Look who is listening in… Ordinary men who did extraordinary things after they prayed and obeyed
DAY ONE – Malachi 1-4
Malachi’s prophecy is very unusual. In a one-sided conversation, Yahweh God brought the priests and people of Israel into dialogue to expose their destructive behavior and bring needed corrections. It’s interesting, for it demonstrates that in our daily lives, the Lord is listening in and absorbing conversations occurring in private homes, businesses, committees, government chambers, etc. After hearing their discussions over a period of time, God gave Malachi this brief message of confrontation. Reading through it, I picked up the almost sarcastic manner in which the Lord addressed the priests. It’s as if the priests and leaders had made a list for themselves giving permission for the way they were living. Using our imagination, let’s replicate their list…
- It’s okay to bring God the worst of our flocks for sacrifice.
- It’s okay to disrespect the Lord by the things we say and do.
- It’s okay to break our promises in order to cheat God out of our best offerings.
- It’s okay to leave God’s paths and tell the people whatever we want, causing them to stumble.
- It’s okay to betray each other, violating the covenant of our ancestors.
- It’s okay to divorce our wives and submit them and our children to a cruel future.
- It’s okay to cheat God out of our tithes and offerings; after all, what we have is ours!
When we see the list, we object that no one actually made such a list; but a careless and self-serving lifestyle does eventually result in self-justification, especially if we think that God doesn’t care or notice how we live.
In our shadow world, the only reality we know, it is difficult to grasp the pure, powerful love God has for us. In the multi-dimensional world of light and love, our Lord presides over time and eternity carefully and determinedly in order to gather to Himself an ever growing family of ones He loves and who love Him in return. Every one of us in some way stumbles over love and wholeness as we try to cope with our realities. Through His unrelenting grace, God calls to us again and again to trust Him and be His faithful followers. His great promises cannot be broken or withdrawn, but we can certainly forfeit their blessings if we choose to ignore or reject the Great Creator who is loving and saving us. Malachi was the last prophet to speak to Israel for a period of four hundred years. This was God’s last recorded invitation in the Old Testament: Malachi 4:2 (NLT) “But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture.
DAY TWO – Ezra 7-10
We return now to Ezra. Many years passed since the remnant exiles returned to Judah and Jerusalem and began work on the replacement temple of God. Artaxerxes, present king of Babylon, was moved by God to encourage one of his nobles, Ezra, to return to his homeland and aid the building process. In order to understand this appointment, we need to know more about Ezra. Ezra 7:1-6 (NLT) He was the (16th generation) …son of Aaron the high priest. 6 This Ezra was a scribe who was well versed in the Law of Moses, which the Lord, the God of Israel, had given to the people of Israel. He came up to Jerusalem from Babylon, and the king gave him everything he asked for, because the gracious hand of the Lord his God was on him. While it doesn’t specifically say so, we can conclude that over the decades, men like Daniel, his three Hebrew friends, and other faithful Jews who served the Babylonian kings had great influence over them, for Artaxerxes made clear his fear of and preference for Israel’s God. Ezra 7:23-26 (NLT) Be careful to provide whatever the God of heaven demands for his Temple, for why should we risk bringing God’s anger against the realm of the king and his sons? 24 I also decree that no priest, Levite, singer, gatekeeper, Temple servant, or other worker in this Temple of God will be required to pay tribute, customs, or tolls of any kind.’ 25 “And you, Ezra, are to use the wisdom your God has given you to appoint magistrates and judges who know your God’s laws to govern all the people in the province west of the Euphrates River. Teach the law to anyone who does not know it. 26 Anyone who refuses to obey the law of your God and the law of the king will be punished immediately, either by death, banishment, confiscation of goods, or imprisonment.” And so, by the good hand of God, Ezra and his contingent arrived at Jerusalem to take stock of the current conditions. And what he found shocked him, so that he tore his clothes, pulled his hair and beard, and fell prostrate before the Lord with fasting and mourning. Before anything else could be done, the serious problem of intermarriage with the pagans in the land, accepting their idolatrous customs, had to be fixed! There was no easy way. It took months of serious negotiations and painful separations to restore God’s people to their intended place with the Lord. And that’s what transforming revival is about. Does anyone believe that spiritual transformation would be good for our land… in our day? May the good hand of the Lord our God be upon each of us to leave God’s print on our generation.
DAY THREE – Nehemiah 1-4
Desperate times call for desperate actions. And one man, sensing the desperate conditions in his homeland, wrote this incredible story into his memoirs. Nehemiah was a palace resident in Susa, where King Artaxerxes reigned over Babylon. Hearing a report from persons just returned from Jerusalem, he was stunned and dejected. Thinking that surely progress was being made, now he now learned that the walls of Jerusalem lay broken, and rubble filled the city. If Jerusalem was to have any future, something must be done. Nehemiah first prayed and fasted before Yahweh God, humbling himself with repentance for himself, his family and the Jewish people. Months went by. One day as he was serving the king and queen, the king saw that Nehemiah was troubled. When allowed to explain, Nehemiah requested permission to leave the service for a time to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls. This had staggering implications; it was surely a divine call to Nehemiah from God Himself. You’ve read the story, now let’s look deeper. This man, with letters from the king, showed up out of the blue in Jerusalem, secretly surveyed the city’s damaged condition by night, then revealed a plan to the leaders to rebuild the wall… and they BOUGHT IT! What amazes me is the number of people who came from all over Judah, leaving their own homes and occupations to take up the work. When opposed by non-Jewish residents, they quietly continued about their task. And when openly threatened, they armed themselves and stood guard over their own sections of the walls and gates! Nothing was easy for the returning exiles. Not only did they struggle to rebuild their nation, they discovered to their chagrin that old idolatries had surfaced again and were being exposed by the prophets of God who called them to return to the Lord and the covenant given through Moses.
Having read several books dealing with the modern exodus of Jews from many lands back to Israel, beginning in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, it is obvious that God is the architect of history and has been in control all this time. Rebuilding their land has been tedious and at times dangerous, but the Jews have persisted, and modern Israel, reborn in 1948, rivals the most technological, industrial and productive nations in the world! This is the hand of God! With God’s hand on your life, what can you do to make a difference?
DAY FOUR – Nehemiah 5-7
I was once asked to talk to a group about servant leadership. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that ‘servant leadership’ is an oxymoron. That is to say, in the natural world, the concepts of servant and leader tend to be at odds with each other. A servant by nature defers to others in his service; and a leader by nature steps forward to create a path for others to follow. Can the two truly meld into one? Nehemiah’s example suggests that they not only can but are powerful when they do. Evidently, as the king’s cup-bearer, Nehemiah had numerous duties within the household administration of King Artaxerxes, requiring him to develop leadership qualities as well as a servant’s character. His leave to return to Judah and the great task that lay before him challenged and taxed all of his resources. In the process of leading the effort to rebuild Jerusalem it became necessary to also rebuild the identity and character of the nation lost in the 70-year exile. Nehemiah would serve as governor for twelve years, but not before demonstrating sacrificial and self-giving leadership before the people. Again and again, shocked by the self-serving of the nobles and officials, Nehemiah brought forceful correction and exhorted them to take on the righteous character of Yahweh God as they reclaimed their true nature as God’s holy people. Little by little, as his influence and common sense caught on, the disjointed culture regrouped and displayed a social pattern that stood apart from the rest of the nations around them. The Jews, as God’s people, had to learn to walk again.
Jesus was the ultimate example of servant leadership, as Paul describes: Philippians 2:5-8 (NLT) You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. 6 Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. 7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, 8 he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Leader? Oh yes. Jesus took twelve men under his mentorship and laid the foundations of a movement that has changed the world. Servant? The ultimate, as already mentioned. He surrendered His will to God in order to bring salvation to the world. So our character Nehemiah, long before Christ appeared on the scene, stood forth among his people as a true ‘servant leader.’ In what ways are you inspired to serve or lead as needed?
DAY FIVE – Nehemiah 8-10
“…because they had heard God’s words and understood them.” (8:11) This is always the beginning of a spiritual revival. Both Ezra and Nehemiah were godly men who realized what was wrong and had a sense of what needed to be done. And together they did it. It amounted to a reconstitution of the Covenant.
- The walls of the city were rebuilt to define the locus of God’s Presence among them.
- The Law was read publicly to arouse the conscience of the people.
- God’s festivals were once again celebrated and kept as reminders of their identity.
- The Sabbath was restored to honor Yahweh.
- The Law was read again publicly, with explanations, after which open repentance commenced for several hours.
- They lifted their voices in prayer to publicly review Israel’s history from Egypt to the present. Nothing was held back. Their memories were charged with God’s faithfulness!
- Finally, the people made a promise to God and signed their names to it before returning to their homes. This was serious business, and it brought into harmony all the forces that had made Israel a great nation among nations. It also released God’s power and blessing upon these returned exiles.
Can there be a true revival of religion in America? How about in your town… or your family… or your own life? What can you personally do to encourage revival in the space you occupy? What can you do to encourage your friends and family to remember what it’s like when God is honored and served publicly? Where is our collective conscience, and what is tolerated across a wide spectrum that defines our present culture? Thankfully there are millions of the Lord’s followers who are praying over the current state of things. Large convocations periodically raise a voice in public, calling for repentance to God and restoration of godly attitudes and actions. Prior to the American Revolution, leading citizens, aware of a destiny that lay ahead for this nation, hammered out a Declaration of Independence, then pledged their lives, their fortunes and their honor to see it through. That’s what it took then, and that is what it would take now to see true spiritual revival in our land.