“Then God Put it into My Heart”

So I went to Jerusalem and was there three days. Then I arose in the night, I and a few men with me. And I told no one what my God had put into my heart to do for Jerusalem… Then I went up in the night by the valley and inspected the wall, and I turned back and entered by the Valley Gate, and so returned. And the officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, and I had not yet told the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials, and the rest who were to do the work. Then I said to them, ‘You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision.’

Then my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles and the officials and the people to be enrolled by genealogy. And I found the book of the genealogy of those who came up at the first, and I found written in it: These were the people of the province who came up out of the captivity of those exiles whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried into exile. They returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his town. They came with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Azariah, Raamiah, Nahamani, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispereth, Bigvai, Nehum, Baanah. The number of the men of the people of Israel: the sons of Parosh, 2,172… The whole assembly together was 42,360.” Nehemiah 2:11-12,15-17; 7:5-8,66

Nehemiah was a man of prayer, and his inhaling and exhaling was in constant rhythm with His God. He was inspired, directed, and strengthened by his Heavenly Leader and constant Companion. Fixing his heart in God assured God would put into his heart all that was needed to walk in His ways, from defining His plan to supplying the resources. As he obeyed, the Lord continued to reveal next steps for work great and small, all significant in His eyes.

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What should I concern myself with today? Whom would God have me contact or encourage, what would He have me read or learn or teach or organize? How should I spend my time and resources of mind, material, spiritual gifts? The God Who made our hearts and indwells them as His home wants to fill them with His good and pleasant riches. He is purposeful and has plans for our days. He designs ministry and assigns industry. Do I consult Him? Do I make room in my heart for my Lord and His ideas, and then execute with care? (Proverbs 24:3-5)

When I am overwhelmed with all there is to do, or know not what to do or how to proceed, I can seek the God of order and listen for His voice. When I open myself to Him, He will plant in my heart His good will and what I need to fulfill it. (Psalm 32:8; 143:8; 1 Corinthians 14:33)

O Lord, so tie my heart to Yours that You put into mine Your word, Your heartbeat, and Your course to follow. May I execute to Your glory.

Punting the Polls

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven…’ 

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.’ Matthew 16:13-17,21-23

It is important to understand the ‘hearsay’ that permeates our culture, for that is where we live and need to interact knowledgeably and compassionately with others. But when we base our thinking, and therefore our doing, on what others say, or untruth, we get into trouble. When Peter was guided by the Holy Spirit, his thinking was right, but when he listened to the polls, setting his mind on and forming his opinions by the things of man, his thinking went askew. He had a clear grasp on Who Jesus was, refusing to give in to crowd opinion. But then he let his feelings tangle with his creed, and his thinking swooped down from lofty to that tainted with emotion that resisted pain and discomfort, and he wanted to stop Jesus from being the Savior.

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People in authority, and those who think they have authority, fill the shelves where we form convictions with many choices. ‘Some say’ and ‘others say,’ but what do we say?

Do we have greater appetite for the polls, that are steered by manipulation of words and demographics and skewed by media attention, than for the north pole of God’s unchanging truth? Do we care more about opinion, valuing what others think, than assessing ourselves and situations and beliefs with help from the Holy Spirit? Do we claim to stand firm on what is right, but allow feelings to soften our stance?

When public opinion says ‘accept what feels right,’ will we renew our minds to discern God’s will? When the polls say ‘fear, beware,’ will we be anxious for nothing, pray in everything, and set our minds on what is true? (Romans 12:2; Philippians 4:6-8)

“Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.”  ~St. Dallán Forgaill (sixth century)

Good Father, may I trust in You with all my heart, lean only on Your understanding, and ground every aspect of my living in Your glorious truth. (Proverbs 3:5)

Tripping over Tradition

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, ‘Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.’ He answered them, ‘And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, “Honor your father and your mother,” and, “Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.” But you say, “If anyone tells his father or his mother, ‘What you would have gained from me is given to God,’ he need not honor his father.” So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:

“This people honors me with their lips,
    but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
    teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”’

And he called the people to him and said to them, ‘Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.’ Then the disciples came and said to him, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?’” Matthew 15:1-12

There is some internal human resistance to yielding to and choosing God’s way over our own. Something appealing to our flesh about buttoning our perfect uniforms and making and following our own rules, checking them off like savory bites of satisfaction. Something that chafes when we are corrected, when our way is judged as wrong or insufficient. Every time we esteem ourselves and elevate our prescriptions, we diminish the importance of God’s word, His will in our daily living.

The Pharisees were a “righteous” bunch, sticking to their regulations with exactness and fervor, yet they tripped into the trap of paying homage to tradition as king, neglecting God’s higher rule and its intent. Jesus called them on it, and they got offended- ‘how dare our righteousness be criticized?’

It’s hard to give up what we want to do. It is hard to give up self-imposed regulations we follow to make us feel good, proficient, worthy of esteem. But Jesus presents a whole different way of thinking and behaving that turns our patterns and performance upside down. He offers a higher way of thinking altogether. The holy commands of God are designed to exalt God, to teach us a high view of Him, to develop reverence for His otherness, but tradition elevates man and minimizes God by placing in our control the determining and the doing. When our life is hid with Christ in God, we esteem Him. When our days are a regimen of rules and traditions we design, we stumble in the tussle and self-focus and dismiss, or forget, our higher purpose altogether. (Colossians 3:1-4)

Where have I replaced surrender to my Sovereign with performance that I determine? Are there traditions of appearance and behavior in which I find worth and identity apart from conformity to His character? Where have I tripped into self-righteousness over the freedom of standing in Christ’s righteousness? (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Holy Sovereign, transform every bent to self-rule and man-made tradition into holy desire for conformity to You. May You alone be exalted in me. (Romans 8:29)

 

 

Slow Slide, Sedulous Savior

And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan Valley, and Lot journeyed east. Thus they separated from each other. Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord. 

“Then the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela went out, and they joined battle in the Valley of Siddim… So [they] took all the possessions of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions, and went their way. They also took Lot, the son of Abram’s brother, who was dwelling in Sodom, and his possessions. Then one who had escaped came and told Abram. When Abram heard that his kinsman had been taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, 318 of them, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. And he divided his forces against them by night, he and his servants, and defeated them and pursued them to Hobah. Then he brought back all the possessions, and also brought back his kinsman Lot with his possessions, and the women and the people.” Genesis 13:10-13; 14:8,11-16

From our first introduction to Lot, he was intrigued by the lush and twinkle of the world, and at being given freedom to choose, he edged close to that glitz, and gradually slid into the city of sin. Consequences followed, as they always do, and he was captured along with his cohorts by another enemy. Yet, as soon as his uncle Abraham heard of his captivity, he set off in pursuit to rescue this wanderer. (Genesis 18:20)

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Isn’t this like our gracious, loving, merciful Lord? He grants us freedom, allowing us to choose our path and slide toward our affections and the grip of their captivity. We learn through both blessings and harsh consequences that we are never far from His heart. He pursues us, sometimes tenderly, sometimes with an angry army, always relentlessly, sedulously. He is always, always, able to rescue.

Where have I made choices that fare better in the world, and inched toward Sodom? Where has strong spiritual resolve grown flabby? What makes me want to throw off the Spirit’s fetters, and where am I sliding in my thinking, the things I say, the attitude with which I react? Will I recognize the enemy clutches and look to my Savior to rescue me? (Isaiah 45:22; Matthew 6:13; Romans 7:23-25; 1 John 2:15-16)

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
    Try me and know my thoughts!
 And see if there be any grievous way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting!” Psalm 139:23-24

Lord God, thank You for Your persistence in our salvation and Your keeping power. Search me, check any start to a slow slide away from You, and set me aright in the way everlasting.

Pray, and Pray!

“In the month of Chislev, they said to me, ‘The remnant there is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.’ As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. And I said, ‘O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant… and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.’

“In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes,.. I took up the wine and gave it to the king. And the king said to me, ‘Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of the heart.’ Then I was very much afraid. I said to the king, ‘Let the king live forever! Why should not my face be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ graves, lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?’ Then the king said to me, ‘What are you requesting?’ So I prayed to the God of heaven… And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me.” Nehemiah 1:1,3-6,11; 2:1-4,8

Nehemiah knew the only thing to do with his broken heart over the condition of his brothers and beloved Jerusalem was to beseech his Lord, and he kept on over 4 months until he had God’s answer and direction to act. Even then, stepping out in faith to make request of the king brought fear, yet he continued boldly and in ongoing prayer.

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It takes determination and consistent practice to develop an effective habit of prayer, long draughts of focused time and waiting with Jesus, and ongoing communion when up and about. Once cultivated, the friendship and fellowship is unbroken, the sweet companionship with the Divine a lifeline of peace, resolve, power, and courage.

Throughout the book of Nehemiah, we see this godly leader cry out to God confidently and specifically in times of attack, discouragement, anger, need. We can do the same. (Nehemiah 4:4,9; 5:7,19; 6:9,14; 7:5; 13:22,31)

What are my default reactions to situations that rock my world with grief or angst? When I am bewildered how to move forward in a task or with a child or against a roadblock, where do I turn? How patient am I to continue seeking until God answers, believing that the time it takes for me to hear is time He is using to ready a resolution aligned with His purposes? Could He be preparing those I will encounter for their part in His grand scheme, working in their heart or circumstances? In my waiting, what new facets of His character, and mine, am I learning? What aspects of my nature is prayer refining, what qualities is it developing, what impulses is it extricating or transforming?

Lord, in every circumstance, every grief, every need, every moment, keep me in constant prayer. Deepen my communion with You so my living is a flourishing result of Your life in me.

Back to the Altar

But the Lord afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. So Pharaoh called Abram and said, ‘What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife?.. Now then, here is your wife; take her, and go.’ And Pharaoh gave men orders concerning him, and they sent him away with his wife and all that he had. So Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the Negeb.

Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. And he journeyed on from the Negeb as far as Bethel to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place where he had made an altar at the first. And there Abram called upon the name of the Lord. And Lot also had flocks and herds and tents, so that the land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great, and there was strife between the herdsmen. Then Abram said to Lot, ‘Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, for we are kinsmen. Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.’

“[The LORD said to Abram,] ‘Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.’ So Abram moved his tent and came and settled by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron, and there he built an altar to the Lord.” Genesis 12:17-13:9,17-18

A famine had driven Abram to Egypt, where he made a foolish decision to deceive Pharaoh and risk God’s promise of a son. He was royally chastised, and rather than justify his sin, stew in his shame, or retreat to obscurity, he returned to the altar at Bethel, to his place of worship and communion with his Lord to start afresh. He knew where to set things right, to realign his devotion, to gain insight and direction for his next decisions. (Genesis 12:2,7)

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It is clear from the following verses that the Lord heard and answered him. When conflict arose between their herdsmen, Abram knew to separate, and graciously, trustingly, gave Lot first choice. He received his Lord’s further promise of land, and moved at His bidding, and built another altar. Establishing his place of worship would establish his life.

When we do or say things we know are not right, we choose whether to excuse our folly, to tuck it down as if it was unimportant, or to return to the altar and confess the sin, receive cleansing, and establish a new heart. When we know not the way forward, in a relationship or strategy in work or ministry, we can return to the altar of fellowship and instruction. At the altar we are assured forgiveness, enlightened with wisdom, given direction, and supplied with strength.

Holy Father, keep me regularly at Your altar, the place of forgiveness, help, and glory.

Pray and Be Practical, but Pray First!

“These are… those who went up with me from Babylonia…  I gathered them to the river, and there we camped three days. As I reviewed the people and the priests, I found there none of the sons of Levi. Then I sent for leading men of insight, and sent them to Iddo, telling them… to send us ministers for the house of our God.  And by the good hand of our God on us, they brought us a man of discretion…  Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods. We had told the king, ‘The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him.’ We fasted and implored our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty.

“Then I set apart twelve of the leading priests. And I weighed out to them the silver and the gold and the vessels… And I said, ‘You are holy to the Lord, and the vessels are holy, and the silver and the gold are a freewill offering to the Lord. Guard them and keep them until you weigh them at Jerusalem, within the house of the Lord.’ So [they] took over the silver and the gold and the vessels. Then we departed from the river Ahava on the twelfth day of the first month, to go to Jerusalem. The hand of our God was on us, and he delivered us from the hand of the enemy and from ambushes by the way… The returned exiles who had come from captivity offered burnt offerings to the God of Israel.” Ezra 8:1,15-18,21-25,28-31,35

Making preparations for any event or task involves many details, but in order to have success that honors God, there should be a prescribed order: first things must come first. Prayer is always the way to begin.

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Entrusting every detail to the Lord gives clear perspective for planning. Ezra knew how to organize the people and divide their treasure after looking to God. (Psalm 32:8; 1 Corinthians 2:16)

Praying first focuses us on the supernatural, saturates our minds in the eternal, and fixes our trust in His Spirit’s strength. (Zechariah 4:6; Colossians 3:1-2)

Praying first assures that God receives the glory, not us, because He is our Guard, He is in charge, and His are all results. We look expectantly for specific answers to our requests, and can trace His hand in every detail. Our response is a natural offering of thanks and praise, what we were made to do. (Psalm 139:5; Isaiah 49:3)

When my tendency is to jump in and ‘do,’ to line up my necessities, tick off my checklist, map my destination and GO, would I first pause and pray that my doing would be God’s doing? That He guide my planning and bless the efforts I exert for His glory? Do I fly out the door only partially dressed, or fit on His armor for the battles and journey ahead? (Ephesians 6:11-18)

Lord God, only You know all that is needed and lies ahead, every facet of my assignments. Keep me seeking You first, always, to know Your ways and trust You in every detail. May I exalt You from beginning to end in every endeavor.