Attempt Great Things for God – Nehemiah 2 – RBT Notes, 30th November

Four months is a long time to live with an anxious, broken heart. Nehemiah has been seeking God for His forgiveness and mercy, and for His intervening power. He loves God’s people, loves God, and longs that God would move to restore His city, Jerusalem. Nehemiah offers himself for that purpose. This man, a close official, has been praying that God would “give your servant success today by granting him favour in the presence of this man” (1.11). Four months later, Nehemiah discovers that God’s “today” has come (2.1).

Nehemiah didn’t contrive to put on a sad face in the king’s presence, but Artaxerxes notices it, and asks about it (vv.1-2). We don’t know if Nehemiah’s words are premeditated, or just tumble out in an agony of heart. After his explanation, he has the opportunity he must surely have been praying for – and must have hardly dared request: leave to return and rebuild Jerusalem (vv.2-5). The other officials must have been stunned at the favour Nehemiah found. The king is intrigued, but gives his permission, and then agrees to share resources for the project after Nehemiah has the audacity to ask for them (vv.7-9).

How come Nehemiah finds such favour? Because he cared, prayed, and was courageous. Ultimately, because “the gracious hand of my God was upon me” (v.8). That is grace, and grace, though always utterly undeserved, is the gift enjoyed through believing prayer. After all, God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us” (Eph. 3.20). It’s not enough to know the theory – prayer is the asking and the receiving of that abundant and powerful grace. So do we?

But any work we attempt for God is the focus of Satan’s attacks. There will be opposition, difficulty, discouragement, disloyalty, upset, frustration and exhaustion. Doesn’t Jesus warn us to count the cost of serving Him? The first hint is in v.10. And Nehemiah knows how ambitious his plans are, and is careful at the moment to keep them to himself (v.11-12). He surveys the scale of the work ahead of him (vv.13-16), again, keeping his plans secret. Notice that he’s no Lone Ranger, and he’s looking for partners. So, once he knows what he’s calling others to commit to, he gathers the community leaders, and tells them three things: what needs doing, that God is good – and that they have work to do.

The work begins. There are the gathering clouds of opposition and discouragement (v.19), but the bright conviction of faith (v.20). With God all things are possible. Do you believe that? Do you believe that God’s work is the best work to do, and that His servants will be filled with His Spirit for it? Then what are we waiting for? Let’s offer ourselves to His work.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord, You are worthy of all risk, effort, sacrifice and danger. I know that, but I don’t know that. I’m always so tempted to run back to the safe and the familiar. Forgive me my cowardly and unbelieving heart. Thankyou for Your brave Son, who was faithful to the end, paying for my sins and showing me the way of brave Gospel service. I go in His Name, in His power. Amen.

Just Care – Nehemiah 1. RBT Notes, 29th November

Grace makes you care. Gone are the days when you would have shrugged off other peoples’ struggles as their own problems, and nothing for you to worry about. Grace is the involvement of a compassionate God in your life. That grace forges compassion in you for others. Their needs are your concern.

Nehemiah knew that judgment fell on his people through the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. He knew that they had received what they deserved from a holy God. He finds himself far away, in the comforts of the Persian palace, the new superpower who had conquered Babylon. When news comes from his homeland – and it’s bad news – Nehemiah doesn’t sigh and settle back into his cozy life: he sits down and weeps (vv.1-4).

There is a place for tears in the Christian life. Sometimes the Lord wants to see them far more than He wants to hear our words. If we don’t care, what value do our prayers have? And what meaning, anyway?

Nehemiah is broken by the news that his countrymen are in distress.  These are people he has never met, hundreds of miles away, but he loves them deeply. He fasts, prays and pleads with God for them. He feels their sins and his own, and begs for God’s mercy (vv.5-7). As he reflects on their wickedness, for Nehemiah it’s as if these sins have just been committed.

He knows that God has been just. He knows, too, that God has plans. In fact, he knows that God has plans for His city of Jerusalem. He knows that its welfare is crucial for the very Kingdom of God (v.9). Without Jerusalem there can be no future for the Kingdom.

And so, Nehemiah prays. What does he pray for? Success (v.11). What sort? We don’t yet know. We do know, though, that his plan is shaped by his compassion. Compassion cares. Compassion weeps, prays, steps forwards, wants to get involved, embraces risk.

So, the challenge of this chapter? Care. Care about God’s people, His purposes. Care about your sins. Do not harden your heart against tears, confession or service. Care. And do it.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord, You have my heart. But so often I want to snatch it back, to hide it, and harden it. Lord, teach me to care, make me care. Teach me how in Your Son You are so compassionate towards me. And lead me in ways which astonish me, to be a caring, broken-hearted and loving disciple. Amen.

Persevering through Pain – 2 Samuel 16. RBT Notes, 20th October

The past has a way of catching up on us. We feel we’ve come to terms with old feelings, old loves, old enemies, and that all is changed. But then one day we discover that the past never vanished; it just went into hiding for a while.

This power-shift between Absalom and David causes the past to surface. David has a sudden reminder of Saul’s family, as the servant Ziba brings him unexpected gifts for the journey (vv.1-2). His joy is tempered with deep sadness, as he learns that Mephibosheth, Saul’s grandson and recipient of so much of David’s kindness, is betting on Absalom to return his own family’s wealth to him (vv.3-4). One of life’s hard lessons is that love does not secure loyalty.

Next is an extraordinary scene, with Shimei ranting and screaming at David (vv.5-14). Like Mephibosheth, Absalom’s challenge to the king is his chance to settle old grievances. David’s reaciont? He appears either as man of humble faith, or as a broken man whose courage has failed him. Both are likely to be the case. David is holding onto what was once his bright faith in happier days, but knows that he’s no longer the man who can cope with conflict. His heart will break further, when he learns of Absalom insulting him in one more public and shaming assault on his rule (vv.15-23).

Life is painful, and those we try to love bring us most pain. Jesus Christ knew the pain of desertion. He witnessed friends seeking old loves and loyalties, when the pressure got too much. His Word warns us of our vipers’-nest hearts, and cautions us against complacency. Before we disgrace ourselves, and our King, when temptation comes we must “put on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet” (1 Thess. 5.8). Jesus Himself did.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Spirit of God, I barely know my heart. And how my heart gets broken, tempted and distracted. Fix my eyes on Jesus, who will never disappoint me. Keep me humble and close to Him, pressing on to the end. Amen.

The Prince of Peace – and His enemies – 2 Samuel 2. RBT Notes, 4th October

A king must have his kingdom, but everyone knows that people  don’t instinctively like to be ruled. David is now seeking to gather a divided people under his rule. He must bring those who already follow him back into the land, and unite them with those who had been loyal to Saul. No small order! David is anointed by his own people (v.4), and boldly begins by seeking those who’ve shown great loyalty to Saul (vv.4-7).
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Opposition is all around. People don’t want God’s King, not then, and not now. When Saul’s and David’s men meet, Abner is clearly itching for a fight. He gets one, with devastating effect. Asahel and others lose their lives, and the hatred and death escalates right to all-out war (vv.12-32). This is a sad, ugly chapter.
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The struggles of the verses are those played out again and again wherever God’s Kingdom is declared. Most sadly of all, the enemies of the Kingdom are so often those who claim to be part of it. “I want men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands in prayer without anger of disputing”, urges the Apostle Paul (1 Tim. 2.8). Why lift hands in prayer? Because men naturally fail to pray, and raise unholy voices (or even fists) in argument. Our chapter shows us how quickly fights happen, and our hearts betray the same warlike tendencies. Our King is a peacemaker, and His grace teaches us to go and do likewise.
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So hope, as always, in found in Jesus. He is the true king, and He comes (like David) offering peace. Trust Him, imitate Him, honour Him. You will find rest for your souls.
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A Prayer to Pray
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Lord Jesus, my heart is proud, fiercely proud. You are humble and gentle in heart, even as the Mighty Lord and King. Teach me to lay aside my anger, and my weapons. Make me a servant of Your peace. Amen.

Shelter and Shade – Psalm 91. RBT Notes, 12th May

  1. This amazing Psalm is one long list of promises about God’s care, some given by the Psalmist, some straight from God’s mouth. Your life is a series of God’s promises and God’s fulfilment of them. Can you name three, in the light of this Psalm, and take them to God in worship?
  1. Reflect on vv.14-16. At the Cross Jesus underwent God’s turning away from all these promises, so that He could make them with all who trust in Jesus. How did Jesus suffer in the light of these verses? And how does it make you worship?
  1. Take three of the promises of this Psalm, thank God for them, and pray them into your life.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Covenant Lord, I am so slow to realise that I am so loved! Help me to rest in the arms of Your care, knowing that Your heart towards me is always one of love, because of Your Son. Teach this mistrustful heart to trust, and rest, and to be at peace. Amen.

 

 

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Through all generations – Psalm 90. RBT Notes, 11th May

  1. What is the most comforting – as well as the most unsettling – statement about God and His ways in vv.1-6? Why is it so important for us as time-bound creatures to reflect upon the Eternal God?
  1. 7-12 show us life outside Eden for us all. What are some of its features, and how should we pray for help on this life?
  1. Reflect on and then pray in the seven prayers of vv.13-17. Which means the most to you st this stage of discipleship? Why not write it out and pray it each day this week?

 

A Prayer to Pray

Father, what rich worship comes from knowing that from everlasting to everlasting You are God! Please forgive me for my shallow and foolish views of You. Teach my heart Your majesty afresh. Teach me how fleeting my life is, and so bring me close to Jesus. That will be my heart of wisdom. Amen.

 

 

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