Another Look by David Faust
Ezra faced a daunting task. God wanted him to lead a remnant of exiled Jews from Babylon back to Jerusalem, which lay in ruins. Ezra’s mission was to re-build the temple, then to be a spiritual leader as the people worshiped the Lord once again in the holy city.
Hundreds gathered under Ezra’s leadership and prepared to make the rugged 600-mile journey back to Jerusalem. Amazingly, though he himself was not Jewish, King Artaxerxes of Persia gave Ezra a letter of recommendation granting financial support for the temple project. All systems were “go.” But before Ezra and his men left for Jerusalem, there was one more thing he had to do.
. . . I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us.
. . . 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.’ So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer (Ezra 8:21-23).
Get the picture? It might have seemed reasonable to ask the surprisingly supportive king for an armed military escort to ensure a safe journey, but Ezra was ashamed to ask. After all, he had assured the king, “The Lord will take care of us.” It’s not wrong to ask for help. (In fact, sometimes the Lord provides through an unexpected source like King Artaxerxes.) But Ezra didn’t want to imply that the Lord was too weak to watch over his people. Lest the Jews’ faith look fake, Ezra wanted there to be no doubt: He truly believed what he had told the king. He trusted in “the gracious hand of God” to see them safely on their journey.
What about us? It’s one thing to say we believe in God’s ability to protect and provide; but do we really mean it? Will others think our faith is fake if we pray for rain but never carry an umbrella?
The Bible says, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7)—a comforting thought. But do our families, friends, and coworkers see us handling stress that way? Or do our anxious lives cast doubt on what we claim to believe?
Do we demonstrate that God loves everyone by the way we treat everyone? Or do we undermine the credibility of the gospel by behaving selfishly? Do we damage the Lord’s reputation by engaging in gossip, racial slurs, and unkind remarks?
It’s easy to sing “Amazing Grace” at church, but does God’s grace permeate our daily lives? Do others sense “the gracious hand of God” in our words and attitudes?
The Bible says it’s better to be “away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8), but do we live as if our main concern is storing up treasures here on earth?
We agree with Jesus: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). But if a financial planner examined our checkbooks and bank accounts, would he see that principle demonstrated through our tithes and offerings?
Mission statements published on church Web websites say our congregations are here to take the gospel to a lost world, but do our church budgets and our weekly gatherings show we really mean it?
Actions speak louder than words. Do we really mean what we profess to believe? If there’s any doubt, then it’s time to do what Ezra did. Don’t take another step till we fast and pray.