Where Does True Strength Come From?

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And it came about in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, that wine was before him, and I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. So the king said to me, “Why is your face sad though you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of heart.” Then I was very much afraid. I said to the king, “Let the king live forever. Why should my face not be sad when the city, the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies desolate and its gates have been consumed by fire?” Then the king said to me, “What would you request?” So I prayed to the God of heaven. (Nehemiah 2:1-4, NASB)

This short section is quickly becoming one of my favorite parts in the Bible, because it is probably my greatest weaknesses.  For many years I operated under the lie that I needed to be strong, or at the very least, appear strong.  It was not until the Lord opened my eyes, through a few humbling experiences, to the fact that in my weakness, He is strong (2 Cor 12:10).  This is when I found a lot of freedom in my faith and journey. When we come to this place and submit to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, a burden is lifted and freedom is realized. My weakness…forcing things to happen, taking control and forcing the outcome to be what I think it should be.  This is something of which Nehemiah did the exact opposite.  He prayed, fasted, and trusted the Lord to take action in His timing.

From chapter 1, when Nehemiah wept over the wall not being rebuilt to chapter 2, about 4 months took place.  Nehemiah had been fasting and praying for God’s direction during that 4-month span.  At this point, Nehemiah is before the king serving him his wine, when he makes the statement, “Now I had not been sad in his presence.” This is important, because it was dictated that no one would show sadness in front of the king, under penalty of death.  I believe it set up Nehemiah (and us) to experience a miracle of God. I believe the Lord quickened a pagan king (divine intervention) to see Nehemiah’s heart and understand that Nehemiah was sad. The king said, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of the heart.”

Let me sum up what occurred here.  Nehemiah was broken for his people.  He fasted and prayed, seeking God for wisdom but never taking things into his own hands.  He was a trusted and high employee of the king, having an audience with him every day, but never asking him for help.  The burden for his people wore heavy on him, yet he knew that he could NEVER show sadness in front of the king, so he put on his best face.  And then one day, God intervened and quickened the king to the knowledge that Nehemiah was carrying a burden, of which the king had the resources to address that very burden.  Nehemiah was patient.  He was persistent in his prayers and fasting.  And God honored His faithful servant by providing.

Lastly, after the king recognized Nehemiah’s sadness, what was the first thing Nehemiah did? In front of the king he “prayed to the God of heaven.” This is equally amazing to me, because what would my response be if the king asked me what it is I wanted?  Most likely I would list everything I thought I needed to accomplish the desire on my heart.  Not Nehemiah.  He was so aware of his need of God that he stopped and asked his Heavenly Father for guidance.  It is obvious from the generosity of the king in the next few verses that God was in this situation, and I cannot help but believe, much of it was due to Nehemiah’s humble heart of a servant.  I have said this many times, but we look at Nehemiah as this great leader, but the leadership qualities we admire are simply a byproduct of a man fully submitted to God. Nehemiah’s strength came from his ability to submit to God’s plan.

So my challenge to you…

  • What areas of your life do you need to fully submit to God?
  • Where is pride preventing you from understanding that in your weakness, He is strong?
  • How can you remember to put prayer first, prior to taking action in your life? (This doesn’t mean we stay stagnant and take no action, it means we seek God first.)
  • What areas of your life have you forced the outcome with mediocre results?
  • How can you discipline yourself to simply wait upon the Lord?

Recognizing our weaknesses is one of the most difficult things to do, especially in the United States, where the culture is one of independence.  We were not designed to be independent, we were designed to function as a body, some being the arms, some the legs, but God always being the head.  There is freedom, there is community, and there is true success when we realize this life was not meant to be journeyed alone.

Much love and many blessings to you!

Scott

 

 

 

Fasting For Breakthrough

Presence

Todays post is written by my friend and pastor, Matt Wagner.  I met Matt in 2001, while Danielle and I lived in Bartow, Florida. Matt is an amazing leader who is driven to make disciples who make disciples.  He has church planting flowing through his veins, successfully planting six churches to date, with another 999,994 on his heart.

Exodus 33:15

Over the years I have not blogged much but have found myself standing at the window peaking in, desiring to experience the power and transformation that comes from a consistent and steady diet of articulating thought.  So, here goes!

As many of you know, we as a church recently started a 21 day fast.  What is interesting is that I have done fasts for many years now.  I have fasted for a few days and I have fasted for 21 days.  I have fasted and fallen off the wagon and I have fasted for some breakthrough only to find that my discipline ended up being nothing more than a glorified diet.

You see, historically speaking, when I have fasted in the past my goal has been for the hand of God to be extended in some area of my life, but not necessarily Him.  I have wanted the impact of God but not necessarily the presence of God.  I have wanted the faithfulness of God, the dream of God, the power of God, the influence of God, but not necessarily His presence.

This is a new-found revelation for me, for if you would have asked me in years past if I desired the presence of the Lord I would have said, “Of course I do.”  It was just that my prayers to God communicated something different.

In Exodus 33, we find a young man by the name of Moses sitting on Mt. Sinai with the Lord.  And it is here that we read Moses had an intimate relationship with God.  As a matter of fact, the Bible makes it clear that Moses was a friend of God.  He experienced God in a personal way.  It was that personal understanding of God that allowed Moses to remain humble and aware of the presence of the Lord.

In this passage, God tells Moses that He is going to keep His promise to the nation of Israel, and He will continue to watch after them, but He himself would not go with them due to them constantly violating His standards.  It is here that Moses makes a powerful declaration, “If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here.  For how then will it be known that Your people and I have found grace in Your sight.” (Ex. 33:15, NKJV)

As I read those words, my heart was cut because suddenly I realized that I wanted the impact of God in my life, but did not necessarily want Him.  I guess I would say I could not honestly answer whether or not I would have said the same thing Moses did.  I probably would have said, “Lord, we are going to miss you.  Thank you for blessing us.  We will come visit often.”  You see, I wanted the promised land, without the promise keeper.  Here is the problem with that…if you ever want to forfeit your impact, then short change your intimacy with God.

This fasting season, I encourage you not to focus so much on the breakthrough but rather focus on His Presence.

Remembering God’s Promises

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When I heard this, I sat down and wept. In fact, for days I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven. Then I said,

“O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant of unfailing love with those who love him and obey his commands, listen to my prayer! Look down and see me praying night and day for your people Israel. I confess that we have sinned against you. Yes, even my own family and I have sinned! We have sinned terribly by not obeying the commands, decrees, and regulations that you gave us through your servant Moses.

“Please remember what you told your servant Moses: ‘If you are unfaithful to me, I will scatter you among the nations. But if you return to me and obey my commands and live by them, then even if you are exiled to the ends of the earth, I will bring you back to the place I have chosen for my name to be honored.’

“The people you rescued by your great power and strong hand are your servants. O Lord, please hear my prayer! Listen to the prayers of those of us who delight in honoring you. Please grant me success today by making the king favorable to me. Put it into his heart to be kind to me.”

In those days I was the king’s cup-bearer. (Nehemiah 1:4-11, NLT)

Nehemiah was a younger man who was employed by King Artaxerxes of Persia.  Based on what we knew about Nehemiah, he was well trained in God’s Law; this comes out clearly in his amazing prayers throughout the book of Nehemiah.  Nehemiah had just received news the wall of Jerusalem was not rebuilt yet, leaving the city and God’s temple exposed to people with bad intentions.  His response to this news…he wept, mourned for his people, fasted, and prayed.  He prayed and he took action, both in his prayers and in his physical form…he went to work.  Yes, prayer involves work!

There are some important components to Nehemiah’s prayer:  he praised God; there was thanksgiving; he repented not only for himself, but for his people; he presented specific requests to God; and he displayed commitment to God by reminding God of His Word.  A couple of the characteristics in Nehemiah’s prayers have grabbed hold of my heart and has caused a significant work in me:  repentance and commitment.  It is my hope that God will speak to your heart and some of these characteristics will become part of your being, part of the thread God uses to weave you into His child, made in His image.

First, for most of us a primary portion of our prayers is repentance.  The closer in relationship I get to my Father, the more I find myself in a state of repentance.  You cannot get closer to the Father, without an increase of awareness of your own brokenness.  Personal repentance is both freeing and allows God to show mercy and bring healing.  Nehemiah takes repentance far beyond personal repentance…he accepts the sin of his people and repents on their behalf (Jesus did this in a very final way, John 3:16-17).  Nehemiah, broken on their behalf and saddened by the fact that God’s city is left exposed to the corruption of the world, repents for his entire people prior to repenting of his own sin. He confesses “we have sinned”, then follows up with “Yes, even my own family and I have sinned.”  Nehemiah took on the sin of all his people. He hurt for them, he was broken for them, he was pleading with the God of heaven to forgive his people…God’s people.

So, the question becomes how often do we have a conversation with somebody about how wicked this world is?  Can you believe what Harvey Weinstein did?  Did you read the president’s tweet?  I cannot believe what Planned Parenthood does.  We need to boycott company “A”.  The list goes on. Nehemiah did not do that, he simply fell on his face in front of a holy God and cried out in repentance for his people.  What would this world look like if every follower of Jesus fell on their face in repentance of our people…His people?  What would it look like if instead of gossiping, we simply prayed with one voice for those people or that organization.  I have a personal responsibility, we have a personal responsibility to lead through prayer and repentance, just as Nehemiah did.  And, if we do, I promise you God will honor His people, just as he did for Nehemiah.

Secondly, Nehemiah always gave God the glory for what he accomplished, but many times Nehemiah would remind God of His word, His promises.  Nehemiah stated, “remember what you told your servant Moses…”  Do you think God really needs a reminder about what He said or has accomplished in the past?  Of course not, but this displays Nehemiah’s commitment to God’s word and His deeds throughout time.  Nehemiah’s prayer was a proclamation to God about His goodness to His people, especially when they were repentant and following His laws. (As a side note, His laws had a significant purpose.  Not to regulate and rule over the people, but to provide the people with safety, security, and joy). You will see throughout Nehemiah’s prayers, he reminds God of His Word, and what he himself has done for the Lord.

How often do you remind God of His word in your prayers?  How often do you remind God of the things you have accomplished for him?  God has challenged me in this area lately; to know His Word well enough to speak it in my conversation with Him and also, to not be afraid to remind God of the sacrifices I have made for Him even though my sacrifice is imperfect.  These things are never done in an attitude of pride or an attempt to manipulate, but simply in a humble conversation with our Father.  Furthermore, when I speak these things out loud, they are a reminder to my flesh of what God has accomplished in me and through me, with the goal of aligning myself with His will.  We are created to accomplish His good works (Eph 2:10), and if you are like me, you need a reminder often.  Reminding God of His Word displays commitment to His truth and further cements those very truths in your own mind.

Over the next few days, pray God’s Word as the Holy Spirit guides you, remind Him of His goodness, His mercy, His patience, and ask Him to forgive His people.  Our world is simply a result of people walking away from God’s goodness.  We are disillusioned to believe God’s goodness is oppressive, when the reality is our own sin is oppressive. God’s goodness, His forgiveness, brings freedom!  Let’s pray for freedom in our cities, our state, our country, and our world.  And, just as Nehemiah did, pray and take action where the Lord leads you.

Blessings in the New Year!

Scott