Build God’s Kingdom


It is important to keep building God’s Kingdom in the face of heckling, being ridiculed or looked down upon. If the King “is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)

Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision.” And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work. But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they jeered at us and despised us and said, “What is this thing that you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?” Then I replied to them, “The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build, but you have no portion or right or claim in Jerusalem.” — Nehemiah 2:17-20

According to Jesus, only those who keep their eyes fixed on the job at hand will feel at home in God’s Kingdom.

Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” — Luke 9:62 ESV

Father and King, strengthen our hands so we can persevere in good work of building Your Kingdom, whatever difficulties we might face. Thanks for Jesus, in Whom we gain a share in Your Kingdom, the New Jerusalem. May You delight to see us prosper.

Be Ashamed

After punishment at the hands of foreigners, God has repatriated the Jews of the Southern Kingdom (Judah) and they are floored as they rediscover God’s Word, realising they come up short.

Then all who trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the faithlessness of the returned exiles, gathered around me while I sat appalled until the evening sacrifice. And at the evening sacrifice I rose from my fasting, with my garment and my cloak torn, and fell upon my knees and spread out my hands to the LORD my God, saying: “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens. From the days of our fathers to this day we have been in great guilt. And for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been given into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plundering, and to utter shame, as it is today. But now for a brief moment favor has been shown by the LORD our God, to leave us a remnant and to give us a secure hold within his holy place, that our God may brighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our slavery. For we are slaves. Yet our God has not forsaken us in our slavery, but has extended to us his steadfast love before the kings of Persia, to grant us some reviving to set up the house of our God, to repair its ruins, and to give us protection in Judea and Jerusalem. — Ezra 9:4-9 ESV

We gain nothing but shame and death when we fall short of God’s expectations:

For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. — Romans 6:20-23 ESV

Father, teach us to tremble at Your Word. We gather together as those who recognise that we have acted faithlessly and are ashamed at having missed the mark. Thanks for Jesus, who has set us free from our slavery to sin. Help us, by Your Spirit, to live as Your slaves and so reap life eternal in the Christ.

Get Rid of Distractions

A variety of things can detract from purity of worship, holding us back from seeking Yahweh alone and so experiencing His peace.

And Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the LORD his God. He took away the foreign altars and the high places and broke down the pillars and cut down the Asherim and commanded Judah to seek the LORD, the God of their fathers, and to keep the law and the commandment. He also took out of all the cities of Judah the high places and the incense altars. And the kingdom had rest under him. — 2 Chronicles 14:2-5 (ESV)

Asa was, rightfully, ruthless in rooting out idols and purging them from the consciousness of Judah. Foreign religions had exerted their influence on the kingdom which retained God’s temple. Asa sought to put things back on track. I am sorry to say that many Christians these days dabble in the occult, consulting with clairvoyants or star signs and the like. Others give priority to God’s good gifts, elevating them above Christ. Even family, which is now so highly prized, must not complete with Christ for our affections. Jesus said:

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. — Matthew 10:37 ESV

Father, please help us put away all the distractions that prevent us from seeking You wholeheartedly and loving Christ, our Saviour and Lord, more than all else. May we know your rest.

Be Open to Correction

Correction from the Lord can be unpalatable.

At that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah and said to him, “Because you relied on the king of Syria, and did not rely on the LORD your God, the army of the king of Syria has escaped you. Were not the Ethiopians and the Libyans a huge army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on the LORD, he gave them into your hand. For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him. You have done foolishly in this, for from now on you will have wars.” Then Asa was angry with the seer and put him in the stocks in prison, for he was in a rage with him because of this. And Asa inflicted cruelties upon some of the people at the same time. — 2 Chronicles 16:7-10 (ESV)

King Asa had started out well. But now Asa has raided his God’s temple of treasure, as well as treasures from his own palace, in order to enlist the help of the world superpower, Syria, to defuse an escalating crisis Asa was having with Israel. When his folly is pointed out, Asa becomes belligerent and cruel instead of teachable and Hanani must bear the shame of being imprisoned for his part in attempting to reboot Asa’s reliance on God. Asa would not stand correction and, as a result, he forfeits Yahweh’s peace and aid. Sadly, this rift with God wreaks havoc on Asa’s prayer life.

In the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa was diseased in his feet, and his disease became severe. Yet even in his disease he did not seek the LORD, but sought help from physicians. — 2 Chronicles 16:12 (ESV)

Father, thank You for Jesus who lived before You without blame and that, by faith, His blameless life becomes ours. By Your Spirit, make us bold—even when it’s costly—to correct our brothers and sisters when they stray from You. Also, humble us and soften our hearts so we will be ready to accept Your correction, wherever it may originate, that we may experience Your peace and powerful support. Let us not become angry when rebuked and, while it isn’t wrong to seek help from doctors, may we also pursue You, the God of healing.

 

God Sees Our Tears

Hezekiah was looking down the barrel of terminal illness. His future sealed, or so it seemed. . .

In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him and said to him, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die; you shall not recover.'” Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD, saying, “Now, O LORD, please remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly. And before Isaiah had gone out of the middle court, the word of the LORD came to him: “Turn back, and say to Hezekiah the leader of my people, Thus says the LORD, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the LORD, and I will add fifteen years to your life. I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and I will defend this city for my own sake and for my servant David’s sake.” — 2 Kings 20:1-6 (ESV)

Unlike Hezekiah, I wouldn’t like to appeal to God on the basis of my performance, but there you have it. While Hezekiah was in distress on his deathbed he poured out his heart to Yahweh and, amazingly, God changed His mind and miraculously intervened. God is not distant and disinterested, rather God is intimately involved, hanging on our every word. God is concerned about our wellbeing. Our tears do not fall to the ground unnoticed. God hears. God sees. God cares. God acts.

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7 ESV)

Father, You oppose the proud but give grace to the humble, therefore we weep bitterly before You at our unworthiness. By Your Spirit help us to walk with You, trusting wholeheartedly in Your servant Jesus, through whom we obtain Your deliverance. Will You heal us now? or must we wait till we go up to Your eternal abode for Your healing hand?

Assurance In Prayer

Be assured: God hears us. Anytime. Anywhere. Whatever the content. Provided we trust in Jesus (meaning ‘God saves’), the name that is above all names. God hears us as if Jesus—His very own Son—were talking to Him. In Jesus we also have access to life eternal.

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him. If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. — 1 John 5:13-16 (ESV)

Our requests to God should not be completely self-absorbed but should exhibit our concern for our faith family, especially for those who are struggling. We should intercede on their behalf, that God should restore them to life.

Father, You have blessed us with faith in Your Son who saves us. Thank You that in Jesus we can be sure You hear us and have granted us life forever. Align our prayers with Your will as we assume prayerful responsibility for our faith family, so You can breathe life back into us when we go astray.

 

Effective Prayer

It is difficult not to drift into a fatalistic view of prayer, where we no longer bother to pray since God has already determined everything that is going to happen. However, the following passage indicates that God acts upon the requests of his children, especially for those whose hands are clean and who are open and honest about their struggles.

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. – James 5:13-18

Hezekiah (one of Judah’s good kings) had an extra fifteen years added to his life as a result of prayer. How we live can help influence God’s answer to prayer. None of us are perfect though. Thankfully, we don’t need to rely on our own ability to live right to gain an audience with God. God attributes us with Jesus’ spotless righteousness when we put our trust in Christ, otherwise God would be deaf to our pleas because of our sins. The prayers of the saints will even somehow contribute to initiating God’s judgment on the great and final day.

Father, without Christ You would not hear us. Thanks that, in Jesus, we can approach You. Sorry for our rebellion against You. Give us the humility to make ourselves accountable to one another so You can return us to health. Even though You may not always heal us the way we want You have saved us, and we trust that You will raise us up as You did Christ. As we make efforts to reduce the impurity of our hearts, increase Your responsiveness to our requests.

Uninterrupted Prayer

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. — 1 Thessalonians 5:16-19 (ESV)

Paul encourages us to maintain continual conversation with God, punctuated with joy and thanksgiving. God is ever present, in any situation we find ourselves in, only He desires for us live in constant, grateful awareness of Him and the Messiah opened up the lines of communication. It is easier said than done though, especially when our circumstances are anything but favourable, added to the fact that our counterpart is invisible. One wonders how well Paul followed his own advice. His letters, however, are littered with examples of Paul seamlessly drifting in and out of prayer. Also, near the beginning of this very letter to the Thessalonians, we have this statement:

We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers — 1 Thessalonians 1:2 (ESV)

So it would seem Paul strove to live out what he preached and he was even bold enough to call on us to imitate him. Life certainly wasn’t easy for Paul—not by any stretch of the imagination—and yet, despite this, he always managed to find reasons to rejoice and give thanks, especially for what Jesus achieved by the cross and also for each and every brother and sister in Christ.

It also appears that failure to talk to our loving Father at all times in tones of gratitude is tantamount to throwing a wet blanket over the flame of the Spirit’s work in our lives.

Father, sorry for ignoring You for much of life. Remaining in unbroken and appreciative conversation with You seems so unattainable, so we ask You to bolster us by the power of Your Spirit to make it our life’s aim, and so please You. Thanks for Your Son, our Lord and Saviour, Who alone makes it possible to live in Your presence now and for all eternity. Thanks also for the precious faith family You have placed us in. Help us not to douse Your Spirit, but let Him ignite us.

God’s Peace Accompanies Joyful Prayer

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. — Philippians 4:4-7

Even when everything else in life feels oppressive, God is right there, inclining His ear to us, and we still have grounds for a double dose of indomitable joy in God because of what Jesus has achieved for us at the cross. We have no reason to fret about anything since Jesus has purchased our salvation at the cost of His blood. So, no matter what difficult circumstances we face, we owe Jesus a continual, irrepressible debt of gratitude. This is our reasonable response. As we arm ourselves with this attitude when talking to God, God’s unrivalled peace descends upon us, safeguarding our feelings and our thoughts in Christ.

Lord Jesus, I can never thank You enough for all that You accomplished for me at the cross. Keep me in perpetual appreciation for releasing me from my bondage to sin, which put me in conflict with Your Father. Your blood purchased a truce between Your Father and me, which is beyond my comprehension. Thanks.

Sticking at Prayer

We all face the temptation to give up praying for all sorts of reasons. Here, among a string of other things, Paul encourages us to never let up praying, especially when we face life’s difficulties:

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. — Romans 12:9-13 (ESV)

If only prayer would become as natural and as constant as breathing. But how do we get there? A good start is to make prayer a habit by setting aside time devoted to prayer, morning, afternoon and evening. If we are stuck for something to say to our Loving Father, the Psalms lay out ready-made prayers, as does the Lord’s Prayer. Whatever hardships befall us in life, we need to meet them with prayer, not impatience, knowing that nothing can rob us of the eternal future we have to look forward to.

Father, make us eager to talk to You in our affliction, instead of being petulant, and may we never lose sight of the hope set aside for us by the blood of the Lamb. Help us embrace prayer as essential as each breath.