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 ~ 

 

Prayer – Let’s Get Practical

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

It’s time to get practical about our praying.

Do you know what it is to turn everything over to the Lord? Allow Him to have the lead? Relinquish the control to Him? Pray fervently to know His will? 

Have you also experienced times when you took the load on yourself. Worried and stewed over it. Got frustrated, agitated, and consumed with it? Then finally realized you hadn’t even consulted the Lord about it?

Okay, time for a personal confession.

A few years ago, the Lord spoke to me in many concrete ways and lead me down the road of writing. While I had written a few Bible studies, devotions, and scripts, I had not written a book of all things!

Little by little, He kept moving me in that direction and even led me specifically to the Bible character who would star in the first book!

I traveled down that road one mile at a time, not knowing what would be next over the hill or around the bend. I learned dependence on Him, because I felt so inadequate for the task.

Unbelievably, I now find myself 37,000 words into book number three.

However, the writing world includes more than putting words on a page. Research and editing take a huge amount of time.

Next is the task of publishing which can take forever. All along the way, I fervently prayed about next steps, aware of my dependence on the Lord’s leadership.  

Do you hear the “but” coming?

But I came to the third tier—marketing! Whether one has a traditional publisher or a self-publisher, the bulk of the marketing is up to the author. “Get on Facebook,” the conference leaders would say. “Have a blog.” (Okay, it will soon be four years, once a week.)

“Get on other social media. Do interviews, speaking engagements. etc., etc., etc.,” as the King of Siam would say.

Can you tell that this is not my favorite leg of the writing triangle? I have admitted, no, complained of my dislike of marketing to any poor soul who would listen. I have fussed and wrung my hands over and over for months. 

Finally, I realized that I had taken this thing on by myself. It was all up to me. Worse yet, I realized I had not really poured myself out to Him in prayer. Instead of being the last resort, prayer should have been the first thing. When will I learn that lesson?

“But seek first his kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well. Do not worry about tomorrow.” Matthew 6:33-34 

God has led me not to worry over this right now, but to put my effort into book three about Matthew. In His time, we will deal with the marketing. “Forget the detour,” he said. “Get back on the road.”

That’s my practical application. What has he taught you lately in seeking Him first? 

~ Joyce ~

Prayer – What Doth Hinder Thee?

  Searching His Word
     Seeking His Heart

…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles… Hebrew 12:1

Nothing delights our enemy, Satan, more than entangling us. Sometimes he does this through devastating circumstances—anything that overwhelms and brings on worry, stress, or fear.

The more dramatic, the better.

Most of the time, however, Satan is far more subtle. It is his specialty.

As I was led to write today’s blog, I felt an oppressive heaviness. I usually do my first draft on Sunday, but each time I started to sit down to write, something else took my attention. 

I’ve been reading a wonderful little book by Robert J. Morgan called “The Red Sea Rules.” He traces  the Israelites’ journey from the pillar of cloud to the Red Sea and through to the other side. The book provides “ten God-given strategies (or rules) for difficult times.” 

Rule #3 is “Acknowledge your enemy, but keep your eyes on the Lord.” Satan is likened to a serpent in Genesis 3, a bird in Matthew 13, a wolf in John 10, a lion prowling around in I Peter 5, and a dragon in Revelation 12.

As if to emphasize that point to me, the Lord led a blogger friend to include in her writing this week that very verse from I Peter 5:8 about Satan being like a lion prowling around to devour us. 

Our job is to be aware of him, but to put our focus on the Lord. How?

The next day I turned to another chapter—Rule #4 Pray!

We must practice continuous, fervent prayer—even when things are going well (especially when things are going well), for we can be lulled into passiveness, one of Satan’s favorite tactics. 

The author quotes seven verses that each use the word “earnest.” My favorite:

The earnest prayer of a righteous man has great power and produces wonderful results. James 5:16 (NTL)

Or if you prefer: The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. (KJV)

Interestingly, the Greek for both “effectual” and “fervent” have to do with working diligently. Therein is the key, I believe. We must work fervently in our praying until it becomes as natural as breathing. I confess I am still at the working stage.

Satan is delighted when we aren’t working at all!

While my husband and I are away from home right now, we visited a church Sunday. The pastor spoke about how the Israelites forgot their need of God’s presence.

Then I read a subscriber comment from my blog last week—”Life and laziness crowd in and Satan does a happy jig when I fail to take time to pray.”

That was the final push the Lord gave me to go ahead with this blog.

What was hindering me? That old serpent, the dragon of Revelation. But, while earnestly seeking the Lord, He gave me Scripture verses, a devotional book, reinforcement through a friend’s blog, a pastor’s sermon, and a comment from one of my subscribers.

He does things like that when we are fervent in prayer.

Get thee behind me Satan!

~ Joyce ~ 

 

 

Peter – One Step Back

Searching His Word

Seeking His Heart

In last week’s blog Peter rose to the top of the list with his comment. (See “Peter – Time to Shine”) This week we see that he’s felt emboldened to overstep his authority and will end up taking a step back.

Jesus begins a new emphasis in His ministry—preparing the disciples for His coming suffering and death. It isn’t what they want to hear and they have a time dealing with it much less accepting it. They don’t want to travel down this road.

                   

Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priest, and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed (yes, KILLED) and on the third day be raised to life. Matthew 16:21

Peter didn’t want anything to upset the glorious earthly plans he had for Jesus. So Peter, the one who made the great declaration of faith earlier, takes it upon himself to pull Jesus aside and rebuke Him. Yes, Peter rebukes Jesus!

“Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

Jesus has infinite patience, but Peter has overstepped his boundaries and this defiance must be quenched. Jesus turns to Peter and says,

“Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” Matthew 16:23

Then Jesus turns to the other disciples and says those hard words.

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24

What does this mean for us? We want to be mighty men and women in the kingdom work; we want to be bold like Peter, but like Peter we become weak. We overstep or we take a step backward.

                  

I think about those times when I’m in the sauna after water aerobics at the Y. Sometimes there’s a believer among the group who initiates a comment about the Bible or morality or life in general. Often I join right in or sometimes I feel compelled to say something profound, but by the time I have the boldness to say it, the conversation has turned another way. An opportunity lost.

I want to be a brave warrior for you, Lord, but I am weak. Help me to deny myself, my fears, and inabilities and take up the strength that you modeled for us on the cross and follow you.

~ Joyce ~

 

50th Wedding Anniversary

Searching His Word   Seeking His Heart

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

A personal narrative this week. This Saturday will mark fifty years of marriage for my husband and me. I always thought that just happened to old people! But here we are at this special milestone.

They say opposites attract, but that can cause some problems. In our case, we had many similarities—both coming from Christian families, believers ourselves, both music majors, outgoing, organized—perfectly compatible, right? Well, simalarities can cause problems, too.

While Jim worked on his Masters in Church Music at the seminary, I taught music in elementary school. We moved on to serve in music ministry at a church in Somerset, KY where I served as Children’s Choir Coordinator and he as the Minister of Music.

As long as we remained in our own boxes (he with the overall music program and me with children), everything went smoothly, but there were times I had ideas that reached into his domain or he dictated things in my domain. The protection of turf began.

At first we offered subtle suggestions. When one didn’t embrace the suggestion, the other became defensive. As we looked back after a few years, we realized that we were getting in each other’s box. As children came along, the territory lines continued. 

How easy it is to fall into destructive habits; finding faults, being critical, etc.

Every couple has their “thing.” We became aware of our challenge and worked to correct it, hoping to follow Paul’s encouragement.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. I Corinthians 13:4-5

Ouch, that last one gets too close to home. I rather imagine keeping records, whether on paper or in minds, is a sticking point in many marriages.

We tend to number the offensives without putting enough love deposits in each other’s love bank to compensate. I remember the shame I felt when I started to practice holding my tongue in certain settings. After about the fifth time, I realized how critical I had become. Words that hurt or demean were just about to roll out automatically. It does indeed take patience and kindness to retrain ourselves. 

Over the years, we have worked very hard on our marriage, because any relationship requires careful, continual balance. I often write a note on wedding cards encouraging the new couple to give heed to communication and to work toward caring for their spouse’s needs more than their own needs. Finally, I urge them to plan on simply working hard on their marriage.

Paul also declared that;

[Love] always protects, always hopes, always perseveres. I Corinthians 13:7

I used to wonder when we would ever get to that place where I saw older couples who seemed settled and more in love than ever. I believe we’re there.

God has guided us through many challenges. Challenges will still come, but I can say that I love and enjoy Jim Cordell with all my heart and look forward to many more years to call him my husband.

~ Joyce ~

So What’s an Ebenezer?

Searching His Word   Seeking His Heart

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

I spent a whole blog last week describing the plight of the Israelites in their constant dismal confrontations with the Philistines. The Israelites worked out of the home base town of Ebenezer. That was the place, but I also mentioned that Ebenezer was a thing.

So let’s get to the thing—what is an Ebenezer? 

The word means “stone of help.”

We last left the Israelites confessing their sin, ridding themselves of  foreign idols, fasting, and praying. They had moved up to Mizpah.  When the Philistines learned they were in Mizpah, this enemy came once again to overpower them.

The Israelites were afraid, but Samuel said,

“Do not stop crying out to the Lord our God for us, that he may rescue us from the hand of the Philistines.” I Samuel 7:8 

Samuel offered up a lamb on the alter to the Lord, crying out on behalf of the people. As he was sacrificing, the Philistines drew near.

But that day the Lord thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines and threw them [the Philistines] into such a panic that they were routed against the Israelites. I Samuel 7:10

Overwhelmed and confused, the Philistines ran out of Mizpah. The men of Israel pursued them and slaughtered them along the way.

So often, after great miracles of God, the leader would mark the place, as a remembrance, with a pile of stones or in this case, one big stone. Get ready. Here it comes!

Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far has the lord helped us.” I Samuel 7:12

Through out Samuel’s lifetime, the Philistines did not invade Israel again. Certainly, this stone of help was a fitting remembrance of how God intervened on their behalf.

If you erected a stone of help, what would it signify? Overcoming an enemy? Or something else? For Robert Robinson, it meant overcoming Satan’s hold on his life by Jesus’ precious sacrifice. Listen to his testimony in the second verse text of “Come, Thou Fount.”

Here I raise mine Ebenezer; Hither by thy help I’m come;

And I hope, by thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home:

Jesus sought me when a stranger, wan’dring from the fold of God;

He, to rescue me from danger, interposed his precious blood.

In his last verse, Robert Robinson looks at the grace of his stone of help, pleading with God to bind him as with handcuffs so he will stay firm in his faith and to seal his heart with dedication to the Lord. Like all of us, he was prone to wandering away from true commitment. 

O to grace, how great a debtor, daily I’m constrained to be!

Let thy grace, Lord, like a fetter, bind my wand’ring heart to thee:

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love:

Here’s my heart, Lord, take and seal it, seal it for the courts above.

May you see Him as your stone of help today, your Ebenezer.

~ Joyce ~

 

 

David – Slaying the Giant

Searching His Word   Seeking His Heart

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Now, the story we know so well. David is up for fighting Goliath and Saul has given the go-ahead.

“Go, and the Lord be with you.” I Samuel 17:37b

We can picture young—and not so tall—David putting on six-foot-plus Saul’s armor. Perhaps the helmet partially covers David’s face. The armor hangs heavy, down to his knees instead of below his waist. He walks around in this clunky adornment and feels cumbersome and weighted down. 

David does away with these unfamiliar garments, finds five smooth stones, puts them in his shepherd’s bag, and grabs his staff. He’s ready to go.

But I wonder, did David actually take a good look at this giant of a man? From my five-foot vantage point, our 6′ 5″ pastor feels something close to a giant. But add about three more feet to that and we’re talking truly a giant! Yes, Goliath proportions. 

Goliath wore a bronze helmet and a 125-pound coat of armor, bronze greaves on his legs and a bronze javelin slung over his back. He carried a giant spear with a 15-pound iron point (just the point!) 

When Goliath saw David coming, he was insulted and used the gutsy language of an uncouth soldier.

“Am I a dog that you come at me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. “Come here,” he said, “and I’ll give your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field!” I Samuel 17:43-44

David doesn’t show any signs of backing down.

“You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel whom you have defied. This day the Lord will hand you over to me and I will strike you down. I Samuel 17:45-46

Such faith as David draws closer to the giant. I must give the whole story though. Unlike your 2nd grade Sunday School teacher’s version, I must remind you that David also said he would cut off Goliath’s head and give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the beasts. Bold talk from this young shepherd boy!

So, David reaches in his bag for the first of his five stones. One is all it takes. While on the run, he swings his sling with power and accurately aims toward the one small, vulnerable spot left on the heavily-clad giant—his forehead. With his practiced marksmanship, David sinks the stone  deep in Goliath’s head and brings him to the ground.

Consider a giant in your life. It could be an antagonistic person, or maybe an un-reached goal, a terrible disease, or a problem with no foreseeable solution. Satan adorns and magnifies the giant and the giant tries to beat you down. Can you stand firm with David and say, “What is this giant that he (or it) should defy the power of God?” Is it possible that He has a solution as small as a stone?

Let us overcome the fear and walk by faith and not by sight.

~ Joyce ~