Little did I know this was just the beginning of unexpected challenges. My son wasn’t drinking enough milk, and was having trouble reaching his birth weight.
Every morning I would wake up thinking about my goal of going home. Every day the doctor would check in, and my hopes would be let down.
We experienced roadblock, after roadblock, after roadblock. Why, oh why, couldn’t things just go as planned?
Life is full of detours and roadblocks. I’m sure you’ve experienced similar frustrations at some point in your journey. When I read Ezra’s story, I think this is probably how the Israelites felt while they were working on rebuilding the temple.
In the first chapter of Ezra, God moved the heart of King Cyrus to allow the Israelites to return to their city and begin rebuilding the temple. It was not only a good plan, it was God’s plan. However, they had barely laid the foundation and rebuilt the altar when they began experiencing roadblocks.
The pagans harassed them.
King Antaxerxes ordered them to stop.
The builders became discouraged.
They had hit a complete standstill.
When God saw that his plan had come to a standstill, he sent Haggai and Zachariah to prophesy to them “in the name of the God of Israel who was over them.” The prophets pitched in, helping and supporting them.
This time, nothing was able to stop them. Not even pagan bullies. They finished the building of the temple by keeping their eyes focused on God, not the challenges they encountered along the way.
As obscure as this story may seem from a quick look, I think we all can learn a lesson from this valuable book. No matter what plans we make, or whether our work is good work, or even God work, we will all face setbacks along the way. Jesus said, in John 16:33, that as long as we’re on this side of heaven, we will have trouble in this world. However, he paired it with this promise: “ take heart, because I have overcome the world.”
Jesus doesn’t promise a life of rainbows and sunshine, but we overcome our troubles by keeping our eyes fixed on Him.
Friend, what roadblock is frustrating you today? What has discouraged you to the point of quitting? Let us not become discouraged by the things that come against us. Instead, let’s glorify God by persevering.
This faith-testing season of hardship felt like an inescapable fire. It reminds me of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s much more literal scenario.
In Daniel 3, King Nebuchadnezzar decreed for all under his command to kneel and worship the false god he had created. Any who refused would suffer death by the fiery furnace. Now, there were three Jews - Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego - who refused to bow down to the false god because of their faith. Despite his admiration for the three servants, the King wasted no time demanding they be bound and thrown in. The fire was so hot that it killed the guards who threw them in.
However, the King had to check his eyes when he saw them unbound and walking freely within the fire. Not only that, but there was clearly another man in the fire with them, who resembled the Son of God. King Nebuchadnezzar called them out of the furnace, and they stood before him unscathed. They didn’t smell of smoke, and not even a single hair on their heads was frayed.
Though they walked through this fire, that had been set to burn seven times hotter than usual, they came out untouched by the flames. There, in the fire, they had experienced what few others had before— the physical presence of the Lord.
As Christ-followers, when we’re faced with our own fiery furnaces, we can be reminded that we are never alone. There is always Another in the fire with us, guiding us, hearing us, and protecting us. When we find ourselves toe-to-toe with the challenges of life, there stands a holy comfort in knowing that we can hold unswervingly to the hand of Jesus.
Friend, does life lately feel like a furnace? Rest in the comfort of knowing there is no fire that can stop the very presence of Jesus. He is with you, whether you see it right now or not. He is working on your behalf, and you will come out the other side not even smelling of smoke.
We can know, standing in unshakeable faith, that the fires of this life are, undoubtedly, no match for the God we serve.
In Matthew Henry’s Commentary on Jeremiah 29, he explains, “Promises are given, not to supersede, but to quicken and encourage prayer: and when deliverance is coming we must by prayer go forth to meet it.” The promise for a hope and a future shouldn’t make us content, it should quicken us to seek God. The promise of Jeremiah 29:11 is a call to action rather than just a sentimental verse about our bright future. When we read beyond Jeremiah 29:11, we see another promise in verses twelve and thirteen: When we pray, He listens. When we look for Him wholeheartedly, we will find Him.
Here’s a prayer I’ve been praying in the troublesome days of our world. “Stir up my faith, God.”
We know the ultimate promise of God as believers is salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord. The Bible says “all creation is groaning,” as we patiently await the second coming of our King. In our quest to follow God and know Him on a deeper level, it behooves us to read beyond the more familiar verses that have always brought us comfort and hope. Cling to the hope we find in Christ, but let that great hope also stir up our faith and prompt us to pray.
Recently I hung up that very same cross in my 4-year-old daughter’s room. When I hammered the nail to display the colorful keepsake, I couldn’t help but feel sentimental. The promise that gave me hope is now a display of hope for the next generation. When I read the passage that brought me hope for the future, now it beckons me to pray...
Stir up our faith, oh God! May your promises prompt us to seek your face.
Here the blacksmith painstakingly uses his God-given abilities and resources to construct a godless image and then bows down to it in utter blindness. The people worshipped figures of fake gods, then in chapter 52 would reject and disfigure the Real One.
It’s easy to look down on Israel’s clinging to little statues until I realize how tight my own grip is on that relationship I formed, or the reputation I so painstakingly built. We create and worship our appearance, jobs, bank accounts, reputations, bodies, relationships, status, and possessions, calling it “The American Dream” instead of the idolatry that it is. Idols are rarely as obvious as a household shrine or statue. In fact, the most dangerous ones are subtle and virtually undetectable. Like the blacksmith, we’re blind to the fact that we’ve become slaves to the things we created, serving them rather than using them to serve the true God.
Isaiah 44:20 says the idolater feeds on ashes, misled by his deluded heart. He can’t save himself or even tell that what he is worshipping is counterfeit. But this chapter is tucked between others describing the coming One who would free us from the bondage of clinging to fake gods. He alone is able to search our hearts when we’re too blind to search them ourselves and can reveal where we’ve exchanged His truth for lies. He’s the God who answers by fire, consuming the idols that stand between us and Him if only we call out and invite Him.
God has created us with the capacity to serve only one master, and the freedom to choose who that master will be. One of the best ways to distinguish an instrument from an idol is to assess our reaction upon its removal. When an instrumentis taken away I can still sing an acapella song of praise. When an idolis removed, it causes distress because my made-to-worship heart is lost without its object of adoration.
Jesus wants to set you free today from anything holding you in bondage. Allow Him to show you any created things in your life that have become idols.
If the throne of our hearts is not intentionally and daily reserved for Jesus alone, we will allow the things we’ve built with our own hands to sneak in, absorbing all of our misplaced worship. But if we use this sacred ability to create for its intended purpose of glorifying God, we will hold in our hands instruments of praise. Works that give melody to our song of faith and intensify lives of praise and worship of the One True God.
Have you ever wanted to run from what God was clearly asking you to do?
That’s where we find Jonah in this week’s reading— running in disobedience.
Every time I read the story of Jonah, I am reminded of myself. I can look back to several times when I did not want to be obedient to the Lord. Sometimes what He was asking me to do was outside of my comfort zone. Other times, like Jonah, I simply didn’t agree with what he was asking me to do.
Jonah loved God and was told to deliver a hard message to Nineveh: repent from their evil ways or God would destroy everything. Jonah tried to flee so he would not have to go because he not-so-secretly hated the Ninevites. However, God sent a great fish to swallow him whole.
Yes, God has His ways of getting our attention. While he was in the belly of this fish, Jonah prayed. God commanded the fish to release Jonah, and spit him onto the shore. Then, again, He commanded Jonah to go to Nineveh.
After delivering God’s “turn and repent or be destroyed” message to the people of the great city, the people believed. The King declared a fast, and God had compassion on the whole city. You would think Jonah would be happy that they listened, after all he had been through. However, he was not happy because he did not agree with God’s compassion on them.
Like Jonah, obedience is the hardest for me when forgiveness is required. Unlike our fickle feelings, God’s love and compassion never fails. God never gave up on Nineveh, but He also never gave up on Jonah. He didn’t give up on my family member, or on me, and, friend, He won’t give up on you either.
Thankfully, God is forgiving and extends grace that is sufficient for each of us. If we stop and listen, He will point us in the right direction. When we realize His great compassion toward us, we are able to extend it to others. Return to walking in obedience, and open your heart to receive His compassionate love today and every day.