Training for a Crown

1 Corinthians 9

June 10

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize?  Run in such a way as to get the prize. (1 Corinthians 9: 24)

Being competitive is sometimes presented in a negative light.  Probably because competition can bring out the ‘jerk’ in people.  That’s too bad, because in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul is telling them (and us) to lean into that competitive spirit.

Paul is using this as an analogy, by the way, he’s not telling us that we are in competition with other believers.  He uses two phrases that I hope will inspire you as you run your race.

“strict training”

Athletes preparing for a big competition don’t eat whatever they want and binge Netflix all day.  What do they do instead?  They do things that will help them succeed in their goal.  (Winning!)  Paul’s goal, and ours, is “a crown that will last forever.”

How do we train for eternal life?

The word obey comes to mind.  In order to obey we need to really know Scripture.  If we want to hear the words “Well done, good and faithful servant,” we need to know what the Master expects of us.  And we need to do it, even when it’s hard.  Just like the athlete in training gets off the couch and goes to practice, even when he’s tired, we need to obey even when it doesn’t make sense to our human sensibilities.

“do not run aimlessly”

If you’ve ever been to a kid’s sporting event, you know that there are players that do not have their head in the game.  They are wandering around the field, chatting with friends, maybe even picking flowers in the grass.  Adorable.

Not so adorable when it’s adults in an Olympic competition and not cute when we’re talking about forever.

So many of us say that we are sharing our faith by the way that we live our lives.  But how much of that is a cop-out because we’re not comfortable evangelizing?  If we are actively sharing our faith through our life, we will be intentional in planning ways to do it.  We won’t just be going about our life, wandering aimlessly along.

I encourage you today to make a training plan.  How are you getting ready for Christ’s return?  I also encourage you to make a game plan.  How are you looking for ways to share your faith with those around you?

-Susan Landry

(Editor’s Note: Sorry this was sent out later today. It’s been fun hearing from a variety of writers this week, but today’s scheduled writer ran into a health issue and was unable to write. So, we went back in time and found this great devotion from 2019 – thank you, Susan – definitely good enough to read again. God bless you as you Seek, Grow and Love!)

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. How often do you remember that you are training for a crown that will last forever? If we remembered this more often how might it change our hearts, our schedules, our free time, our priorities, our training routine? What could you do differently this week, remembering the goal of your training and perhaps making it a little more “strict” than it has been lately?
  2. Are there any ways in which God may say you have been running aimlessly? What adjustments do you think Paul would suggest? Are you willing to do them?

Triumphant

John 12

April 9

The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting,

“Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—
    the King of Israel!”

John 12:12-13

The headings in our Bibles weren’t original to the text. I’m not sure who came up with the name “Triumphal Entry” for the portion of text we’re going to look at today, or when it was so titled, but it begs some questioning.

Triumphal implies the celebration of a great victory or achievement. And while on this day, crowds lined the streets with palm branches and shouted praises to him; within days of the hosannas, the crowd turned ugly, demanding His crucifixion.

You see, the people shouting ‘Hosanna’ had false expectations. They expected Jesus to restore Israel to its former glory, to establish God’s earthly kingdom with them at the top. What they didn’t know was that the true enemies that had to be defeated were not the Gentiles, but rather sin and death. And this could not be done on a white horse and with great armies. Instead, it took humility, a willingness to take the form of a servant and submit to the punishment that God’s people deserve for their sin.

Paul describes this perfect picture of humility in Philippians 2. He says that Jesus, “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave” and that he “humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.”

Throughout Scripture we find that humility is the path to victory and exaltation. We don’t expect to find real strength in those who are humble. But God has a way of turning our expectations upside down. He has a way of showing his glory through things we revile.

As we near our Easter celebrations, let’s prepare our hearts by seeking humility in our own life. Let’s also seek to see Jesus as he really is. Immediately after He ascended into heaven in Acts 1:9, he was seated at the right hand of the Father. He was triumphant over sin and death, he lives in triumph now, and he will return one day to triumph forever over the evil of this world.

That is something to celebrate.

-Susan Landry

Questions for Reflection and Discussion:

  1. Do you ever think about asking God to correct you if you’re wrong in any of your beliefs?
  2. How can we grow in humility?
  3. Look up the following verses about Jesus being seated at God’s right hand and discuss: Colossians 3:1, Ephesians 1:16-21

Bad Timing?

John 11

April 8

Have you ever questioned God’s timing? How about feeling like maybe God isn’t as concerned about you as you wish he was? Have you ever felt let down by him?

Martha, Mary and Lazarus were friends of Jesus. They knew that he was tuned into God’s will and that he was God’s Messiah. So when Lazarus fell seriously ill his sisters sent for Jesus. Instead of coming right away, Jesus waited days to come. He said,

 “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

I have to wonder if, when they found out that Lazarus had died, if anyone who heard him say that questioned. Could Jesus have been wrong?

When he does finally arrive, Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  Mary expresses the same disappointment. We’re told, When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” They must have felt a bit abandoned by him in that moment.

But I have to imagine that their joy, their utter amazement, when he raises their brother from the dead had to trump whatever disappointment they had felt. In THAT moment, they knew that Jesus was perfectly attuned to his Father’s timing.

In Isaiah 55:8-9 God tells us:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Maybe you’ve questioned God’s timing in those situations where you just know what needs to happen for things to work out. Maybe you’ve had things not work out the way you had planned, or hoped, they would.

The thing about God is that we can trust him even when we don’t understand.

-Susan Landry

Questions for Reflection and Discussion:

  1. Martha and Mary were Jesus’ friends, and they addressed him pretty directly when he shows up after their brother died. Does it seem that Jesus is mad at them for sharing their disappointment, their not understanding, with him?
  2. Do you think we can tell God that we are disappointed with him, or do you think that is inappropriate?
  3. When you are unsure of God’s timing in a situation in your life, what are some ways you can surrender that to him and trust him in the midst of your uncertainty?

Believe the Works

John 10

If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.

John 10:37-38

In chapter 10 we get to see Jesus once again being challenged by the Pharisees. His reply here reminds us that our actions matter more than our words. He tells them that since they don’t believe his words, to judge him by his actions.

This mirrors what Jesus said in Matthew 7:

Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

And also what we read in Proverbs 20:

Even a child makes himself known by his acts, by whether his conduct is pure and upright.

It also reminds me of this saying a friend shared with me several years ago:

I don’t trust words. I even question actions. But I never doubt patterns.

You see, people can lie with their words. They can even act in the ‘right’ way and mislead you…for awhile. Eventually, if we are looking for them, patterns reveal themselves.

Not only is this something we should be aware of and be watching for in others in order to live a discerning life; but also something that we should be aware of in our own life. I’m wondering if we could confidently say, “Even if you don’t believe my words, watch my actions. That will convince you.” Paul said something like that to the church in Corinth when he wrote:

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

After Jesus issues his challenge to the Pharisees and the others listening, we’re told that he goes away from them, but many people followed him to where he went. Then we’re told that:

And many believed in him there.

I guess his actions spoke for themselves.

-Susan Landry

Questions for Reflection and Discussion:

  1. Discuss the idea of not trusting words, even actions, but watching for patterns. Why is this important?
  2. Why is it so scary to think about telling people they could ignore our words and just watch our actions? Why do you think Paul was confident enough to say that?
  3. Take some time to look for patterns in your own life.
    1. Look for patterns that may reveal things you want to change.
    2. Look for patterns that show positive traits that could point someone to Christ.

Forgiven Much, Loves Much

John 9

April 6

Jesus heals a man born blind with a spit-filled mudpie. Creative. Unexpected. A tiny bit gross.

Totally worth it though, I imagine, to the man who can now see.

What we’re going to focus on, however, is the reaction to this healing by the elite, the ultra-religious, the Pharisees. Because this man’s miraculous healing happened on the Sabbath, they’re a little put out. A lot, actually.

As they drill him for information about the person who healed him, he does pretty good holding his own:

“Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes.We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will.Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind.If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

What they’re really saying is, “Who do you think you are?”

Matthew Poole’s commentary captures the attitude of their statement in this interpretation of their words:

Thou that art such a marked villain from thy mother’s womb, or that art such an ignorant idiot, dost thou think thyself fit to instruct us about true and false prophets, who are of God, and who are not? Surely we are to be thy teachers, and not thou ours.

It’s an indignant attitude, definitely an attitude of pride, wouldn’t you say? But we’ve all been there. We refuse the information because we don’t like the source. Maybe it’s because we feel superior (like the Pharisees). Or perhaps we simply don’t like them.

This passage reminds me of another time we can see the Pharisees’ pride shine a spotlight on their shame.

Luke describes a time that Jesus was dining at a Pharisee’s home and a sinful woman anointed him. In chapter 7 it says that she was “at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment.”

The passage goes on to describe how Jesus puts the shocked and indignant religious crowd in their place. He tells them that her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.””

In both of these cases, we see beautiful examples of how Christ’s mercies are most valued by those who have felt the want of them. (Matthew Henry’s commentary on John 9:34)

There’s a song by Ten Shekel Shirt that captures this, I think. And it’s a good place to pause and reflect after this chapter.

I come to Your feet and weep
Remembering how You changed me
I kneel at Your feet humbly
I pour out my love and my thanks

I am the one who’s been forgiven much
I am the one who loves much

I sit at Your feet in peace
Sensing a smile over me
I’m here at Your feet gladly
Giving my love and my thanks

Listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_VrfvALiE8s

-Susan Landry

Questions for Reflection and Discussion:

  1. Have you ever struggled to accept something as truth just because of the source? Why do you think that is? How can we be better at preventing this attitude?
  2. Do you feel like you are someone who ‘loves much’ or ‘loves little’? If you’re unsure, pay attention to your actions, thoughts, and words for the next week and ask God to show you.
  3. Re-read John 9:40-41. Restate Jesus’ words in a different way. What is he saying? What can we learn from his statement?

Looking for Debate not Understanding

John 8

April 5

We’re going to primarily look at one verse from John 8 today. It’s a verse that offers us (perhaps) a small glimpse into Jesus as more than just the say-er of the fancy red words in our Bibles.

I love verses that give insight into what some of our beloved Bible figures were feeling. For example, some translations of Judges 14:7 tell us that a woman was ‘pleasing’ to Samson. But the NIV version (and some others) say, “Then he went down and talked with the woman, and he liked her.”  It’s such a simple way to describe how he felt. No flowery language, just, ‘he liked her.’

John 8:25 isn’t quite that direct in expressing how Jesus is feeling, but still paints a picture we can relate to. Jesus has been talking with the Pharisees, and every statement he makes is countered with pushback and ignorant questions. It’s obvious that their intent is to trip him up or catch him in a mistake (unlikely). They are not really listening.

We’ve all had conversations with people who are listening only enough to pick our words apart, people who are looking for a debate more than understanding. Thinking about those experiences, perhaps you can hear the exasperation in Jesus’ voice in verse 25:

They said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “Why do I speak to you at all?”

I can almost see Jesus doing a facepalm or simply quietly closing his eyes and shaking his head. Talking to people who aren’t genuinely interested in understanding is wearying.

I should note that some versions of the Bible translate this verse a bit differently. Your version may say:

“Who are you?” they asked. “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning,” Jesus replied.

I consulted a number of commentaries on the differences and what I found is best summed up by this commentary, which says, “the commentators are almost hopelessly divided.” All do seem to agree that regardless of which translation is correct, there seems to be some exasperation in Jesus’ reply.

And who could blame him?

-Susan Landry

Questions for Reflection and Discussion:

1 While we can probably think of times we’ve talked with others who are not genuinely interested in understanding what we have to say, it would be wise of us to also consider if we have ever been that person.

a. What types of conversations do you find yourself tuning out? Listening only to critique or correct? Or simply waiting for your turn to talk?

b. Are there things you can do to limit the frequency of this occurring?

c. Pray for God to soften your heart to seek to listen in order to truly understand the person who is talking.

2. Being a poor listener to people can damage our relationships. What about how well we listen to God?

a. Do you ever find yourself tuning out what you know God may be trying to speak into your life? Why do you think we do that?

b. What can we do to better position ourselves to truly listen to God?

At the Feast

John 7

April 4

A bunch of years ago, when my boys were younger, we did a study on Biblical holidays. We were homeschooling at the time, so we incorporated it in that way, but this study would make phenomenal family devotions as well (or even a Sunday school class!).

The book we found was dense with activities for all ages as well as full of interesting information. For example, I hadn’t known that among Biblical holidays, the spring celebrations pointed towards Jesus’ first coming, while the fall holidays point to his second coming.

Spring Holidays

Passover and the Feast of the Unleavened Bread Passover remember the deliverance from Egyptian bondage. An unblemished, firstborn male lamb was sacrificed. Leaven symbolizes sin. Unleavened bread speaks of sanctification. Jesus was slain on Passover as our sacrificial lamb, releasing us from bondage. He is the ‘bread of life’.

The Day of Firstfruits reminded the Jews that God gave them the land, and the harvest belonged to him.  1 Corinthians 15 tells us that Jesus is the Firstfruits, his resurrection was the first of the harvest. And the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost) is a remembrance of the giving of the law took place. It’s celebrated fifty days after the Feast of Firstfruits.  Fifty days after Jesus arose, the Holy Spirit came upon believers, writing the law on their hearts.

Fall Holidays

The Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah) and the Day of Atonement are two separate holidays, but celebrated just 10 days apart. These are the holiest days of the Jewish year. Unlike other holy days, they don’t celebrate a season or historical event, but are a time to look inward towards spiritual growth. We are told that Christ’s return will be with the blowing of trumpets, and on that day, atonement will be made for sin.

The Feast of Tabernacles (or the Festival of Booths) was historically kept as a remembrance of the Israelites dwelling in tents in the wilderness as they wandered on their way to the promised land. When Christ returns and establishes his Father’s kingdom on earth, God’s covenant with Abraham to give his descendants the promised land will be fulfilled.

John 7

And this is where we find Jesus in John chapter 7: at the Festival of Booths. The Hebrew name for this holiday was Sukkot (which means tabernacles). Tabernacles were portable, like a tent.

Jewish families build a temporary little hut or shelter in their yard called a sukkah. The roof covering must be made of something that used to grow in the earth. It can be made of palm leaves or bamboo sticks. The walls can be made of any material that can hold up to the wind. (Leviticus 23:33-43) It is traditional to eat meals in the sukkah. Some people even sleep in them during the week-long celebration.

When John wrote this, he would have known that Jesus was the fulfillment of all the Jews hoped for. It’s interesting that he highlights in this text the conflict between those that accept Jesus and those that do not. It’s interesting because, really, that’s what our ultimate choice is, isn’t it? The choice that will determine our eternal future.

The fact that this happens at the Festival of Booths, which looks ahead to the fulfillment of God’s promise to establish his permanent kingdom on the earth (ie: no more wandering) I don’t think was a coincidence. Those who accept Jesus will get that permanent place in the kingdom and those that do not…well, they won’t.

Living Water

Jesus’ words were never said without purpose, and he often used the environment around him to teach. One part of this celebration at the time of Jesus was a water ceremony. Priests would gather water from the Pool of Siloam into a golden pitcher and walk to the Temple while the crowds recited Isaiah 12:3: “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” They would then pour the water out on the altar.

Knowing that makes Jesus’ words in John 7:37-38 even more meaningful:

On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’”

When Jesus revealed himself as Messiah to the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, he told her about the living water too:

“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

Her response was perfect:

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water”

-Susan Landry

Questions for Reflection and Discussion:

  1. Why do you think there was so much skepticism about Jesus and his teachings?
  2. Do you think you would have been a skeptic, or instantly on board with Jesus and his teachings? Why do you think that, and are you satisfied with that response? If not, what needs to change?
  3. Why do you think God instituted the Biblical holidays/feasts/festivals? While we are not required to celebrate them, what might the value be in understanding them better?

Spend your Light on the Eternal

John 6

April 3

Jesus had just fed 5000 people with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. Pretty amazing. It’s no wonder the crowds tracked him down the next day:

When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.

John 6:25-27

Isn’t that the truth of human nature? We are led by our cravings, our desires. Paul frequently refers to this as ‘the flesh’. Another way to say that is just doing what comes naturally to us. Jesus is telling the crowds (and us) in this short exchange that the things that come naturally to us will perish. But, he adds, there is something that lasts.

He’s calling for a perspective shift.

Another time he did that was in the home of his friends, Mary and Martha (Luke 10). We’re told that Martha was distracted by her many tasks, and she is a little put out that her sister is simply sitting with Jesus, listening to him.

Jesus doesn’t scold Martha, he sees her. He acknowledges all she’s doing, even validating what she was feeling  distracted. He says, “You are worried and distracted by many things, there is need of only one thing.” He’s telling her to focus on what’s most important now…the rest is a distraction from what really matters.

Martha wanted to serve the Lord with her actions, but it seems that she was striving to do that at the expense of simply spending time in his presence. And at that moment, just being with him was the most important thing, it’s what would last.

…Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life…

This isn’t an instruction to not do jobs that provide our groceries. Paul, after all, tells the Thessalonians that “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.” What it is, is an instruction to hone our focus, to pay attention, to look up.

Sometimes we need to take our eyes off of the busy-ness, off of the tasks (even really important and valuable tasks) and take a moment to look for the eternal. Sometimes the eternal may be in the tasks, perhaps with an attitude shift. Other times the things that matter most might include being still for a time.

I love this poem by John Milton:

When I consider how my light is spent,

   Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,

   And that one Talent which is death to hide

   Lodged with me useless, though my Soul more bent

To serve therewith my Maker, and present

   My true account, lest he returning chide;

   “Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”

   I fondly ask. But patience, to prevent

That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need

   Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best

   Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state

Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed

   And post o’er Land and Ocean without rest:

   They also serve who only stand and wait.”

Milton began going blind in his early 40’s and this poem is a bit of a lament at his fate. Maybe you’ve felt like that before…wondering how you could possibly serve God in the circumstances you find yourself in.

The wisdom of the last few lines of the poem is just the perspective, I think, Jesus was pointing us to. God doesn’t need our gifts, he’s the King. We can serve him in our running around without rest; and we can also serve him in our stillness. The key is our perspective, it’s the considering of the moment rather than simply doing, simply being. Living intentionally.

Jesus wanted the crowd to pursue him because of who he was and how their lives, their eternity, could be changed because of him…not because their stomachs were empty. He was asking them to consider what they were spending their light on.

He wanted Martha to take a breath and just be with him, instead of being distracted by other things (even well-intentioned, important things). She needed to consider if she was, in that moment, spending her light on the eternal.

Today: Consider how your light is spent.

-Susan Landry

Questions for Reflection and Discussion:

  1. Do you find it easy or difficult to be intentional in the way you live? Why do you think that is?
  2. Are you in a season of serving God with a lot of busyness/tasks or a time of serving him in the standing and waiting? How can you be more purposeful in whichever season you find yourself?
  3. Consider taking out your calendar or planner and praying over it, asking God to show you ways you can be more intentional in the way you spend your time. (It’s been said that our true priorities will always be seen on the pages of our planners/calendars – how could this work similarly for screen time?).
  4. Try starting your day with a short prayer asking God to help you focus on what matters that day.

“God, I’m sorry if I sinned in some way”

Ezra 9-10 … 1 Corinthians 6

We hear a lot of meaningless apologies. “I’m sorry if you took that the wrong way,” “I apologize if anyone was hurt,” or “Mistakes were made.”  But the reality of sin in light of God’s holiness doesn’t allow for wiggle room with insincere confessions like, “God, I’m sorry if I sinned in some way.”

When we are confronted with the reality of our sinful attitudes and actions, our response should be like Ezra — to throw ourselves before the Lord in repentance and confession. Not because we are worms groveling at the feet of a sadistic monster, but because, like Ezra, we know that our God is gracious.

“Even in our slavery, God has given us new life and light to our eyes. Though we are slaves, our God has not abandoned us in our slavery. He has extended grace to us in the presence of the Persian kings, giving us new life, so that we can rebuild the house of our God and repair its ruins, to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem.” Ezra 9: 8b-9

Upon arriving in Jerusalem, Ezra finds out that the people of Israel, including the priests and Levites, have been intermarrying with the pagan cultures surrounding them. His reaction?

As soon as I heard this, I tore my garment and my cloak and pulled hair from my head and beard and sat appalled” (9:3)

It seems almost inconceivable that the Israelites of Ezra’s day could have fallen into the sin of intermarrying with the idolatrous peoples around them. God had strictly forbidden inter-marriage with other nations, because He knew that His people’s hearts would be led astray by these unions. This was not an issue of racial purity, by the way, but spiritual purity.

And much like patterns of sin in our own lives, Israel’s pattern of intermarrying with pagan cultures was not new. Solomon married many foreign women who worshipped detestable idols and turned his heart from the Lord.

We might have thought that Israel’s seventy-year captivity in Babylon finally cured God’s people of their infatuation with idol worship. But here were some of the former exiles, including the leaders, disobeying God and inviting His judgment again by taking foreign women as wives for themselves and their sons. No wonder Ezra tore his clothes and even pulled out some of his hair, a sign of extreme anguish.

In my more modern image, I picture Ezra doing a major forehead slap and screaming at them, “Are you KIDDING me?!?!”

If spiritual amnesia comes as easy to us as it did the people of Ezra’s day (and it does), maybe we need to practice our remembering.

Here’s a brief prayer checklist list I found that you can use each day to keep your memory of God’s will sharp in your mind.

1) Give thanks in everything (1 Thess. 5:18)

2) Ask God to search your heart and show you any “offensive way” (Ps. 139:23–24)

3) Don’t be anxious about anything, but bring your requests to God (Phil. 4:6)

4) Ask God to cleanse you from “hidden faults” and keep you from “willful sins” (Ps. 19:12–13)

After sitting appalled, and praying to God himself, Ezra gave the people this advice,

make a confession to Yahweh the God of your fathers and do His will. Separate yourselves “ Ezra 10:11

Being sorry is a necessary step, but doing something about it is what shows sincerity. It also can help to keep us from repeating the same mistake again. 

Maybe we should add a step 5 to that list in honor of Ezra…

5.) Take action in your repentance. Show it. Live a changed life. (Ezra 10:11)

-Susan Landry

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Ezra 9-10 and 1 Corinthians 6

Hupernikao: Overwhelmingly Conquer

Reading for today:

Ezra 7-8 … 1 Corinthians 5

It may not seem like there’s much of a time gap between chapters 6 and 7 in the book of Ezra, but if you were to look at a timeline of Persian rulers (and why wouldn’t you?) you would notice that between Darius (chapter 6) and Artaxerxes (chapter7) they skip a whole ruler: Xerxes.

And that name may ring a bell if you’ve ever read the book of Esther (if you haven’t, you definitely should). The book of Esther spotlights Jewish exiles who chose to stay in Persia rather than return to Israel, and Esther’s heroism in rescuing them from annihilation.

“…who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14b)

Like Esther, Ezra had a purpose to fulfill in his specific place and time.

We learn that this godly man was a descendant of Aaron, which established his right to function as a priest and teacher (7: 5-6). Ezra also knew the Word of God and lived it, which was one of the most important features of his life. He was skilled in understanding God’s law and explaining it to others.  Ezra’s commitment to know and live God’s Word was one reason for the impact he had for the Lord in his time.

Preparation. “Ezra prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach” (7:10). Our heart must first be put right with God before our life is truly ready for Him to use fully. Certainly, he can use anyone, anytime…but if we want to be all that God designed us to be, we need to start inside. Other translations of this verse use words like “dedicated, devoted, firmly resolved, and set his heart” to give us a greater picture of what this preparation might look like.

Power. “The hand of the Lord his God was upon him” (7:6). Because of this invisible and powerful hand upon him, the king granted him “all his requests.” I don’t think it’s any accident or coincidence that God’s hand acted on Ezra’s behalf, helping him in his endeavors. After all, Ezra was a man who had “devoted his heart” to seeking God’s ways. What a lovely illustration of God actively intervening to act on behalf of those who actively set their hearts on Him.

In chapter 8 we see Ezra, again, preparing not only himself, but all the people for their trip to Jerusalem.

Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods.” Ezra 8:21

As we seek God in prayer and fasting, we honor him and set our hearts on Him. We acknowledge that we don’t possess a power great enough to overcome that which is before us, but we know HE does, HE is.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Romans 8:37

The Greek word translated as ‘more than conquerors’ in this verse is “hupernikao” which means “overwhelmingly conquer.” It doesn’t mean “barely eek out” or “just get by.” It indicates a crushing victory.

Picture a wrecking ball.

You and I don’t possess wrecking ball kind of power on our own, but this verse tells us that through our great God, we have that power in us, available to us.

Ezra knew it.

And he knew how to utilize it, too. Not by looking within himself– but by preparing, dedicating, setting his heart on God’s word and trusting that God’s hand would overcome.

“I took courage, for the hand of the Lord my God was on me…”  Ezra 7:28

hupernikao

it’s fun to say

– Susan Landry

Today’s Bible passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Ezra 7-8 and 1 Corinthians 5

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