength.” But there is a richer meaning to me after having reflected on what Nehemiah was going through when he expressed it. I am reminded of Psalm 51.12 after David’s repentance he looked to the LORD for restoration and cried out, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation.” This tie of experiencing the joy of the LORD that is beyond external circumstances has a tie with a repentive heart that has received forgiveness.
May the joy of the LORD be your strength.
I’m reflecting on the journey of the kings of Israel and Judah with the back drop of Ecclesiastes. It seems like I could sum things up with the verse from Psalm 127.1 Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. As I see the final captives taken from Judah, and the Babylonians coming in and destroying the city, the words of Jeremiah echo in my mind. He sought the Lord for Zedekiah, he brought truth to him. If he had surrendered, so many lives would have been sparred and the city would not have been destroyed. The Lord said so. Yet his pride didn’t want to accept to defeat. Everything that man labored to build and set up for the Lord was destroyed and crushed by the enemies. The people had kicked God out time and time again, it was only by His mercy that it didn’t happen sooner.
These realities make me reflect on my own attitude and heart as a leader. The decisions I make, the willingness I have to listen to the Lord and receive His instruction effects not just my life, but those that I serve. I don’t want to seek the Lord just to receive what I want to hear. I desire to have a greater humility to receive His word without hesitation. I keep thinking of how Hezekiah was able to choose to walk humbly and when reading the word of God he humbled himself to do all that it said. He did not raise himself up to be a king greater than God, but acknowledged God in all His ways and leaned not on his own understanding. Then there was also Josiah. He was only 8 when he became king, but by the time he was 16 he was seeking the Lord and by the time he was 20 he was removing the idolatry in the land. When the book of the Law was found and they brought it and read it to him, he tore his clothes and sought the Lord. He is an amazing example to me. The Spirit empowers a heart that is willing to follow the law the Lord so that it will go right for God’s people. God’s glory is displayed when trust and faithfulness in lived out. Regardless of age and peer pressure, corrupt politicians and the enemy at his doorstep, he walked solid with the Lord. He was the last good king of Judah.
Anyway, so as I read and reread these passages and reflect on the examples of obedience, surrender, pride, repentance, idolatry, leadership, there is so much to learn from the examples God has given us. Idolatry is on the rise in our own culture. The lack of trusting in God for all things, the surrender for cultural values that oppose the Lord, the comfort and numbness in wearing masks and being unwilling to deal with truth is rampant. I can see the loneliness and heartaches the prophets and good kings carried and i can’t help but realize that those of us that will walk in ways that honor the Lord God in all our ways, we will be outcasts and feel as foreigners in our own land. Well the truth is that heaven is truly our home. Phil 3.20 comes to life as we eagerly await our Savior from there. Eager becomes more of a heart reality than a mental acknowledgement. Which then also spurs the need to pray for loved ones that are still far from God.
So David, Hezekiah and Josiah are three good kings that did all that God commanded. I think they were the only ones that didn’t allow the high places to remain and they were thorough to remove all idolatry. It wasn’t a game. So I have to open my heart to God and seek the Spirit’s guidance. Have I walked well with the Lord, but have not torn down the high places in my life. I do not want to walk a life of partial obedience to the Lord. May the Lord search me and know and see if there is any offensive way in me and lead us in the way everlasting.
As I was reading this morning in Jeremiah, I had this picture come to mind about a garden. Based on the landscape, the direction of sunlight, a Gardener will plant seeds in strategic places so that each would get the water and sunlight needed. He will know how far apart or how close together. A Gardener will tend the garden, pulling weeds, pruning, making adjustments, putting up fencing if needed so that the garden will grow into its fullest potential. What would happen if the garden rejected the Gardener from doing what He thought best? Continue reading
In 2003, I hit a boiling point. So much of my life was going well and the resume I presented to the world looked really good. But I hit a point that I could no longer contain the chaos that had been simmering internally for so long. I didn’t have it as together as I attempted to appear. I was in financial debt and came to the reality that although it was my fault I ended up there, I could not carry the burden alone. I could not within my own means figure out a way to turn around. I was drowning in interest. Continue reading
Every act of repentance depends on an act of redemption. To redeem means “to liberate by payment or to release from debt or blame.”4 Willpower, no matter how sincere, cannot buy you this freedom. There is no dealing with any sin without a redemptive act.
Lynch, John; McNicol, Bruce; Thrall, Bill (2011-06-22). TrueFaced Experience Edition (Kindle Locations 1158-1159). Truefaced. Kindle Edition.
Continuing to learn to live out trusting God in who He says I am. It is not by my strength that I can sin less and become a better person. Left to my own devices, I continue to guide myself to a cycle of defeat and anxiety. Receiving His grace and humbling myself to the fact I need His help, He willingly changes me into the person I want to be. Humility and grace are precious gifts that open the door of my heart to repend and be changed.
Have you ever woken up having conversations with other people in your head to try to set them straight on how things are? I hope I am not the only one. I found myself being defensive, annoyed, prideful and focused on proving myself. Finally I caught up with my thoughts and just had to sit myself down.
“What are you doing? What is going on? You don’t know if that is what this person thinks or what that person’s opinion is. You don’t know what the conversation was. You don’t know if your perspective is the best plan. Slow down before you knock yourself out.”
It is so humbling to come face to face with how quickly pride and arrogance rise up in me.
I just finished reading this book by Joanna Weaver. It was a good read. I really like the illustrations and examples she used as it kept me engaged and was easy to relate to the content. Being able to teach so that the student can understand is always a plus. We live out the truths we are most convinced of. When a truth can put in a picture it somehow can really drive a point home. The study guide in the back is full of scripture and keeps you washed in God’s word! How can we break the thought patterns that would deceive us to think we either get to work or worship? How do we not let our hearts get pulled into so many directions that allows so much time to pass and we wonder how we end up in the places we find ourselves – frustrated, insecure, neurotic and exhausted – my favorite definition of the word FINE 🙂 Continuing to certainly be in the Word of God so that the Spirit can have its freedom to do its transforming thing…but thankful for resources of how God has shaped others to encourage us along in the journey!