Nehemiah


Nehemiah 5-9 NLT)

Discover His heart: He is blessed when we show respect and honor to His Word

Sometimes we forget the impact of scripture on our lives.  If we take a moment to think about it, we will remember occasions when we were distraught over a situation, but a verse from the Bible brought comfort and strength to us.  Then, there have been numerous times in my own life when I have been reading His Word, and a particular scripture gets all up in my business, if you know what I mean.  This is when the conviction of the Holy Spirit invades my life, and I am reduced to tears of repentance.  I really don’t enjoy the process, but the peace and joy that follow make it all worthwhile.  The entire nation of Israel experienced the convicting power of the Holy Spirit when the Levites read from the Book of Moses. 

@ Nehemiah 8
“Ezra the scribe stood on a high wooden platform that had been made for the occasion… they saw him open the book, they all rose to their feet.” (4-5)  As Babylonian captives, 42,000 plus Israelites returned to their home of Jerusalem.  Their Temple had been rebuilt under the guidance of their spiritual leader, Ezra, and the walls of their city had been restored under the direction of their wise governor, Nehemiah.

With purpose in their hearts, they had assembled together for the reading of God’s Word, and as the book was opened, they rose to their feet to show honor and respect for His Holy Word.  Perhaps this example is why we often stand for the reading of God’s Word when we assemble together in our churches.  It’s only right that our position and demeanor should distinguish between man’s words and God’s Holy Word.  Nothing we say in our own strength can compare to the perfect, trustworthy and pure words of God. (Psalm 19:7-8)  At the very least, our hearts should stand at attention when we read or hear His powerful Word.

Apparently, the Israelites had a lengthy Bible Study that day as they stood assembled together.  Over the 70 years of captivity, Aramaic rather than Hebrew had become the first language for many of the younger Israelites.  Ezra, Nehemiah and the Levites went to great lengths to translate and interpret the scriptures so that all could understand their meaning.  This is the role of our pastors today as well, to read the Word of God and explain it in a way that all will understand.  Hosea said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”(4:6) Thankfully, the Holy Spirit anoints His Word and the lips of His servants, and He touches our hearts as we listen.

“Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were interpreting for the people said to them, ‘Don’t mourn or weep on such a day as this! For today is a sacred day before the Lord your God.’ For the people had all been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.” (9)  Just like King Josiah when he heard the words of the law for the first time, the hearts of the people were tender to God’s Word, and they were remorseful for their many sins of the past.  The scriptures had revealed to them the high cost paid for their low living.

But now the people had repented, the Temple was standing, and the walls had been rebuilt – it was time for celebration!  “And Nehemiah continued, ‘Go and celebrate with a feast of rich foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared. This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!” (10)  With sins forgiven, it was time to celebrate the goodness of the Lord in their lives.

God doesn’t want us to live in guilt over our past sins and mistakes.  “If we confess our sins to him, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” (I John 1:9)  It’s time to celebrate and put on the garments of praise for the spirit of heaviness! (Isaiah 61:3)  Then His joy will be our strength to celebrate His goodness and to live in obedience to Him.  It’s difficult to sin against God while celebrating His goodness and mercy with great joy in our hearts…it really is. 

Moving Forward:  With joy in my heart for His forgiveness and grace, I move through this day celebrating His goodness. 

Tomorrow @ Psalms 140-142

Nehemiah 1-4 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He is always attentive to our prayers

Leaving our church youth pastor position of six years to transition to a state youth position several years ago was a difficult move for us.  We dearly loved our pastor, our youth and youth leadership, and it was a tearful time.  On our last Sunday morning at the church, the youth choir sang, “Friends are friends forever if the Lord’s the Lord of them…” by Michael W. Smith.  Most everyone cried with us that day as we listened, but, thankfully, we have remained “friends forever” with these dear ones.

Life has kept us running and has afforded little time for fellowship with these friends, but when we have the opportunity to meet, the friendship is still there. We remember our history together, but now all the new details have to be filled in.  This is sometimes how we feel when our relationship with the Lord has grown distant, but today we read about a man whose friendship with God was fresh and up to date.

Nehemiah was a Jew born in captivity in Persia, but he had a profound knowledge of God’s laws and a deep affection for the land of his ancestors.  He was a godly man.  Deeply distressed about the safety of the Jews who had returned to a defenseless Jerusalem, Nehemiah knew exactly Who to talk to about it, “When I heard this, I sat down and wept.  In fact for days I mourned, fasted and prayed to the God of Heaven.” (1:4)  Nehemiah had an intimate relationship with God.  It wasn’t a casual or distant friendship, and he didn’t need to re-introduce himself to God, so to speak – it was fresh.

In his prayer, Nehemiah asked God to give him favor with the King of Persia as he went to speak to him on behalf of Jerusalem’s broken walls.  “The king asked, ‘Well, how can I help you?’  With a prayer to the God of heaven, I replied, ‘If it please the king, and if you are pleased with me, your servant, send me to Judah to rebuild the city where my ancestors are buried.’” (2:4-5)  Right there amid the dialogue with the King, Nehemiah offered a silent prayer to God for His ears only.  There really wasn’t time for getting caught up in the relationship or exchanging sentiments.  No, their friendship was spontaneous and current.

It isn’t as though God doesn’t hear or care about the prayers of a long-lost friend because He knows our prayers before we even pray. (Matthew 6:8)  It’s more about our comfort level in asking something from a friend we haven’t talked to for a long time.  We feel awkward and unworthy to make a request.  We have a tendency to struggle through the situation alone, without help from someone who could assist us.  I can’t count the number of hurting souls I have talked to through the years who felt too distant to approach God for help.

Just like our friendships with distant friends, our relationship with God is but a call away.  He misses us in our absence, and He is ready to hear our heart’s cry.  But I want to be like Nehemiah, ready to offer spontaneous prayers even in the middle of a conversation, at a second’s notice without regret or an apology for my neglect.  I often find myself praying throughout the day to Him, offering a word of thanks, a request or a praise.  And He’s one friend who never seems to get tired of hearing from me. 

Moving Forward: “With a prayer to the God of heaven” I move through this day with confidence that He is listening and answering. 

Tomorrow @ Psalm 137-139

Nehemiah 10-13 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: His presence fills the lives of those who worship in purity

Through the years I’ve met dozens of individuals who desire to be a church worship leader, and many appear to be musically qualified.  And others?  Well, we’ve all heard a singer at one time or another whose exuberance was not matched by talent. Listening to them can be painful.  The responsibility of a worship leader is much more than ability, however, and the challenge is daunting to me.  Leading a congregation into the presence of God is not a role for the showman or exhibitionist.  The most successful worship leaders I know are almost invisible to the worshipers.

I was part of a worship team in a large church for many years. Our ministry and sound were good and our worship leaders were spirit-led and anointed.  The team always had prayer together before the services began, each of us surrendering ourselves to His purpose, but I vividly remember a particular admonition one Sunday from the worship leader.  He challenged us to purify our hearts and lives in the privacy of our homes before we ever entered the church on a Sunday morning for practice and warm up.  He asked us to take care of business with the Lord before we met collectively in prayer.  Our ministry, then, would not be stopped by any area where we had given access to the enemy nor would it be hindered by hurt feelings, a prideful spirit, etc.  In our reading today, Nehemiah required the same holiness from those who led worship, and then some. 

@ Nehemiah 12
After returning from Babylon, the Israelites rebuilt their Temple and now the Jerusalem walls had been restored. It was time for dedication, and Nehemiah planned a celebration for God’s people, “For the dedication of the new wall of Jerusalem, the Levites throughout the land were asked to come to Jerusalem to assist in the ceremonies. They were to take part in the joyous occasion with their songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps, and lyres. The singers were brought together from the region around Jerusalem and from the villages…” (27-28)

All the articles from the Temple had been returned to the Israelites, so the musical instruments were tuned, the singers gathered and the songs of praise and worship that had been passed down from David and Asaph were readied.

Not a note was sounded, however, until their lives and surroundings had been purified, “The priests and Levites first purified themselves; then they purified the people, the gates, and the wall.” (30)  My mind goes back to my worship leader who challenged us to ready our hearts for worship, to remove any obstacles before we attempted to enter the presence of our Holy God.  The priests purified their own hearts first and then the hearts of the people.

Any worship leader will tell you that sometimes it’s difficult to draw a congregation into worship, but I’ve noticed the atmosphere often changes when believers are first led in a prayer of consecration, giving them an opportunity to take care of business in preparation for worship. They “first purified themselves; then they purified the people, the gates and the wall.”

Some may say that we live in the grace of the New Testament and these old customs are passé, but let me just say that God is still Holy, sin is still sin, and they just don’t mix.  Through the anointed ministry of Nehemiah and the priests and the purified hearts of His people, the celebration and dedication of the wall was a great success.

“Many sacrifices were offered on that joyous day, for God had given the people cause for great joy. The women and children also participated in the celebration, and the joy of the people of Jerusalem could be heard far away.” (43) Let the purity of our worship resound throughout the earth to touch our world and may it reach the heavens! 

Moving Forward:  From a repentant heart I declare today, “You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11) 

Tomorrow @ Psalm 143-145

Nehemiah 5-9 NLT)

Discover His heart: He is blessed when we show respect and honor to His Word

Sometimes we forget the impact of scripture on our lives.  If we take a moment to think about it, we will remember occasions when we were distraught over a situation but a verse from the Bible brought comfort and strength to us.  Then, there have been numerous times in my own life when I have been reading His Word and a particular scripture gets all up in my business, if you know what I mean.  This is when the conviction of the Holy Spirit invades my life, and I am reduced to tears of repentance.  I really don’t enjoy the process, but the peace and joy that follows makes it all worthwhile.  The entire nation of Israel experienced the convicting power of the Holy Spirit when the Levites read from the Book of Moses. 

@ Nehemiah 8
“Ezra the scribe stood on a high wooden platform that had been made for the occasion… they saw him open the book, they all rose to their feet.” (4-5)  As Babylonian captives, 42,000 plus Israelites returned to their home of Jerusalem.  Their Temple had been rebuilt under the guidance of their spiritual leader, Ezra, and the walls of their city had been rebuilt under the direction of their wise governor, Nehemiah.

With purpose in their hearts, they had assembled together for the reading of God’s Word, and as the book was opened, they rose to their feet to show honor and respect for His Holy Word.  Perhaps this example is why we often stand for the reading of God’s Word when we assemble together in our churches.  It’s only right that our position and demeanor should distinguish between man’s words and God’s Holy Word.  Nothing we say in our own strength can compare to the perfect, trustworthy and pure words of God. (Psalm 19:7-8)  At the very least, our hearts should stand at attention when we read or hear His powerful Word.

Apparently the Israelites had a lengthy Bible Study that day as they stood assembled together.  Over the 70 years of captivity, Aramaic rather than Hebrew had become the first language for many of the younger Israelites.  Ezra, Nehemiah and the Levites went to great lengths to translate and interpret the scriptures so that all could understand their meaning.  This is the role of our pastors today as well, to read the Word of God and explain it in a way that all will understand.  Hosea said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”(4:6) Thankfully, the Holy Spirit anoints His Word and the lips of His servants, and He touches our hearts as we listen.

“Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were interpreting for the people said to them, ‘Don’t mourn or weep on such a day as this! For today is a sacred day before the Lord your God.’ For the people had all been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law” (9)  Just like King Josiah when he heard the words of the law for the first time, the hearts of the people were tender to God’s Word and they were remorseful for their many sins of the past.  The scriptures had revealed to them the high cost paid for their low living.

But now the people had repented, the Temple was standing and the walls had been rebuilt – it was time for celebration!  “And Nehemiah continued, ‘Go and celebrate with a feast of rich foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared. This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!” (10)  With sins forgiven, it was time to celebrate the goodness of the Lord in their lives.

God doesn’t want us to live in guilt over our past sins and mistakes.  “If we confess our sins to him, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” (I John 1:9)  It’s time to celebrate and put on the garments of praise for the spirit of heaviness! (Isaiah 61:3)  Then His joy will be our strength to celebrate His goodness and to live in obedience to Him.  It’s difficult to sin against God while celebrating His goodness and mercy with great joy in our hearts…it really is. 

Moving Forward:  With joy in my heart for His forgiveness and grace, I move through this day celebrating His goodness. 

Tomorrow @ Psalms 140-142

Nehemiah 1-4 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He is always attentive to our prayers

Leaving our church youth pastor position of six years to transition to a state youth position several years ago was a difficult move for us.  We dearly loved our pastor, our youth and youth leadership, and it was a tearful time.  On our last Sunday morning at the church, the youth choir sang, “Friends are friends forever if the Lord’s the Lord of them…” by Michael W. Smith.  Most everyone cried with us that day as we listened, but, thankfully, we have remained “friends forever” with these dear ones.

Life has kept us running and has afforded little time for fellowship with these friends, but when we have the opportunity to meet, the friendship is still there. We remember our history together, but now all the new details have to be filled in.  This is sometimes how we feel when our relationship with the Lord has grown distant, but today we read about a man whose friendship with God was fresh and up to date.

Nehemiah was a Jew born in captivity in Persia, but he had a profound knowledge of God’s laws and a deep affection for the land of his ancestors.  He was a godly man.  Deeply distressed about the safety of the Jews who had returned to a defenseless Jerusalem, Nehemiah knew exactly Who to talk to about it, “When I heard this, I sat down and wept.  In fact for days I mourned, fasted and prayed to the God of Heaven.” (1:4)  Nehemiah had an intimate relationship with God.  It wasn’t a casual or distant friendship, and he didn’t need to reintroduce himself to God, so to speak – it was fresh.

In his prayer, Nehemiah asked God to give him favor with the King of Persia as he went to speak to him on behalf of Jerusalem’s broken walls.  “The king asked, ‘Well, how can I help you?’  With a prayer to the God of heaven, I replied, ‘If it please the king, and if you are pleased with me, your servant, send me to Judah to rebuild the city where my ancestors are buried.’” (2:4-5)  Right there amid the dialogue with the King, Nehemiah offered a silent prayer to God for His ears only.  There really wasn’t time for getting caught up in the relationship or exchanging sentiments.  No, their friendship was spontaneous and current.

It isn’t as though God doesn’t hear or care about the prayers of a long-lost friend because He knows our prayers before we even pray. (Matthew 6:8)  It’s more about our comfort level in asking something from a friend we haven’t talked to for a long time.  We feel awkward and unworthy to make a request.  We have a tendency to struggle through the situation alone, without help from someone who could assist us.  I can’t count the number of hurting souls I have talked to through the years who felt too distant to approach God for help.

Just like our friendships with distant friends, our relationship with God is but a call away.  He misses us in our absence, and He is ready to hear our heart’s cry.  But I want to be like Nehemiah, ready to offer spontaneous prayers even in the middle of a conversation, at a second’s notice without regret or an apology for my neglect.  I often find myself praying throughout the day to Him, offering a word of thanks, a request or a praise.  And He’s one friend who never seems to get tired of hearing from me. 

Moving Forward: “With a prayer to the God of heaven” I move through this day with confidence that He is listening and answering. 

Tomorrow @ Psalm 137-139