READ: Nehemiah 13:7-13
(7-9) I arrived in Jerusalem and learned of the wrong that Eliashib had done in turning over to him a room in the courts of The Temple of God. I was angry, really angry, and threw everything in the room out into the street, all of Tobiah’s stuff. Then I ordered that they ceremonially cleanse the room. Only then did I put back the worship vessels of The Temple of God, along with the Grain-Offerings and the incense.
(10-13) And then I learned that the Levites hadn’t been given their regular food allotments. So the Levites and singers who led the services of worship had all left and gone back to their farms. I called the officials on the carpet, “Why has The Temple of God been abandoned?” I got everyone back again and put them back on their jobs so that all Judah was again bringing in the tithe of grain, wine, and oil to the storerooms. I put Shelemiah the priest, Zadok the scribe, and a Levite named Pedaiah in charge of the storerooms. I made Hanan son of Zaccur, the son of Mattaniah, their right-hand man. These men had a reputation for honesty and hardwork. They were responsible for distributing the rations to their brothers.
THINK: In these earlier days, what do you notice about the way of life God required his people to abide by? Why do you think this was important to him? What do you think their relationship with God was like? How might it be different from your relationship with him?
Stuffy. Stifled. Strict. Oppressive. Distinct. Sanctified. Disciplined. Conspicuous. Maybe a bit peculiar. Do any of these describe the way you feel when you think about how God has asked His people to conduct themselves? It’s not any wonder that so many people have a view of God as rule-driven and a relationship with Him as being no fun. I know, in my own life, having had a hard time trusting the truth from the Bible about how God thinks about me, these words just amplified the thoughts and feelings that I would never measure up, that I would never be able to be good enough, or to do enough good to deserve what His Son did to save Creation from an eternity in Hell.
Now I know the depths of the truth of those thoughts and feelings, but I also know that they are exactly the reason Christ had to come and die on the cross. The truth is: if any one person could ever be good enough to live this life and not need Jesus as a sacrifice, then God would not have had to send Him. Because if one person could do it, then everyone would have to have within themselves the ability to save themselves. And we simply do not. We are not able to save ourselves. Period.
But what does that have to do with the question asked above, about why God requires His people to abide by so many rules? If we are going to call ourselves His people, should there not be something markedly different about our lives, so that others living around us can see that we are different. Even if that difference just looks odd or peculiar or conspicuous, at first. And wouldn’t the fact that we do look odd, different, peculiar or conspicuous give us that many more opportunities to share the reason for our faith, to share the reason why we have chosen – on faith – to walk this absurd-looking path, that shouldn’t logically work, but seems to anyway?
We are called to be in the world, but not of the world. What that means to me is that while we are here our lives should look different enough to make people wonder what in the world it is that makes us have so much peace and joy when the world is in a tailspin of chaos and agony and fear. IN the world, but not OF the world.
But beyond that, God is holy. If we are going to call ourselves His children, if we hope for Him to call us His children, we have to live our lives by the rules that He has set. Who are we to question God’s “because I said so”? If we know anything about God, it is that nothing happens without a reason. Our inability to see the reason or to understand His motives shouldn’t matter. Just like with our own children, who do not always get to know the why, for a myriad of reasons, neither do we. And just like with our own children, who sometimes eventually reach an age where they are mature enough to handle hearing the reasoning behind the instruction, we also SOMETIMES reach a maturity level where God will reveal to us His behind-the-scenes work. Then, what was so confusing or frustrating, becomes so perfectly clear that we wonder at why we ever questioned Him in the first place.
PRAY: Become aware of God’s presence with you now. Share your thoughts with him, including what you noticed about your own relationship with him. Let this lead you into silent prayer, pondering what’s happened in your life since you last talked with him and whether there is anything you need to clear up. Listen for what he might be saying in response to you. If you don’t sense him saying anything directly, be open to other ways he might try to communicate with you (such as through other people or recent experiences).
Dear Lord, You are omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. You alone can claim this. You alone know the beginning from the end, and You Alone will decide what and when I get to know the ins and outs of even my own life. Forgive me when I have failed to trust your sovereignty. Forgive me when I have smirked at your holiness. Forgive me when I have abused your grace by sinning and then just asking for your forgiveness with no real desire to repent and turn away from the actions you consider abhorrent. I thank you that you remember that I am just dust. I thank you that you saw me in all my sinfulness, knowing that I would let you down over and over and over again, and still decided that there was something in me worth saving. Thank you that you love your creation so very much and that you are not willing that any should perish.
Abba Father, I do not know why you have led my family to this fight we find ourselves in right now, but what I do know is you are leading us through it. I know that every hard thing I have ever gone through has strengthened me for where I am right now. And I know that all the hard things I am going through now are strengthening me for fights still to come.
Lord, when I think of our situation now, I envision an arrow that has been shot at a target. An arrow does not have to try to find the target on its own. Never once have I seen an arrow, in the air, wondering where it was supposed to go. Help me to remember that you are the perfect archer, and you hit all the targets you aim at, and you nail the target every time. It is humbling that you would pick me to be an arrow. I desperately want to hit the target at which you have aimed me.
Some targets are closer and the path has been a straighter, faster shot. Some targets are farther away, and you have had to aim higher to get a good trajectory and account for the wind, so the path takes longer than I want. I can see the target. I know where I am supposed to go. I desperately want to get there, but I have to take the path that has been set for me. Forgive me for doubting you in my frustration at how long the path is taking. Help me to remember that I have hit every target you have selected for me, and for which I have allowed you to use me. Your purposes will always be satisfied. Some people will choose to be used by you. Others will not. Help me to remember, that when I am brave enough to allow myself to be used by you, Your Will is going to be accomplished. Remind me of that when I start to feel like the path is taking too long. I will arrive precisely on time for Your Agenda to be satisfied. Never too soon. Never too late.
And Dear Lord, help me to remember, when I cannot see the target, that you do not shoot an arrow just to shoot an arrow. Your Word does not return to you void. Therefore, if you have sent it out into the world, it will happen. By the same token, if you have fired me as an arrow, you will hit your mark.
All this I pray in Your Son’s Precious and Holy Name, Amen.
LIVE: Think about the passion Nehemiah demonstrates for honoring God. What would your life look like with more passion? How might you honor God with your lifestyle the way Nehemiah desires to honor God? Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence. …Love others as well as you love yourself” (Matthew 22:37, 29). With this command in mind, think of one small new habit you could cultivate that would honor God in a particular area of your life.”
Thank you for the prayer. I read it out loud.
Thank you Emily. It makes my heart sing to know the prayer moved you!