You’ve heard of the Greatest Generation. They were those who grew up in the Great Depression and for the sake of freedom went to fight in World War Two. It’s just possible, the true Greatest Generation is the generation who raised those children during the Depression. When you read about the way people pitched in for the cause during both World Wars, it is a powerful testimony of patriotism. People went without a lot during those years in order to have metal for bullets and rubber for vehicles and food for their soldiers.
“Keep the Home Fires Burning” was a phrase which caught on during the first World War and was put to song in England. The sons and husbands valiantly went to war and it was up to the women and children to keep the fires burning at home. They had sacrifices to make, but they wanted their boys to have a home to come back to.
Nehemiah 10:34 mentions something that you don’t see anywhere else outside of this book.
“And we cast the lots among the priests, the Levites, and the people, for the wood offering, to bring it into the house of our God, after the houses of our fathers, at times appointed year by year, to burn upon the altar of the Lord our God, as it is written in the law:”
There really is not any instruction regarding the wood offering in the law, but what the law did prescribe was to keep the altar fires burning. Since Jerusalem and the surrounding area had been ransacked by the Babylonians and for the next few centuries it would continue to face much deprivation, historians claim harvesting firewood took a hit. In order to have enough fuel to keep the altar fires burning everyone had to contribute during their appointed time.
Isn’t this a wonderful picture of what keeps the work of God going? One person cannot do everything and everyone cannot be all things. However, everyone can do their part and when everyone does their part, the fires keep burning. Paul pictured the church family as a body. When everyone does their part the body is healthy and full of life. Those days you do not feel 100% because something in you is not working right, is the same feeling your church family feels when you are missing in action. Don’t worry about doing your part only when someone else will do theirs. Step up and contribute. When you do, you will keep the church fires burning.
This was my moniker in high school choir. Every year at summer camp, our teen choir would compete and of course, we were expected to smile while we sang praises to God. My “smiler” was broken. Truthfully, it was not cool to smile in the choir. When we were having fun, we could smile, laugh, and carry-on throughout the day, but when it came to the choir, the smiles shut down. My youth pastor called me “Coffin Boy” in order to force a smile. This disease followed me through high school into college. As a singer in college, I still struggled with smiling.
Something changed after college in the first few years of ministry. I can’t tell you when exactly, but, after a while, the smile became more natural. Although I can’t claim a certain point in time, I can tell you it was a mixture of two things: God’s Word and God’s work. Nehemiah knew about this 2,500 years ago when he challenged the people, “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). The people had been busy doing God’s work and they were hearing God’s Word. How do those two things bring joy?
God’s Word transforms our perception. “Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). Jeremiah gave a personal testimony when he said, “Thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by thy name, O Lord God of hosts” (Jeremiah 15:16). In the popular description of the Word of God in Psalm 19, you will read, “The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart” (Psalm 19:8). If you are not possessed with an infectious joy, then check your connection to God’s Word. “Rejoice, because your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).
God’s work transforms our purpose. While others in the world chase after earthly gains, the ones who choose to do God’s work saturate their soul with joy. This is not a perk only available to full-time, vocational ministry. Wherever you are and whatever your occupation may be, when you see your purpose on earth as serving your Lord and bringing honor to His name, you will find joy in what you do. Your skills are being used to bring you closer to the lost. Your experience is awarding you the opportunity to mentor and train others. Your service enables you to resemble the Perfect Servant who “came not to be ministered unto, but to minister” (Mark 10:45). When you are doing God’s work you are aligning your purpose for life with God’s plan and the harmony brings a sweetness of joy.
Happiness is a roller coaster of ups and downs. Joy is a steady, stable energy not derived from circumstances but from connection with God. If it can revive Coffin Boy, then surely joy can transform anyone.
It’s a gift.
I know I shouldn’t brag, but when it comes to packing the car for a trip or the moving truck for a move, I have enough spatial intelligence to fit the most stuff in the least space. This gift is constantly sharpened by my lovely wife who needs to take one more essential with us, but fitting the most stuff in the least space is an entertaining challenge.
Little spaces are trending. People who claim to be minimalists strip all the accessories of their life away until they are left with only the essentials. Some minimalists are extreme and have even limited their living space to a couple hundred square feet! It is fascinating to explore their little spaces. With all the secret compartments and fold down or pop up elements, they can pack a lot in a small area.
Ezra mentions a little space but he is not downsizing to a studio apartment. He marvels at the little space of grace God has given His people. This little space of grace is not limited. It is extraordinary. God’s grace is more than sufficient, but it is not sloppy. In this little space of grace, you will find a black hole of supply. Paul speaks of God’s grace as “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Romans 5:20). God far exceeds my packing skills when it comes to packing His grace into a little space and making it available to you and to me.
The problem is we tend to live expansively. If you have two months for a project, it will probably take you two months. However, if you were only given ten days, you’d be surprised how you could meet that deadline! If you have two thousand square feet of living space, then you will accumulate stuff to fill the space. When we sin expansively we treat God’s grace contemptuously. As Ezra began teaching the Jews the words from God, they were convicted. The book of Ezra ends oddly with this issue of putting away or divorcing wives. You would need to read much of Israel’s history to understand the dangerous presumption of God’s grace in Ezra 9-10. Read Numbers 25 and you will see what happened when the pagans enticed the Israelites to reject the true God and worship false gods. In fact, their unfaithfulness to God necessitated the Babylonian captivity! Their expansive living—their licentious, grace-gorging style of living—risked the chastening of God, again.
Paul asks, “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound” (Romans 6:1)? God forbid! We should not live expansively in sin at the expense of God’s meritorious grace. Believer, you know the price of grace. It cost Jesus humiliation and suffering. “For if we sin wilfully” we have “trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood…an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace” (Hebrews 10:26, 29). If you have been living expansively, then read Ezra’s plea for forgiveness and make it your own. Christian, marvel at the little space of grace.
Whether you are digging a trench, felling a tree, cleaning the windows, or pulling the weeds, the saying is very true: “Many hands make light work!” It is much simpler and sometimes more enjoyable when many contribute their efforts for a task.
In our lives, we can experience the many hands of God’s work. Before their captivity in Babylon, Israel had heard the prophets preach for years God’s hand was against them. “His power and his wrath is against all them that forsake him” (Ezra 8:22). Isaiah told the people, “I will turn my hand upon thee, And purely purge away thy dross” (Isaiah 1:25). Such a process would certainly purify God’s people, but there would be the pain of chastening.
As Ezra leads some of the captives out of Babylon, he is very aware of the other hands of God. Six times in chapters seven and eight, Ezra mentions the hand of God aiding them in their mission. The hand of provision (7:6, 9) turned Artexerxes into a philanthropist. He gave generously silver, wheat, wine, oil, and “salt without prescribing how much” (7:22). The hand of provision released the captives with extraordinary treasure. God’s work would not lack God’s supply.
The hand of partnership (7:22; 8:18) provided Ezra with the people he needed to do God’s work. It was by God’s mercy, Ezra realizes, he was blessed to be commissioned to such a purpose. Chief men and men of understanding were co-laborers due to the hand of partnership. God’s work would not lack God’s servants.
The hand of protection (8:22, 31) secured their vulnerable entourage. This caravan of “holy men” and their families, loaded with treasures of Babylon, would have been a prime target for the enemy. Ezra knew God would protect them and exercised his faith in God’s hand of protection. He would safely guide them to Jerusalem. God’s work would not lack God’s security.
Maybe you are faithfully serving the Lord, but it seems you are stuck in the “have-nots” instead of the “haves.” Remember, the Lord’s Prayer which tells us to pray for our daily needs. We do not pray for excess, but Jesus instructed us to pray for the daily provision necessary to do the work God has for us today. Maybe you are faithfully serving the Lord, but it seems you are “going it alone.” Remember, the Lord’s Presence, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). You are never alone, even when it seems no one stands with you but “all forsook” you (2 Timothy 4:16). When God is with you, you have a majority. Maybe you are faithfully serving the Lord, but it seems the Enemy “has your number.” Remember, the Lord’s Promise, “And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:28). The fear of man is a snare. Rest in God’s hand.
When we are devoted to God’s work, He will lend a hand. With His many hands, His “yoke is easy” and His “burden is light” (Matthew 11:30).
Some time ago, The Times posted the following inquiry: “What’s wrong with the world?” A prominent author, G. K. Chesterton, responded to the question with two short words.
Yours, G.K. Chesterton.
After reading the story of Esther, you could reduce it to a simple “moral of the story.” Without trivializing the biblical record, how would you summarize the story? What if the story summarized itself. “Seeking the wealth of his people” (Esther 10:3). Ponder this for a moment. Mordecai was promoted and well-favored because he was “seeking the wealth of his people.” The adversary, Haman, sought personal promotion. He would go home and brag about “A Day in the Life of Haman” to his wife and friends. Before he realized the king wished to honor Mordecai, Haman blindly imagined himself astride the king’s horse parading through the street.
Be careful of what you seek. Paul tells us to seek “every man another’s wealth” (1 Corinthians 10:24). Do you seek opportunities to enrich the lives of others? Is your focus, today, on making someone’s day? The motive for seeking to enrich others is primarily salvation or fellowship. Paul explains, “Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved” (1 Corinthians 10:33). Once we remember this world will pass away and there is a place in heaven reserved for those who have received Christ as their Savior, we will find it easier to seek another’s profit.
What you seek boils down to what you love. In the great “Love Chapter,” love is described as that which “seeketh not her own” (1 Corinthians 13:5). The world is full of “Hamans” who “mind earthly things” and “seek their own” (Philippians 3:19; 2:21). What is wrong with the world? Humbly admit, “I am.” The world could use another Mordecai who seeks “the things which are Jesus Christ’s” (Philippians 2:21).
For what do you seek?