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Free Daily Bible notes by Rev Stephen Thompson

Month

July 2020

Nehemiah 1: 4-5: ‘History belongs to the intercessors’.

“4 When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. Then I said: Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments,” NIV

Intercession:

‘There is too much working before men and too little waiting before God.’ Alan Redpath.

We will be taking time, over the next week or so, to study Nehemiah’s prayer in the remainder of chapter 1. It is one of the major examples of intercession recorded in the Bible.

Matthew Henry famously said, ‘When God intends a great mercy for a people, first He sets them a praying.’

This is the first of 12 instances of prayer found in Nehemiah. The book opens and closes with prayer. The man epitomises the principle of prayer without ceasing. We see him shooting ‘arrow prayers’ in the midst of his days and his work. I believe we can also say of Nehemiah that he prayed like it all depended on God, but worked as though it all depended on him. He didn’t merely pray, and he didn’t merely work. In him, these two things God has joined together were not put asunder. Prayer and work were married, and had a fruitful partnership.

‘In whatever man does without God, he must fail miserably, or succeed more miserably.’ George McDonald.

PRAYER: Lord, please pour the Spirit of prayer upon your whole church. May we be like Nehemiah, willing to work hard and to do all that is required of us, but always looking to you and your strength.

 

Nehemiah 1:4: Burdened

“3 They said to me, ‘Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.’ When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.” NIV

Intensity:

‘When God puts a burden on your heart, don’t try to escape it, for if you do, you may miss the blessing He has planned for you. The book of Nehemiah begins with ‘’great affliction’’ (Neh.1:3), but before it closes, there is great joy (8:12, 17). ‘’Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning’’ (Ps.30:5)’ Warren Wiersbe OT Commentary, p.753.

Nehemiah’s heart was stirred and moved and burdened by the facts he heard. He showed a spiritual intensity that, I believe, would also be entirely appropriate for the situation we face in the world right now. Pentecostal Christians are regularly caricatured as ‘happy-clappy’. That’s probably an unfair designation. But as well as being a people who are very much in favour of overwhelming joy in the Holy Spirit, we also need to understand that there is a proper place for lament.

Fasting was required of the Jews only once a year, on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:29), but Nehemiah’s fasting (and mourning) went on ‘For some days…’

You don’t need me to tell you that our nation, and the world at large, is facing a monumental crisis. Look the facts of our situation squarely in the face, and then tell me that we don’t need to join in Nehemiah in mourning, weeping, fasting and repentance!

PRAYER: ‘Break my heart for what breaks yours.’

Nehemiah 1:3: Intelligence report

“The words of Nehemiah son of Hakaliah:In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem.   They said to me, ‘Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.’” NIV

Intelligence:

‘Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored’ Aldous Huxley.

We sometimes talk about praying ‘intelligently’. Nehemiah certainly could after he heard this news.

We saw yesterday that Nehemiah was profoundly interested in the state of his fellow Jews who had returned from exile in Persia. (It seems his job had kept him there). He says in (2), ‘’…I questioned them…’’ (I.e. the men from Judah, including Nehemiah’s brother), which seems to infer more than a mere superficial interest. He really wanted to know.

The news he received was not good, but it was to shape his destiny.

They say ‘facts are your friends.’ We may not always feel comfortable around these ‘friends’ but we need them.The facts about Jerusalem’s walls and gates meant that the city was open to ridicule and attack. This was not welcome information.

But information can lead to transformation, if we refuse to be mere consumers of news. I remember a member of our church, David Dowson, encouraging us to lift what we see on the news in prayer to God. That’s a great idea, although it’s not always easy to remember. However, information can be translated into intercession. This is what happened in Nehemiah’s case.

In Warren Wiersbe’s Old Testament Commentary, I was struck by these words:

‘Some people prefer not to know what’s going on, because information might bring obligation…Are we like Nehemiah, anxious to know the truth even about the worst situations? Is our interest born of concern or idle curiosity? When we read missionary prayer letters, the news in religious periodicals, or even our church’s ministry reports, do we want the facts, and do the facts burden us? Are we the kind of people who care enough to ask?’ (Pages 752/753)

 

 

Nehemiah 1: 1-2: An interested party

“The words of Nehemiah son of Hakaliah: In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem.” NIV

Interest:

In the second act of his play, ‘The devil’s disciple’, George Bernard Shaw puts these words on the lips of Rev Anthony Anderson: ‘The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that’s the essence of inhumanity.’

As I recall, C.S. Lewis said some thing like this: if you were ever to meet a truly humble person, you wouldn’t think, ‘This is a humble man, or woman.’ What you would say is, ‘This person is really interested in me.’

I heard a story about a young employee who was leaving his firm. At his exit interview he was asked by a senior manager, ‘What would we have had to say to you to keep you?’ His reply was ‘Anything!!’

On the other hand, Paul said about Timothy, ‘’I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare’’ Philippians 2:20.

As we come into Nehemiah’s story, we see that he has an important job, and no doubt, comfortable circumstances. He is cupbearer to the king, in Susa. (This was the capital city of the Persian empire at the time, and site of the king’s winter palace). So, because he has access to the king he is a man of great influence. Yet, he is deeply interested in the welfare of Jerusalem, and of the exiles who had returned home many years earlier. How was it going with them, and the city? He wanted to know. It wasn’t one of those perfunctory questions where you’re not really bothered about the answer. It’s just a social nicety.

No, Nehemiah looked beyond his immediate circle and circumstances and was deeply interested to know about his fellow- Jews in a far away land. The answer he received was to be a turning-pont. Warren Wiersbe says, ‘Like large doors, great life-changing events can swing on very small hinges.’

Thought: Who, outside of your immediate circle, and natural spheres of interest, might you show concern for today? Somebody called Jesus, ‘The Man for others.’ His followers cannot be wrapped up in themselves.

Why Nehemiah?

As the series on 1 Peter was coming to a conclusion, my mind naturally turned to the question: ‘Where in the Bible should we go next?’ As I lifted the thought to God in prayer, I felt a very definite nudge (in fact it was a bit stronger than that – more on the way to a shove probably) in the direction of the book of Nehemiah.

Someone said, ‘Nehemiah’s sacrifice of a fine position for the good of the cause (2:5) may typify the sacrificial service always needed when a great work is to be accomplished.’

Nehemiah had a great position and, no doubt, a comfortable lifestyle in the court of the Persian king. But when he discovered the state Jerusalem was in, with its walls broken down and gates burned, he sought permission to return and organise the re-building project.

This book has so much to teach us about spiritual leadership/organisation/administration. We are living through days where we are facing a kind of re-building project, and what is re-built will probably not look quite the same as what we knew before. It’s possible that this re-build may involve us in a painstaking process over many months, and I think Nehemiah is full of timely, and encouraging lessons for us.

I have set my mind in the direction of not only reading Nehemiah, but also praying my way through it. I invite you to join me on this exciting journey. Keep your heart wide-open, praying, ‘Lord show me/us what you want us to see in these days.’

PRAYER: Lord, even though we may think that we are involved in a re-build at ground level, we recognise that you have never stopped building your church, nor will you, until it is complete. So we trust your kingdom purposes. But we see this is not a time for passivity. Help us to roll up our sleeves and work, even as we aim to rely on you alone.

1 Peter 5:8-14: Final thoughts

“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 11 To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.12 With the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it.13 She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark. 14 Greet one another with a kiss of love.Peace to all of you who are in Christ.” NIV

‘All grace is in God for every hour and need, v.10. We too are called to his eternal glory through Christ. The path of suffering, and that path alone, leads to the world where suffering is unknown. The suffering is only for a little while.’ F.B. Meyer, ‘Devotional Commentary’, p.617.

‘No matter what our situation, no matter what our need, God’s grace is sufficient for us.’ Tom Hale: ‘Applied New Testament Commentary’, p.922. This is such a helpful comment, don’t you think, as we live in these uncertain times.

We sometimes forget that God is in the little details as well as the big things It could be easy to miss the significance of the reference to Mark in (13). But Mark wrote the very first gospel, and it is thought that Peter is the eye-witness behind his account. As Peter wrote his letter from ‘Babylon’ (Rome), Mark was with him.

Looking at the very last line, we can call to mind the words of Jesus:

‘’Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to your as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid’ (John 14:27).

Oswald Chambers said, ‘When God gives me a vision of the truth, there is never a question of what He will do, but only of what I will do.’

As our readings in 1 Peter come to a close, may I ask, ‘What has God shown you?’ And, ‘What will you do about it?’

1 Peter 5: 13-14: Not forgotten

As regular readers will know, in the past few days I have been particularly drawn to Eugene Peterson’s translation in ‘The Message’. Let’s look again at this modern paraphrase today:

‘’The church in exile here with me—but not for a moment forgotten by God—wants to be remembered to you. Mark, who is like a son to me, says hello. Give holy embraces all around! Peace to you—to all who walk in Christ’s ways.’’

 The idea of being a ‘’church in exile’’ seems to resonate. It’s not always easy to put into words what I feel about these many weeks when we haven’t been able to physically gather. We are very much still the church. Nothing can change that. But doesn’t it sometimes feel like we’re in a foreign land, away from home? Like the Jews in Babylon, at times we could sit down and weep when we remember ‘Zion’. Early on in the crisis, I found myself in a ‘Zoom’ pastors gathering. One of the speakers told us we should take time to ‘grieve’ all we have lost in this season. This is not just a word for leaders. It’s applicable to us all.

But it’s good to know that we are ‘’not for a moment forgotten by God.’’ He was not taken by surprise when lockdown came, and He is mysteriously and wonderfully at work in the midst of this crisis, doing, I believe, far more than we can ask or imagine.

At times we may feel lonely, but we are not abandoned.

As of now, if we were able to have a small meeting, we wouldn’t be able to give ‘’holy embraces all around.’’ Even so, let me encourage you to keep walking ‘’in Christ’s ways’’, and may you experience His deep peace.

PRAYER: Lord, like Peter’s readers, we find ourselves scattered, but by pandemic rather than persecution. Nevertheless, right where we are, help us to walk in your ways and enjoy your peace, knowing we are not here by accident.

 

1 Peter 5:12b: Embracing the truth

” I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it.” NIV

’I’ve written as urgently and accurately as I know how. This is God’s generous truth; embrace it with both arms!’’ The Message

Discipleship is incompatible with a casual approach to the Bible.

I am attracted to this idea of embracing the truth with both arms. To my mind this speaks of welcoming it, loving it, feeling it, valuing it, holding it.

Try, with God’s help, to make it your habit to not just skim-read your Bible, but to hold its truth tight, next to your heart.

One way to do this is to take the text of Scripture and turn it into prayer. In doing so you meditate, and meditation has been called, ‘The digestive system of the soul.’

Don’t settle for the superficial reading of a Bible passage in your quiet time. It needs to become a part of you.

PRAYER: Lord God, please forgive me for those times when I handle your Word carelessly. Let this change from this day on.

1 Peter 5:12a: Dependable people

“12 With the help of Silas,whom I regard as a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it.” NIV

‘’I’m sending this brief letter to you by Silas, a most dependable brother. I have the highest regard for him’’ The Message.

Dependable brothers and sisters: where would we be without them? They are the backbone of any and every congregation. Although some may be in the limelight, most are not, but they are faithful. They are reliable. They get work done and people served, whether it’s noticed or not, acknowledged or not, applauded or not. It doesn’t matter to them.

But there is an appropriate place for affirming and appreciating people, as Peter does here. Don’t wait for their funeral to say nice things about them. There are honouring words to be spoken now.

Reading this reminded me of two older men in the ‘Elim’ church in Lancaster, Nic and John. Both were in their 50’s, and they were wonderful supportive friends to a young, long-haired pastor in his early 20’s. I will always be thankful for their hospitality, lifts to and from church (when I had no car), and many words of encouragement. John took me back to his place for coffee every Sunday night after church. Nic and his wife, Jean, had me over for meals twice a week. They prayed and fasted with me Wednesday by Wednesday, and Nic even had his car insured so I could drive it from time to time. (So he wasn’t risk averse!). These men were absolute ‘bricks’ – so supportive. As long as I live and breathe I will not forget them and what they did, and who they were. They weren’t famous. If I hadn’t told you about them you probably wouldn’t know their names. But they were ‘’dependable’’ brothers. Such people have a lasting influence, and their work is always known to God.

PRAYER: Lord, whatever else you make me, please make me reliable.

 

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