Under Nehemiah’s supervision, the Israelite workers were rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem. When they were nearly half finished, however, they learned that their enemies were plotting to attack Jerusalem. This news demoralized the already exhausted workers.
Nehemiah had to do something. First, he prayed and posted numerous guards in strategic places. Then, he armed his workers. “Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked” (Neh. 4:17-18).
We who are building God’s kingdom need to arm ourselves against the attack of our spiritual enemy, Satan. Our protection is the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s Word. Memorizing Scripture and meditating on it enables us to “take [our] stand against the devil’s schemes” (Eph. 6:11). If we think that working for God doesn’t matter, we should turn to the promise that what we do for Jesus will last for eternity (1 Cor. 3:11-15). If we fear we’ve sinned too greatly for God to use us, we must remember we’ve been forgiven by the power of Jesus’ blood (Matt. 26:28). And if we’re worried we might fail if we try to serve God, we can recall that Jesus said we will bear fruit if we abide in Him (John 15:5).
God’s Word is our divine defense!
One of my favorite scenes in literature occurs when a feisty aunt confronts an evil stepfather over the abuse of her nephew, David Copperfield. This scene takes place in Charles Dickens’ novel named after the main character.
When David Copperfield shows up at his aunt’s house, his stepfather is not far behind. Aunt Betsy Trotwood is not pleased to see the malicious Mr. Murdstone. She recounts a list of offenses and does not let him slither out of his responsibility for each act of cruelty. Her charges are so forceful and truthful that Mr. Murdstone—a normally aggressive person—finally leaves without a word. Through the strength and goodness of Aunt Betsy’s character, David finally receives justice.
There is Someone else who is strong and good, and who will one day right the wrongs in our world. When Jesus returns, He will come down from heaven with a group of powerful angels. He will “give relief to you who are troubled,” and He will not ignore those who have created problems for His children (2 Thess. 1:6-7). Until that day, Jesus wants us to stand firm and have courage. No matter what we endure on earth, we are safe for eternity.
A Venus flytrap can digest an insect in about 10 days. The process begins when an unsuspecting bug smells nectar on the leaves that form the trap. When the insect investigates, it crawls into the jaws of the plant. The leaves clamp shut within half a second and digestive juices dissolve the bug.
This meat-eating plant reminds me of the way sin can devour us if we are lured into it. Sin is hungry for us. Genesis 4:7 says, “If you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you.” God spoke these words to Cain just before he killed his brother Abel.
Sin may try to entice us by tempting us with a new experience, convincing us that living right doesn’t matter, or appealing to our physical senses. However, there is a way for us to rule over sin instead of letting it consume our lives. The Bible says, “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). When we face temptation, we don’t face it alone. We have supernatural assistance. Relying on God’s Spirit supplies the power to live for Him and others.
When my husband was 18 years old, he started a car-cleaning business. He rented a garage, hired helpers, and created advertising brochures. The business prospered. His intention was to sell it and use the proceeds to pay for college, so he was thrilled when a buyer expressed interest. After some negotiations, it seemed that the transaction would happen. But at the last minute, the deal collapsed. It wouldn’t be until several months later that his plan to sell the business would succeed.
It’s normal to be disappointed when God’s timing and design for our lives do not match our expectations. When David wanted to build the Lord’s temple, he had the right motives, the leadership ability, and the resources. Yet God said he could not undertake the project because he had killed too many people in battle (1 Chron. 22:8).
David could have shaken his fist at the sky in anger. He could have pouted or plowed ahead with his own plans. But he humbly said, “Who am I, Lord God . . . that you have brought me this far?” (17:16). David went on to praise God and affirm his devotion to Him. He valued his relationship with God more than his ambition.
What is more important—achieving our hopes and dreams, or our love for God?
No one could have mistaken the ancient Babylonian soldiers for gentlemen. They were ruthless, resilient, and vicious, and they attacked other nations the way an eagle overtakes its prey. Not only were they powerful, they were prideful as well. They practically worshiped their own combat abilities. In fact, the Bible says that their “strength [was] their god” (Hab. 1:11).
God did not want this kind of self-reliance to infect Israel’s forces as they prepared to battle the Midianites. So He told Gideon, Israel’s army commander, “You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, ‘My own strength has saved me’ ” (Judg. 7:2). As a result, Gideon discharged anyone who was fearful. Twenty-two thousand men hightailed it home, while 10,000 fighters stayed. God continued to downsize the army until only 300 men remained (vv. 3-7).
Having fewer troops meant that Israel was dramatically outnumbered—their enemies, who populated a nearby valley, were as “thick as locusts” (v. 12). Despite this, God gave Gideon’s forces victory.
At times, God may allow our resources to dwindle so that we rely on His strength to keep going. Our needs showcase His power, but He is the One who says, “I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isa. 41:10).
David and 400 of his warriors thundered through the countryside in search of Nabal, a prosperous brute who had harshly refused to lend them help. David would have murdered him if he hadn’t first encountered Abigail, Nabal’s wife. She had packed up enough food to feed an army and traveled out to meet the troops, hoping to head off disaster. She respectfully reminded David that guilt would haunt him if he followed through with his vengeful plan (1 Sam. 25:31). David realized she was right and blessed her for her good judgment.
David’s anger was legitimate—he had protected Nabal’s shepherds in the wilderness (vv.14-17) and had been repaid evil for good. However, his anger was leading him into sin. David’s first instinct was to sink his sword into Nabal, even though he knew God did not approve of murder and revenge (Ex. 20:13; Lev. 19:18).
When we’ve been offended, it’s good to compare our instincts with God’s intent for human behavior. We may be inclined to strike at people verbally, isolate ourselves, or escape through any number of ways. However, choosing a gracious response will help us avoid regret, and most important it will please God. When our desire is to honor God in our relationships, He is able to make even our enemies to be at peace with us (see Prov. 16:7).
One day I received a bouquet of pink tulips. Their heads bobbed on thick stems as I settled them into a vase, which I placed at the center of our kitchen table. The next day, I noticed that the flowers were facing a different direction. The blossoms that once faced upward were now leaning to the side, opening and reaching toward sunlight that streamed in through a nearby window.
In one sense, we all were made to be like those flowers. God has called us to turn to the light of His love. Peter writes of the wonder of being called “out of darkness into [God’s] wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9). Before we come to know God, we live in the shadows of sin and death, which keep us separated from Him (Eph. 2:1-7). However, because of God’s mercy and love, He made a way for us to escape spiritual darkness through the death and resurrection of His Son (Col. 1:13-14).
Jesus is the Light of the world, and everyone who trusts Him for the forgiveness of sin will receive eternal life. Only as we turn to Him will we increasingly reflect His goodness and truth (Eph. 5:8-9).
May we never forget to lean into the Light.
As a child, I loved to climb trees. The higher I climbed, the more I could see. Occasionally, in search of a better view, I might inch out along a branch until I felt it bend under my weight. Not surprisingly, my tree-climbing days are over. I suppose it isn’t very safe—or dignified.
Zacchaeus, a wealthy man, set aside his dignity (and perhaps ignored his safety) when he climbed a tree one day in Jericho. Jesus was traveling through the city, and Zacchaeus wanted to get a look at Him. However, “because he was short he could not see over the crowd” (Luke 19:3). Fortunately, those things did not stop him from seeing and even talking with Christ. Zacchaeus’s plan worked! And when he met Jesus, his life was changed forever. “Salvation has come to this house,” Jesus said (v. 9).
We too can be prevented from seeing Jesus. Pride can blind us from seeing Him as the Wonderful Counselor. Anxiety keeps us from knowing Him as the Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6). Hunger for status and stuff can prevent us from seeing Him as the true source of satisfaction—the Bread of Life (John 6:48).
What are you willing to do to get a better view of Jesus? Any sincere effort to get closer to Him will have a good result. God rewards people who earnestly seek Him (Heb. 11:6).
My friend’s son decided to wear a sports jersey over his school clothing one day. He wanted to show support for his favorite team that would be playing an important game later that night. Before leaving home, he put something on over his sports jersey—it was a chain with a pendant that read, “Jesus.” His simple action illustrated a deeper truth: Jesus deserves first place over everything in our lives.
Jesus is above and over all. “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17). Jesus is supreme over all creation (vv. 15-16). He is “the head of the body, the church” (v. 18). Because of this, He should have first place in all things.
When we give Jesus the highest place of honor in each area of our lives, this truth becomes visible to those around us. At work, are we laboring first for God or only to please our employer? (3:23). How do God’s standards show up in the way we treat others? (vv. 12-14). Do we put Him first as we live our lives and pursue our favorite pastimes?
When Jesus is our greatest influence in all of life, He will have His rightful place in our hearts.