Here’s the first seven days of a devotional written for our fast! I’ll post the next seven days next Sunday, the 10th…
A 21 Day Devotional…
This fast and our prayers over these three weeks are meant to be a journey. We all have various burdens on our hearts, problems we face or important considerations for the year to come. Some of us have needs we’ve brought before the Lord many times before and have not seen them budge thus far. As we follow the story of Nehemiah, let’s determine, like he did, that we’re going to believe the Lord and find His answers for even the thorniest problems. Like Nehemiah, the concerns we have may have been around for years. Can we trust that this will be the year of fulfillment and relief?
Some of the background of Nehemiah…
This book is set during the time that the Jews are emerging from captivity. God had warned previous generations of Jews to turn away from idolatry and godlessness but they wouldn’t listen. The result was that an enemy country, Babylon, and their king, Nebuchadnezzer, came and conquered Israel. They took captive many of its people, bringing the best and brightest to Babylon. After many years and many stories of God’s continued love and faithfulness to His people, God used a subsequent foreign leader to send willing Jews back to Israel to rebuild the temple, re-establishing the Jews in their own land. At the same time, many Jews stayed in the country(ies) of their captivity, now settled in those societies. Other Jews were able to travel back and forth from Israel to Persia and related to both groups. It’s here that we find Nehemiah, one of those who stayed in Persia, in an honored and trusted position in the Persian government: he was the cupbearer to King Artaxerxes. As such, Nehemiah tasted all the food given to the king, preventing the king’s assassination by poisoning, but also arranged the inner circle details of the king and queen’s personal service. He was “set for life” in this important position.
It was at this point in his life that Nehemiah was confronted with a problem that he could not ignore. Its solution would require that he go to God with the issue, trust God as he petitioned the king himself and leave his tidy life behind. The risk he took threatened his very life and the rewards would benefit the entire race of the Jews…Would he be the one God would use in his day?
Nehemiah, the son of Hachiliah, was hard at work in the center of society. He was a Jew, of a priestly heritage, in a position of influence in the most important city of the day. He didn’t get there by accident! God had put him there by virtue of circumstances beyond his control and by Nehemiah’s faithfulness in those opportunities. You are where you are by those same two factors! Today, thank God for the position(s) He has given you in life. Are you young, are you old, are you prominent, are you obscure, are you influencing thousands or are you influential with just a few? Wherever you are you can be faithful in what He has brought to you in life. Ask the Lord to give you an appreciation for His sovereignty regarding your situation and a resolve to be trustworthy where you are this year.
A friend and relative of Nehemiah, Hanani, along with some other men, came to visit him. In the background of Nehemiah’s heart was what Christians like to call a “burden.” It was a long term concern of the heart, and it came up during the visit because it was always just under the surface and found opportunity for expression in the conversation. For Nehemiah, the state of God’s people was his great concern. It popped up whenever and wherever something touched his heart strings. What is your particular burden? What is it that pops up whenever someone has a deep conversation with you? We’re all meant to be concerned about poverty, sickness, and especially someone’s salvation. But in your heart there’s a God-given burden, something special that you are to pray over and take action on when the right time comes. Ask the Lord to help identify your particular heart concern today and during the fast.
Hanani answered the question posed by Nehemiah by telling him the truth. Using words like “great distress and reproach” to describe the state of the Jews couldn’t have been easy for Hanani. Wouldn’t it have been simpler to gloss the situation over? He knew his friend would be moved to tears, but he stated the facts: “The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire.” I’m sure he used all of the grace he could muster for his friend, but in the end it was the truth he told. Is there someone you need to be truthful with? Is there a situation that requires that you say what needs to be said even though you know there will be an emotional price to pay afterward? Or if you’re one of those tell-it-like-it-is people, do you need to add grace to what might be a difficult truth? Ask the Lord for the wisdom, opportunity and the grace needed to speak the truth in love, especially the situation you may be currently facing.
Nehemiah heard the answer that he didn’t want to hear. It was painful to realize that the burden of his heart for God’s people was now bringing him to near emotional collapse. Is there anything in your life that makes you sit down and weep? There should be! We hear so many disaster and horror stories in the news and see them played out in theatres so often that we find ourselves numbed to what should move us. Apathy is so prevalent that people have been found watching crimes being committed and yet do nothing to stop the crime. Christians, who have God’s Spirit, should be moved by what moves Him. Ask the Lord to heighten your concerns for what concerns Him. Let the Lord move you to tears about the plight of man and allow Him to cause your heart to be broken over specific situations of His choosing.
Nehemiah didn’t pick up the phone and call his network of contacts. He didn’t search his mind for the most logical response. He didn’t call in favors or check his bank account to see how much he could contribute to the cause. He fasted and prayed before the God of Heaven. This is really what we’re doing in these first days of 2010. We have a laundry list of concerns: our families, our friends, our neighborhood, our state and nation, our own personal lives. Is our first response to difficulty that we get before the Lord? Commit yourself to bring your burdens, your problems, the people and things you care most about, to the Lord. Let Him be “First Responder” to the most pressing of needs this year.
Nehemiah’s prayer is recorded for us. It’s so significant that God wanted us to read it! And like the Lord’s prayer that begins with “Our Father, Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Your Name,” this prayer begins with a rehearsing of, and praise for, the God of Heaven. He told God that He is great and awesome, that He keeps His covenant and has mercy ready for those who love Him. Did God need to hear that? No, but Nehemiah needed to remind himself and say it all over again to God. It was the expression of his faith and knowledge of the One who rules in Heaven. What is God like in your mind and heart? Is He the “God who listens every once in a while” or the “God who might care a little bit about people other than me” or “________” and you fill in the blank? In your prayers, remind yourself of who God has revealed Himself to be: the God of Heaven and Earth who loves and listens to my faith filled prayers in Jesus’ Name.
Nehemiah was a pretty high powered guy. He had a position that I’m sure many envied. He was respected by everyone. And yet he was a humble man. As a matter of fact, he admitted to sins that he likely didn’t commit personally, but lumped himself in with his rebellious ancestors and disobedient contemporaries. He saw himself for what he was: a part of a family of people who, by and large, left God in the cold. What have you been like? A liar? A thief? Idolatrous? Nehemiah, like all of us, knew he wasn’t worthy of God’s attention. But he was honest and humble. God doesn’t want the dressed-up you. He wants the real you. We can’t make God listen to us because we’ve got anything worthwhile to give to Him. He listens because He’s gracious and merciful through His Son Jesus. And when we’re honest about ourselves, humbly coming to Him, we’re coming the right way. Ask the Lord to help you see who you really are, admit who you are and what you’ve done. Humble yourself, you aren’t worthy. Let Him shine the light on your true self and yet believe that He is the God of all mercy and will hear you.If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!