Nehemiah – Planning and Action

 Searching His Word
  Seeking His Heart

God has given Nehemiah a concern for his Jerusalem homeland. He feels called to do something about the crumbling wall around the city.

During four months of prayer, God led him to make plans. Last week (Nehemiah – Praying Leads to Opportunity), we saw that King Artaxerxes dropped opportunity right in his lap. 

Since Nehemiah has been cooking up his plans, he’s ready.

“If it pleases the king, may I have letters to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, so they will provide me safe conduct until I arrive in Judah?”

Nehemiah thinks logically of what’s needed to get him safely there.

And may I have a letter to Asaph, keeper of the king’s forest, so he will give me timber to make beams for the citadel by the temple and for the city wall and for the residence I will occupy?

In his mind, he’s already there, thinking through what he will need. Planners do that! Nehemiah sees that God’s gracious hand was upon him because the king grants his requests.

Praying, planning, and then the action. Off he goes, beyond the Euphrates River, across the desert, to the land of Judah accompanied by the king’s cavalry, no less. 

After this grueling four-month journey, he rests for three days and makes plans to evaluate the crumbling wall. He purposely didn’t enter with a bang or even tell anybody why he was there. He plans to quietly assess the damage at night, by himself.

This is not a one-man job, so it is time to gather the troops. Here’s what we have recorded of his motivational speech to the priest, nobles, officials, and people:

“You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and it’s gates have been burned by fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.”

He also gave them his personal testimony of how God’s hand was upon him with the king. The result?

They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work. Nehemiah 2:7-18

What a great formula for us when God lays a task upon our hearts—pray, plan, wait patiently for opportunity, move into action, rest, evaluate, share our own testimony of God’s hand at work, and inspire others to join in the task.

Tuck Nehemiah’s example away in your mind.

~ Joyce ~ 

 

Nehemiah – Praying Leads to Opportunity

 Searching His Word
  Seeking His Heart

Last week, we found Nehemiah weeping, mourning and fasting over the devastation of the wall in Jerusalem. Four months later, he continues praying about the matter and senses that God is leading him to do something about the crumbling wall.

There’s a gigantic problem with this calling. Nehemiah is cup-bearer to King Artaxerxes of Persia, a high and prestigious position. Only the king could grant such a request and the king’s already listened to complainers back in Jerusalem and commanded that all rebuilding stop. Double whammy! 

Nehemiah faithfully performs his duties to the king, perhaps even serves as an adviser in certain situations. He dare not point blank ask the king for permission to leave for an extended time to build a wall that the king himself  has already put to an end.

It’s hard for Nehemiah to be cheerful everyday when his heart is aching. One day as he serves the king, Artaxerxes asks him,

“Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.” 

Fear strikes Nehemiah, nevertheless he draws in a deep breath and takes the plunge. 

“May the king live forever! Why should my face not be sad when the city where my forefathers are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” 

There, he said it. He holds his breath wondering how the king will respond. What comes next is more than he could have hoped for. The king asks,

“What is it you want?”

Hardly able to believe how this opportunity has been dropped in his lap, he shoots up one of those quick prayers. You know the ones, “Help me, Lord.” His face is flushed, his breath shallow, but he pushes forward.

“If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city of Judah where my fathers are buried so I can rebuild it.”

“How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?” Nehemiah 2:1-6

“Whew!” I wrote in my Bible margin. Have you ever had an opportunity open up suddenly, one you’ve been mulling over for some time? You may have asked, “Is this really happening?”

Keep in mind that Nehemiah has been praying about this for four months. God provided the opportunity and Nehemiah took the plunge!

Oh the things He has for us when we go to Him in earnest prayer.

Can you share one of your aha moments?

~ Joyce ~

 

 

Nehemiah – Passing the Torch

 Searching His Word
  Seeking His Heart

Let’s get back to a character Bible study as we “Search His Word and Seek His Heart.” I’ve been studying Nehemiah recently and finding some good stuff there.

First we need the setting. Nehemiah is not in Israel where you would expect to find a good Jewish man. No, the Babylonians came and swept the Jews far away from the land of Judah years before. Think Daniel in the lion’s den and King Nebuchadnezzar.

Fifty years later the Persian empire took down mighty Babylon under the Persian king, Cyrus. Though the Jews had settled into life away from their homeland, King Cyrus allowed the Jews to make the choice of returning to Judah.

Fast forward another seventy years during King Xerxes reign. Think Queen Esther. Many Jews did not return to Israel. The Jews who stayed had settled in over these 120 years, yet they were still considered foreigners. Remember how Esther was told not to tell King Xerxes that she was a Jew?

Fast forward another twenty-five years and we finally come to Nehemiah. Keep in mind that it has now been about 145 years since the exile of the Jews from Judah.

We find Nehemiah speaking with a brother who has been back to Jerusalem to see how things are going. Not a good report. The walls around the city were torn down years ago and in crumbles. The gates were burned.

How did Nehemiah respond? 

“I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God in heaven.” Nehemiah 1:4

Why would he care so much about that land and its desecration? It was far away and long ago. He had a good position in Persia. After all, he was cup-bearer to the king! But listen to a portion of his prayer.

“I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s house, have committed against you. We have not obeyed the commands and laws you gave your servant Moses.” Nehemiah 1:6-7

Then he reminds God of the instructions He gave to Moses years before.

“If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you turn to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.” Nehemiah 1:8-9

How did Nehemiah know about all this since the exile had been so long ago? How did he know about the ancient Scriptures? How did he have such deep feelings to the point of weeping, fasting, and praying?

It’s simple, it had been passed down from one generation to another, from father to son, grandfather to grandson, which brings me to ask, “What am I passing on to the next generation?”

~ Joyce ~

 

Life Verses – Hope and a Future

 Searching His Word
  Seeking His Heart

For several years, I taught elementary music in public schools.

Singing all day every day eventually paid a toll on my voice, so I backed down to teaching part-time. Still, my voice just couldn’t hold up, so I retired from teaching.

At various churches, I had directed children’s choirs. A position became available to lead and coordinate children’s choirs part-time. My voice could manage these small doses once a week.

After nine years, I considered retiring from that position as well. Working and rheumatoid arthritis had worn me out. Meanwhile, the Lord had begun moving me in a new direction—writing!

Any life change, positive or negative, is a challenge full of hesitation and questions. Is this really the way the Lord is leading? Am I in His will?

One Sunday, in the midst of these “ponderings,” the front of the church bulletin read:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

A few weeks later, I heard a radio preacher teach on this subject with Jeremiah 29:11 as his text.

The day came to take the big step. I sat in church with the resignation letter in my sweaty hands. Part way through the service, up popped the scripture for the day on the big screen. Of course you can guess what it was—Jeremiah 29:11.

I smiled and thanked the Lord for this affirmation.

 He has plans for all of us, wonderful plans, if we only seek His face, whether we’re headed to college, deciding on a mate, considering a job change, dealing with a difficult relationship, trying to make a decision, or yes, considering retirement.

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him. Psalm 37:7

In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps. Proverbs 16:9

Jesus taught us to ask, to seek, to knock and: it will be given, you will find, and the door will be opened. (Luke 11:9) Pray for it, friend!

~ Joyce ~

Life Verses – Wait on the Lord

 Searching His Word
  Seeking His Heart

Another life verse:

but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles… Isaiah 40:31

This verse became a mainstay for me when we were going through a long ordeal with our son. By “long”, I mean years. My strength waned often as we tried many avenues, only to run into stop signs.

I really prefer the King James Version which uses the word “wait” instead of “hope.” When we hope, it does require us to wait and anticipate, but the message the Lord kept sending me was that I must wait on Him. Wait on His timing.

Waiting is not something most of us do well. We want it today or this week or this month, but waiting for years is a big stretch, especially when coupled with one heartbreak after another.

And so, we hope in the Lord as we wait, trusting (ooh, there’s that word again), trusting that the Lord will renew our strength.

The promise comes next—”They will soar on wings like eagles.”

In the midst of all this waiting and hoping, I did a good bit of study about eagles. Quite interesting creatures. When they are ready to fly, they go up to the highest point they can find and wait for just the right draft of wind. Then they spread their wide wings and soar on the down draft with perfect ease.

It’s a lovely picture, but I knew we had a ways to go before we could soar.

Late one night, I sat (praying) in the dark on the steps leading up to our second floor. Above our front door was a horizontal piece of glass. From my vantage point, I could look out the top glass to see three street lights.

As I sat meditating, I couldn’t help but think of the three crosses long ago that stood at Calvary. I thought about God’s willingness to sacrifice his own son on the cross for our sin. In that moment, I knew that God understood my pain and cried with me. 

Thankfully, the Lord performed a miracle in our son’s life. He turned himself over to the Lord and continues to grow deeper in his faith today as a grown man with five (yes, 5) children!

…but those who (wait and) hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint.

May you find the strength to wait and hope and soar on wings like eagles today.

~ Joyce ~

Life Verses – Trust in the Lord

 Searching His Word
  Seeking His Heart

Continuing the the thought of “life verses” from last week (Life Verses – Off to College), perhaps you have read, or memorized, or claimed this as a life verse:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths. Proverbs 3: 5-6

Oh, how many times have I leaned on my own understanding? Thinking something over and over, chewing around on it, worrying about it.

Instead of taking it to the Lord right away and trusting him with it, I leaned on my own understanding.

After my husband served as a Minister of Music for several years in our town, he received a call to consider another church. We were very happy at our church, our children were well established in school and with their friends. To top it off, my parents had just moved to our town. All was right with my world.

Jim suggested that we may not know if the Lord was leading in a new direction unless we at least visited the other church. The date was set for the visit, but everything within me cried out, “No, no, I don’t want to go!”

I spent hours worrying and stewing over the possibilities. One day, I walked down the hall to our bedroom and noticed, as if for the first time, the little wooden plaque that hung at the end of the hall. It read, “In all your ways acknowledge him.” 

The word ACKNOWLEDGE stood out like a neon sign to me. I fell to my knees, acknowledging God, realizing that He knew best. I confessed that I had done everything but acknowledge Him.

 

When we recognize and acknowledge God, we put ourselves in a place to see the shallowness of our own understanding. We realize our need to trust Him.

Then comes the beautiful promise—”He will direct your paths.”

So, back to my story. By the time the visit came around, I had reached a place of surrender. I fully expected that we would be moving.

We made the visit, but when got back in the car, Jim said he was disturbed by a comment the pastor had made and declared, “Well, we’re not going to this church.”

Why then did I have to go through all that? The Lord knew I needed to learn the lesson of trust, the lesson of being willing to surrender to His will.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths.

~ Joyce ~ 

 

 

Life Verses – Off to College

 Searching His Word
  Seeking His Heart

As we think more about “Searching His Word, Seeking His Heart,” I’m reminded of some of my life verses. You know, the kind of verses that have been dear to you in certain phases of your life. The verses you felt like you really have lived.

Our oldest grandchild will graduate from high school this year, which brings on the next phase of grand-parenting. Guess I’ve got graduation on my mind.

Any way, I think back to my high school youth director and her influence in that phase of my life. She gave me a verse to take with me to college.

“For I, the Lord, thy God, will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, ‘Fear not, I will help thee.’ ” Isaiah 41:13

I looked at it from time to time and then one day decided to make a small poster of the verse to hang up on my dorm room wall. It was easy to memorize since it hung in front of me all the time.

Occasionally, I thought about the verse as I strolled across the campus going from one class to the other. I imagined God holding my right hand, the hand I use most.

Then the thought struck me. It doesn’t say he grabs my hand, but holds it. He stretches out His hand offering me direction and confidence, but I must reach out to place my hand in His. It was a meaningful mental picture for me.

I prayed to be sensitive to His leading and to reach out for His hand in good times as well as fearful times. Indeed, there were some fearful times that required holding on tight.

“For I, the Lord, thy God, will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, ‘Fear not, I will help thee.’ “

How wonderful when we can claim verses of promise to sustain us. I’ve claimed this one many times.

~ Joyce ~

 

Salvation 4 – What Is MY Part?

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

In the past three weeks, we have asked Who Is Worthy? We discussed The Wages of Sin and The Price He Paid.

Our drawings led us to visualize our separation from God with two mountains and a valley of sin that separates us.

We talked about the price Jesus paid on the cross and how that created a bridge, a way between us and God.

The last verse you underlined was Romans 5:8. Turn to that verse, go to the bottom to the page, and write Romans 10:9. You know the routine now—underline it and put a star by it.

Why the star, you ask? If you’re like me, you may have other verses underlined on these pages. The star just helps to stay on track.

While the bridge idea is effective, you can see that “me” is still on one mountain and “God” on the other. Nothing happens until “me” gets on the bridge. The person must make the decision to trust that bridge, to believe in Christ so fully that he or she will take the first step.

Many people believe about Jesus. Yes, he was a good man, maybe even a prophet of some sort, a person in history. Hitler was a person in history too, but we don’t believe in him, only about him. Instead, as Christians, we proclaim—

That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10;9

Believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead. He didn’t stay on the cross. He didn’t stay in the tomb. God raised Him from the dead. Jesus had resurrected life. And that is what He has for us when we put our trust, our faith in Him.

It requires that first step!

 

Perhaps your prayer of confession might go something like this:

Lord, I know I can’t stand at heaven’s gates and claim to be worthy. I confess that the sin in my life keeps me from your glorious presence. I ask you to forgive me and to help me trust in you enough to take that first step on the bridge Jesus offered by giving his life for me on the cross. Help me keep my eyes focused on you and not the valley of sin. Thank you for the love you have offered me and the gift of eternal life. Amen.

~ Joyce ~

Salvation 3 -The Price He Paid

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

We have underlined Romans 3:23 in our Bibles—all have sinned (Salvation 1 – Who Is Worthy?) and Romans 6:23—earning spiritual death but being offered the gift of spiritual life (Salvation 2 – Wages of Sin).

Now we turn to Romans 6:23, go down to the bottom of your page and write Romans 5:8. When you turn to Romans 5:8, underline the verse and put a star by it.

 Would you die for someone? Do you love anyone that much? Maybe your child or spouse? 

Would you dare to die for a good person? They would have to be really, really good, right?

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Romans 5:8

Long ago, God’s chosen people realized that a sacrifice for their sin was needed. His law required them to bring an unblemished lamb to be sacrificed for that sin. God was preparing them for the very best lamb.

Jesus, his son, came into the world to heal and teach what God’s love is like.

But God demonstrated his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

At this point, you can draw a cross on the “Me” mountain.

Some think if they are faithful, responsible citizens or if they do enough good deeds, they can merit the blessings of heaven, but as we’ve learned, none of us is worthy. That valley of sin still separates us from God.

Jesus took upon Himself the sin of all the world. When He bore it all for you and me, He became the final sacrificial lamb.

Here’s the best part! Jesus’ sacrifice formed a bridge between you and God.

His sacrifice covers that sin and He provides the only way to God the Father.

It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. Hopefully these drawings and add-ons will help you in explaining the gospel story.

Oh, but each person has a part to play in this salvation experience. Next week—What is my part?

~ Joyce ~

 

Personal word

Well, friends, if you read the blog on your iPhone this week, one picture was turned sideways and another printed twice.

About the time I think I’ve figured out how to do pictures, these things happen to remind me how infallible I am! Hope you at least got the idea and will overlook my bobbles!

While I’m confessing—my poem from three weeks ago came out all discombobbled, too. I was trying to fool the wordpress limitations on going to the next line rather than having a space between lines, but it showed me a thing or two.  Looked great on my screen, but went all over the place when it printed out.

Thanks for your patience with my computer skills!

~ Joyce ~