Hope

Battling Discouragement

Have you ever been discouraged? Have you ever felt like giving up? I know I have.

In chapter 4 of his book, Nehemiah had bullies that ridiculed him, a workload that crushed him, friends who threatened to desert him, and sleep that eluded him. Yet he plowed through. Let’s look at three points and see how he found encouragement in the Lord:

  1. Haters hate (see Nehemiah 4:1-3, 10-12). The enemies of the Jews—Sanballat, the army of Samaria, and Tobiah—came against Nehemiah and the people with anger, insults, and intimidation. And some of what they said was absolutely true: the Jews were feeble and their building materials for the wall were worthless. But this was God’s job and God’s work, and He was going to make something of it.

Sometimes broken people using burnt stones need to confess their emptiness and look to Emmanuel for encouragement (for starters, see Matthew 19:26; John 15:5; Romans 7:18; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10). When haters start hating, sometimes you need to be weak so that God can be mighty on your behalf.

  1. Leaders lead (see Nehemiah 4:4-5, 9). Nehemiah didn’t retaliate against the haters. He prayed instead, first personally and then publically with the people. They had a mind to work but they also had a heart to pray, and if you have a heart to pray, you can keep your mind to work.

Then Nehemiah positioned his team along the wall (see vv. 13-14) and persevered right alongside them (see vv. 21-23). Nehemiah was not going to back down, back off, or back it on up. He knew that with God, nothing is impossible.

  1. Workers work (see Nehemiah 4:16-18, 19-21). The Jews forged ahead and worked with shovels and swords, using one hand to build and the other to battle. This is because when God builds something, Satan wants to tear it down. You must keep building while you’re battling or you’re not making progress.

And I love that they put a sword at their side. Do you know what our sword is? The Word of God (see Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12).

When haters hate, leaders lead, and workers work, God is glorified in our lives: “When our enemies heard that it was known to us, and that God had brought their plot to nothing, that all of us returned to the wall, everyone to his work” (Nehemiah 4:15).

God can bring plots against you to nothing. Sometimes you just have to put one foot in front of the other. So if you’re discouraged today, don’t give up. I believe what God did with Nehemiah He can do for you, too. Let’s end with a prayer.

God, You are the God of the impossible. I pray that You would transform my thoughts of discouragement to encouragement. Renew me to go forth in Your strength, building and battling on the walls to which You’ve called me. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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Hope

Happy People Are Holy People

Did you know happiness is a by-product, not a product of direct pursuit?

Psalm 84 says, “Blessed are those who dwell in Your house; they will still be praising You” (v. 4). In other words, happy people are those who dwell in God’s house and seek His presence. As the Psalms say elsewhere, “In Your presence is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11).

The temple in Jerusalem used to be the place where people could meet with God and be happy in His presence—but in Nehemiah’s day, the city had been decimated. That’s why he went back to rebuild a wall of protection around it.

We read about the repairs he and the people made on the wall in Nehemiah 3. Everyone had a purpose in the efforts, and by the end of the chapter, they were halfway through the project! This was a real testament to their unity. They all obeyed the same leader—Nehemiah—and focused on the same goal, working for the glory of God.

I wonder what results we’d see today if the church rallied together like this. The worse it gets out there in the world, the more we should be together in unity and community (see Hebrews 10:24-25). This is because happy people pursue not just God’s presence, but the place and the people of His presence, too. And that’s what Nehemiah did as he got everybody working with their hands on the task before them.

And, boy, was it everybody: priests, political leaders, laypeople from all different backgrounds, and country folk from different towns. Not only that, but women also left the comfort and safety of their homes to work on the wall (see v. 12).

Ladies, it must be the same with us today. There must be a team effort in the local church for us to serve wherever God needs us. We should be on all parts of the wall of our local community, building up His kingdom.

If you’re not happy today, maybe you need to think about getting involved in God’s work with God’s people, dedicating all that you have to Him: your family, your things, your time, and your talent.

Remember, happiness is a by-product, not a product of direct pursuit. Happy people are holy people. They come to church, spend time in God’s presence, and work side by side with other believers on the walls of their community. In short, happy people seek to glorify the Lord.

Are you happy today?

Hope

Project Prep

Have you ever had good intentions for a project, only to find out you didn’t calculate everything very well? Maybe you weren’t able to finish it on time or it came out over budget.

We can learn a lot from how Nehemiah approached his project, Operation Rebuild Jerusalem. He succeeded in his venture by doing four things: conversing with the king, coordinating the details, canvassing the job site, and contending with difficulty.

First, he conversed with the king (see Nehemiah 2:1-5). Four months had passed between chapter 1 and 2, meaning Nehemiah had plenty of time not just to pray and prepare for this conversation with Artaxerxes, but also for the job ahead. And he let the king know that: he humbly, tactfully, and respectfully asked for permission to leave his job as cupbearer and help rebuild Jerusalem. His burden that began with weeping in chapter 1 had developed into a full-on calling. He knew he was the guy for the job.

So Nehemiah began to coordinate the much-needed details with the king (see Nehemiah 2:6-9). He set a time frame, got permits for traveling and building, and put together supplies. I think there are three reasons why Nehemiah received these requests: Number one, godly prayer (see v. 4). Number two, God’s partner. It’s thought that the queen mentioned in verse 6 was the only daughter of Queen Esther and believed in the Hebrew God. Do you think she had any influence in making sure all of Nehemiah’s needs were met? You bet. And number three was God’s providence. Anything can be done when the good hand of God is upon you (see v. 8).

Next, Nehemiah went and canvassed the job site: Jerusalem (see Nehemiah 2:11-16). If the news of Jerusalem had brought tears to his eyes, imagine what it was like seeing it in person. But great works begin when we walk through the nighttime of sorrow and our hearts are broken by Gethsemane’s darkness. When Nehemiah returned, he rallied the people together to begin building, and they said, “‘Let us rise up and build.’ Then they set their hands to this good work” (v. 18).

And right off the bat, Nehemiah had to contend with difficulty, which came in the form of three men: Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem. These men used the weapons of ridicule and doubt to try to stop Nehemiah’s efforts (see Nehemiah 2:19)—but just read his response: “The God of heaven Himself will prosper us; therefore we His servants will arise and build, but you have no heritage or right or memorial in Jerusalem” (v. 20).

He didn’t attempt to negotiate; after all, if you play tug-of-war with your enemy long enough, someone’s going to get pulled down into the mud. So he simply let go of the rope. And guess what? God took hold of it. But more on that next time.

Take some time to examine your heart: What projects do you need to turn over to the Lord today? How are you trusting Him with your plans and desires?

Hope

What If?

That tiny, two‑letter word if can either make us or break us. It offers spectacular possibility or eternal regret: What if I were to grasp all that life had to offer me? or If only I had taken that opportunity!

Nehemiah wasn’t an “if only” regretter, but a “what iffer,” someone who said, “What if God were to use me?” Let’s look at four questions he asked in Nehemiah 1 and see how they apply to us today.

  1. What if you don’t like the answers? When Nehemiah asked, “How are my people faring in Jerusalem?” the answer broke his heart: the city walls were broken down, its gates were burned with fire, and its people were bruised and broken, vulnerable to enemies (see Nehemiah 1:1-3).

How are the walls around your heart and home? Are the gates keeping the enemies out—those certain things on television and the Internet? To find out, we, like Nehemiah, need to ask the right questions—even if it’s hard, and even if we don’t like the answers. So be a Nehemiah to your family and friends. Don’t wonder one day, What if I would have asked them, “Are you really doing okay?”

  1. What if life gives you lemons? When Nehemiah heard the bad news, he “sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven” (v. 4). First off, bravo to him for not being afraid to weep over the things that make God weep. Life handed him a lot of lemons, and he responded by mourning, fasting, and praying. So if life gives you lemons, go ahead and cry, but then try to make lemonade—see what God will do with your tears and prayers.
  2. What if at first you don’t succeed? This is where we find the nation of Israel: they had broken the Mosaic covenant (see v. 7), and Babylon had taken them off into exile. So Nehemiah prayed a specific prayer, looking up, in, and around.

First, he looked up. He remembered who God is and what He had done (see v. 5). God had kept His promises to Israel before, and He would keep them again.

Second, Nehemiah looked in (see vv. 6-9), saying, “I know why we’re in exile: we worshiped false idols. But if we turn around and repent, the blessings are ours once again.” When we get real and repent of the sins we’ve committed—sins that contribute to the decline of our nation, by the way—and say, “O God, we’ll return to You,” do you think revival could happen in our country once again? I believe it with all of my heart. But it starts by looking inward.

Finally, Nehemiah looked around (see v. 10). This was the hopeful part of his prayer: he realized he was part of a nation that could play a big role in God’s plan. Ladies, each one of us are bricks in the wall of God’s holy temple. We need to look around and find other women who are ready to lock shields with us and get their hands dirty in the Lord’s work.

  1. What if the shoe fits? Nehemiah ended his prayer by simply saying, “Let Your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man” (v. 11)—his boss, the heathen king of Persia. He resolved his “what if” pretty easily, didn’t he? What if God could use me in this situation? Well, I’ll just ask the king and find out.

So what about you? Are you content to be filled with the regrets, with “if only”s? Or are you ready to see God bring spectacular results by stepping out in a few “what if”s?

Hope

Hope Changes Everything

Do you need a little hope refresher today?

Hope is not wishing on a star: “Star light, star bright, the first star I see tonight….” Hope is not blowing out the candles on your birthday cake. Hope is not crossing your fingers before buying a lottery ticket.

Real, biblical hope is a strong, confident expectation for a future reward. And hope and faith are inextricably intertwined. As Hebrews 11:1 tells us, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” And Romans 8:24-25 says, “Hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.”

Did you know this is the kind of hope Nehemiah had? The Jewish people had been in Babylonian exile for seventy years, and one day Nehemiah said, “I want to go back to Jerusalem and help rebuild.” So he did—he left his job as cupbearer to the king and went to rebuild the walls of the city that had been decimated decades earlier by Nebuchadnezzar.

When he got there, the damage was worse than what he’d been told. There was so much ruin that an average guy might have thought rebuilding wasn’t such a good idea after all. But Nehemiah wasn’t your average Joe.

Do you know how long it took him and the people to build the walls? Fifty-two days. When you look at that in the light of history, it’s amazing.

That’s not to say he didn’t run into obstacles. Nehemiah faced setbacks, fought spiritual battles, and had to deal with Israel’s enemies and their threats. Yet he had a hope that anchored his soul (see Hebrews 6:19). He was like Tigger in Winnie the Pooh: he was bouncy, bouncy, bouncy. No obstacle in the way of a Tigger, right?

I don’t know what you’re facing in this season in your life, but I know God can take whatever it is and do something amazing. You know why? Because hope changes everything.

So I invite you to join me on this blog over the coming months as we take a fresh look at the life of Nehemiah, discovering not just how he was able to live so full of hope—but how you can, too.

Holy Moments

Seeing His Hand in Your Life

Do you long to have holy moments as much as I do? I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you’ve already experienced many such moments but simply failed to recognize them. Perhaps what you thought was a chance meeting, a timely phone call, a coincidence or luck was actually evidence of God’s providence-a holy moment.

Start looking for God’s hand at work in your life. Reflect on the five fingerprints found in Psalm 37:4-5, and you’ll become more keenly aware of holy moments when they do occur. Remember, delight in the Holy One; develop holy desires; dedicate your direction; depend wholly on Him; discover holy moments. As you do, your eyes will behold God moving mysteriously. He will intervene with holy moments tailor-made to suit you. And you’ll also realize that the Holy One is nearer to you than you imagined. He surrounds you with His presence. Paul reminds us, “He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:27-28).

The Lord longs for your companionship. Remember that holy moments are meant to draw you closer to the Holy One. They are God’s way of tapping you on the shoulder or whispering sweetly in your ear. Please don’t disregard His overtures of affection. Be sure that you acknowledge Him with praise, prayer and a passionate pursuit for deeper intimacy with Him.

My prayer is that you will be amazed to discover the deep impression that holy moments make in your life. May you be able to trace their origin from your yesterdays all the way forward to your tomorrows, where untold instances of God’s goodness and grace await.

Holy Moments, Inspire

What about Those Roadblocks?

 

To her friends, Debbie Lascelles was known as “the Texas cream puff.” She knew all the current makeup techniques, could style her hair into the perfect “Texas’do” and could paint her nails to match any outfit. But there were some things Debbie couldn’t do, like change a flat tire. She had adopted this philosophy of life: “Don’t learn to do something you don’t want to end up doing.” For instance, never ask your husband to teach you how to use the lawnmower unless someday you expect to be trimming the grass. I’ve been told that Debbie wouldn’t even screw a new license plate onto her car.  Instead, she asked an able-bodied maintenance man working on staff with her at the YWAM base in Tyler, Texas, to do the job for her.

She was at the top of her class when she graduated from nursing school and was voted the most likely to succeed. Everybody knew that Debbie was destined for a prosperous career and would probably marry a doctor. But God interrupted her plans by calling her to the mission field, despite her previous protests. At 35, she and three other like-minded Christians joined Voice of the Martyrs (VOM) on a missions trip to the Sudan. They were to bring much-needed supplies-clothes, medicine and books-to a remote village in the middle of the steamy jungle. The team was also asked to teach their native brothers how to win their enemies to Jesus.

It was a sweltering hot day as they loaded the supply truck, and the Texas cream puff felt like she was melting. She poured herself into the seat next to another missionary dripping with sweat and fastened her seatbelt for the bumpy ride ahead. They knew they must travel all day to make their destination before nightfall.

Halfway through the trip a tire blew, and their hearts deflated too. The only way to change the tire in that heavy-laden truck was to empty its contents. When the team finally overcame the obstacles of unloading the truck and changing the tire, too much time had been lost. They would never reach the village before dark. Disappointed, they decided to turn back.

Suddenly there was a rumbling out of the afternoon sky. Their escorts feared the worst, saying, “Those are enemy bombers! Everyone hit the dirt.” Debbie the debutante was now sweaty, dirty and scared. But to her amazement, the planes roared by without noticing the team or the truck. Like heat-seeking missiles, the bombers remained locked on their target-the very village where Debbie and her team had been headed. The time of detonation? Just before dark. A flat tire saved their lives.

Making the long, grueling trek, only to be disappointed when she could not reach her destination became a holy moment for Debbie. God had said no and placed His loving hand as a roadblock in her path.

Has God ever answered one of your prayers with a deafening no? Take time to reflect on the reasons why. Perhaps He was protecting you from a bad decision or attempting to lead you to greener pastures. If that’s the case, you’ve had a holy moment. Look for supernatural surprises in unexpected places-not only when God leads you through an open door, but also when He closes it.

Holy Moments, Inspire

Where Can I Trust Him More?

It’s easy to believe in providence when it’s working to our advantage. But if things get shaky, we mistakenly think God has fallen asleep at the wheel. Charles West said, “We turn to God when our foundations are shaking, only to learn that it is God who is shaking them.” Providence can be a double-edged sword. Remember Queen Esther? In order for Esther to be in, Queen Vashti  had to go out. In the moment, Gods providence can appear harmful, but it will become helpful after future realities come into view. God promises His children that all things will always turn out for the best in eternity. Paul said, “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God” (Rom. 8:28). Only time will tell the whole story of God’s providential care in your life and in the lives of others.

The life of Joseph perfectly illustrates this concept. When Joseph was betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery, it seemed that the hand of providence was against him. But slavery led Joseph to Egypt where he was made second in command to Pharaoh. Through Joseph’s interpretation of a prophetic dream and his wise counsel, Egypt was sustained through a terrible famine. Years after his brothers’ betrayal, Joseph told them, “You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive” (Gen. 50:20).

Perhaps, like Joseph, you’re experiencing a season of being misunderstood, falsely accused or imprisoned unjustly. Don’t give up! This situation is exactly where you can trust Him more. Allow God to work all things together for your good and His glory as you wait patiently for His deliverance. A bad thing can become a good thing if it leads you to something better! When you’re in a situation that you don’t quite understand, ask yourself, In what area is my trust challenged?

Holy Moments, Inspire

Tomorrow’s Too Late

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have you ever heard of Dr. Helen Roseveare, the famous British missionary doctor to the Belgian Congo (now Democratic Republic of Congo)? Her life’s motto was, “If Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him.” As a single woman, she served for 20 years overseas while enduring incredible hardship. At one point she was taken captive by rebel soldiers. During the five months of her captivity, she was brutally beaten and raped. But Helen knew that her relationship with God had not been damaged. In fact, God redeemed those horrible events by asking her a counselor to female missionaries who have been abused. Now in her 80s, Dr Roseveare continues to serve the Lord. She travels tirelessly as an internationally acclaimed spokeswoman for Christian missions, mobilizing people by showing them that God uses imperfect people with real struggles to be his ambassadors to the world.

She tells about a holy moment that displayed God’s incredible hand of providence in the lives of some young orphans. One evening, she attended a young mother giving birth to a premature baby girl. Despite Dr. Roseveare’s best efforts, the mother died, leaving the tiny infant and a crying two-year-old daughter. Dr Roseveare knew that without an incubator or electricity, it would be difficult to keep the baby alive because of the cold, drafty nights. She asked a native assistant to fetch the hot water bottle to keep the infant warm. However, they discovered that the hot water bottle had burst. Dr Roseveare instructed the nurse to hold the child as close to an open fire as safety would allow to help the child survive the cold night.

The following day, Helen gathered the other orphans for prayer time. She told them about the newly born baby, the two-year-old orphan and the broken hot water bottle. Ruth, a precocious 10-year-old, prayed. “Please God, send us a hot water bottle. Tomorrow will be too late, God, because the baby will be dead by then, so please send it this afternoon.” The staff was shocked by the prayer’s boldness. Yet Ruth continued, “While you’re at it, would you please send a doll for the little girl, so that she knows that you really love her?”

Helen said she knew in theory that God was capable of doing anything-the Bible said so. But she had her doubts. Besides, she hadn’t received any parcels from England for nearly four years. Also, who back home would think that they needed a hot water bottle in tropical Africa?

Later in the afternoon, while making her rounds, Dr Roseveare heard a car drive down the dirt road. When she returned to her apartment, she was astounded to discover a large parcel on the veranda. As tears welled in her eyes, she called the orphans so that they could open the box together. In addition to clothes, bandages and snacks, a new rubber hot water bottle was in the box! Ruth, who was stirring in the first row, shouted, “If God sent the hot water bottle, he must have sent the doll too!” Then she dug to the bottom of the parcel and pulled out a beautiful little doll. She insisted that they take the doll to the little two-year-old girl so that she would know that Jesus loves her.

The parcel had been on the way for five months sent by a women’s Bible study group. One inspired women had been so obedient to God that she even sent a hot water bottle to the equator. And one of the ladies had given a doll, 5 months before a 10-year-old African girl would pray, “We need it this afternoon, God.” The words Jesus said are true: “Your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him” (Matt. 6:8). God saw what was needed before the prayer was uttered. Through His divine providence, He was able to arrange the details of the past to benefit a situation that would take place in the future. His fingerprints were all over that parcel!

Holy Moments

Moved by the Hand of God

Image result for sandia mountains

Sacrifice and surrender are just as the Methodists of Swan Quarter, North Carolina, did in the fall of 1876. They had decided to build a new church for the glory of God on a highland spot right in the center of town. After selecting this perfect location, the congregation was distraught when the land’s owner, Sam Sadler, refused to sell them his property.  They raised more money and offered Sadler a higher price. But hard-hearted Sam would not make the deal. Undaunted, the citizens built the new church on a low-lying piece of property out on Oyster Creek Road toward the edge of town. On September 16, 1876, they cheerfully dedicated to the Lord their small white-framed building sitting on brick pilings.

Weather historian Merlin S. Berry shares what happened next.

That same day a major hurricane was churning past Cuba on its way toward the Carolina coast. As the hurricane spun across the state, winds drove high waters across Pamlico Sound and piled them on the shores of Hyde County. Three days later, much of Swan Quarter was flooded with five feet of water. Homes and businesses were deluged and wrecked and the town’s fishing fleet was severely damaged.

Despite the devastation all around them, the residents of Swan quarter were awed by an act of divine providence; the powerful hurricane had hoisted the small church, intact, right off its foundations; it then gently floated on a direct route to the exact piece of property on which the congregants had originally intended to erect their building.  Everyone was in awe of God’s intervention. Sadler was so overcome that he later signed a deed donating his land to the Methodist church today. Today, a sign stands in front of the Providence Church, reminding visitors that this was the church “Moved by the Hand of God.”

By now, you may be wondering, How do I know where the hand of God is leading me? It has been suggested that you can compare discovering God’s will with a sea captain’s docking procedure.

A certain harbor in Italy can be reached only by sailing up a narrow channel between dangerous rocks and shoals. Over the years, many ships have been wrecked, and navigation is hazardous. To guide the ships safely into port, three lights have been mounted on three huge poles in the harbor. When the three lights are perfectly lined up and seen as one, the ship can safely proceed up the narrow channel. If the pilot sees two or three lights he knows he’s off course and in danger.

God has also provided three beacons to guide us. The same rules of navigation apply-the three lights must be lined up before it is safe for us to proceed. The three harbor lights of guidance are (1) the Word of God (objective standard), (2) the Holy Spirit (subjective witness) and (3) circumstances (divine providence). Together they assure us that the directions we’ve received are from God and will lead us safely along His way.

God still leads us and devises incredible outcomes from ordinary beginnings. What seems uneventful to us today may be the preparation for something colossal. That’s the way it happened for me one pristine fall afternoon in Albuquerque, New Mexico.