Monday, August 8, 2011

Ezra and the "gracious hand of the Lord"-thoughts

This morning, I was reading about Ezra. Ezra was an old school scribe (not prophet) who worked in the 400's BC. My assumption is that his relationship to the King of Persia (Artaxerxes) had to do with him being a scribe within the Kingdom of Persia, writing down laws, edicts, and basically whatever he was told to write. However, when he's mentioned in Ezra 7:6, we're told that, "he was also well versed in the law of Moses, which the Lord, the God of Israel, had given to the people of Israel," and later in verse 11, that he was also a priest.

He was a Jewish man, technically a priest within the line of Aaron, with an education who was respected and trusted by the highest authority in a non-Jewish country.

Here's a bit more context before I continue with all this:

It was during this time in history that we hear about the rebuilding of Jerusalem. Ezra wanted to be a part of the rebuilding and we're told that, "the king gave him everything he asked for, because the gracious hand of the Lord his God was on him." This wasn't the first time God had accomplished his purposes through the generosity of the kings. Kings Cyrus and Darius both gave wealth and materials for rebuilding Jerusalem (which was NOT a part of the Persian kingdom) and the temple of God. But this is the first time I can remember reading that "the gracious hand of the Lord" was upon an individual in the presence of the King to ask for supplies, laborers, etc., and to receive all that he asked for.

Back to the point.

After I read "the gracious hand of the Lord was on Ezra" twice, I started wondering why. Quite frankly, I wanted to know how to get the gracious hand of the Lord onto my life. I'd just gotten done praying about God's favor in my job. I want to, very literally, go before the authorities in my life and be able to get anything I ask for. Don't you? Well, when I read in verse 10 that it was "because Ezra had determined to study and obey the law of the Lord and to teach those laws and regulations to the people of Israel," it was slightly disappointing.

Like many others, I want to be told that simply because I am a Christian and I go to church, or because I call on the name of Jesus when it's convenient , I will be shown favor and given anything I ask for. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case for Ezra, and that's not going to be the case for me or you. Ezra was given favor because his heart was about the business of glorifying God. He had mastered the discipline of boasting that I wrote about a few days ago. Once the King answered his requests favorably, look at what he says...

"Praise the Lord, the God of our ancestors, who made the king want to beautify the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem! And praise him for demonstrating such unfailing love to me by honoring me before the king, his council, and all his mighty princes! I felt encouraged because the gracious hand of the Lord my God was on me."

Ezra wasn't asking for a promotion within the Kingdom of Persia. He wasn't asking for more money or wealth for himself or his family. He wasn't trying to build trust funds or pay for college tuition. He wasn't even trying to pay rent. What he wanted was for the God of Israel to once again be honored in his Temple in the Holy City of the Jews. He wanted (and had determined) that the people of Israel would learn the laws of the Lord. He didn't want them to know Ezra. He wanted them to know their God.

This is echoed by another follower of God later in the Scripture. In Philippians 3, Paul writes:

"But whatever was to MY profit, I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, NOT HAVING A RIGHTEOUSNESS OF MY OWN that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead."

Everything that was to my own profit I now consider trash in order to know that greatness of Christ and to be like him in his death and resurrection.

I think if Ezra were Paul's contemporary, he could have penned those exact words. And I think if Paul were my contemporary, he would speak the same words to me...

"Leanne, do you understand that your best is nothing compared to the righteousness of God? Do you not know that His business, His Kingdom, His Glory, is worth your entire life? In fact, your life is not enough to show His worth. But try. Keep being about God's business in this kingdom that you live in. Nothing you thought was good is good in light of God's goodness. But by His grace, He has accepted you and let you be a part of what He is doing. And He will direct the heart of Kings to be a part of what He is doing. But not because of you, and not for your benefit. For His."

Like the title of this blog admits, these are only thoughts. There is no clear direction or motivation behind my writing today. It struck me that I'd just prayed for favor and God immediately shows me a man who was shown God's favor because he was unashamedly about the business of God's glory. How that fits into finding favor at work, I don't know. But what I do know is that I should continue to seek God first and only in all matters of my heart and world. If His glory is my first priority, then at least I'm looking in the right direction.

I hope this finds you looking in the right direction today, even if what you're looking at seems a little blurry.

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