Friday, August 24, 2018

My protection

[This is the journal entry for my quiet time with God today. I hope that you'll find it helpful and encourage you to spend your own quiet time with God each day. Here, I explain how I approach this time with God.]

Look: “I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, ‘The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.’” (Ezra 8:22)

Ezra was part of the Jewish diaspora who had been deported to Babylon when it conquered God’s people. It was Persian policy to allow peoples they’d conquered to worship their own “gods” and to return to their homelands. A group had gone back to Judah during the reign of the Persian king Cyrus. But they had neglected the worship of God and the observance of their faith. When Ezra, still in exile, learned of this, he was aggrieved. Ultimately, he received authorization from King Darius (who reigned from 522 to 486 BC) to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple.

Ezra’s concern in this verse is the authenticity of his faith and his witness to the Persians. He had assured King Darius that he and his group would need none of the king’s offered protection of armies on their return to the promised land; God would protect His people. Ezra had prayerfully asked for God’s protection, yet must have still been daunted by the dangerous journey ahead. (It’s comforting to know how human this man of God was!) Because of his confession of faith in God, Ezra says that he was ashamed to ask for protection.

So, in the next verse Ezra tells us, “...we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer.” (Ezra 8:23)

Instead of petitioning the king for protection, Ezra and the Jewish believers who were taking a dangerous trip to go back to their homelands, “fasted and petitioned our God about this.” They chose wisely.

Listen: This is no “name-it-and-claim-it” text. For Ezra, the decision not to accept the offered help of an army was a matter of faith. Nations and armies can’t protect believers. Neither can money or possessions, reputation or human affection, having the “right” argument or being “strong” and intimidating in numbers. Only God can protect us.

And that would have been so even if Ezra and his contingent had been slaughtered on the way to their homeland.

Today, believers in Jesus join the ancient Israelites in knowing that “If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” (Romans 14:8)

The God revealed first to ancient Israel and now to all the world in Jesus, will protect all who trust in Christ from humanity’s greatest enemies--sin, eternal death, futility, and darkness--whether we have long, short, easy, or hard, poor or wealthy lives on this earth. That’s because the “gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him.”   

Ezra wanted to live in faithfulness to that confession. It would have been a defection from God to seek protection from a foreign army when he confessed that his “help is the name of the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 24:8). He also would have been ashamed to give a “splintered witness” by taking help from Darius when he’d already declared his certainty of God’s help.

Respond: Today, Lord, I seek to be more “all in” with You. I need to spend more time praying to You in Jesus’ name and less time consorting with and listening to my fears. Forgive me all my sins for Jesus’ sake and I ask You to protect me, my family, and my congregation from everything that would endanger us, especially temptations and sins that could do eternal damage to us. And grant that today, I will not give a “splintered witness,” relying completely on You. Forgive me, I pray, for all of the ways I have failed to completely rely on You, for relying too often on my own “cleverness” (I know You’re laughing at that, Lord), shrewdness, or perception. Forgive me for replacing You with my own thoughts or my own feelings or my own desires. Today, protect me, above all, Lord, from myself and help me to listen to You, follow You, honor You, and share You. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen  

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

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