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About this series
Keep Pressing Ahead
How to Make it Through Anything
There are times in our lives when we simply get to the point that we say, "I can't take it anymore!" This depression is just too dark. This marriage is just too hard. The job I lost, the family member I buried, the junk I'm going through. And deep, down inside your heart you say, "I quit. I'm done." And though you may go through the motions on the outside, you've just had it. Your mind says, "I've got to trust God," but your heart says, "I've heard it all before and it's not working for me." You begin to drift - from people and from God. This series, drawn from Nehemiah, will help you overcome adversity and keep you pressing ahead no matter what.More from this series
The second condition isn’t just returning to the Word. They didn’t just listen. They didn’t just hear it. They didn’t just pray a prayer. Notice, the second condition is: we must respond to the truth.
Look what they do in verses 9 through 12. “When Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and the scribe, and the Levite who were instructing the people said to them, ‘This day is sacred to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.’ For all the people were weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.” When they saw who God was, when they saw why they were where they were, when they saw the consequences, when they looked around and said, “We’ve married foreign wives. We’ve disobeyed. We don’t honor the Sabbath. We have our priorities out of whack. We’ve leveraged ourselves; we have amazing debt. All the things You’ve said that You would bless – You said to us, ‘Live this way, there will be blessing; live this way, there will be a curse. Before you today, I give you life, or death.’”
They’re hearing this, and they are realizing, “We chose death,” and they’re weeping. They’re weeping. For some of us, it would be, “I am experiencing this depression because I’m in disobedience.” “My marriage broke up because of my disobedience.” “My kids are experiencing this because of my disobedience.” When you face that kind of stuff, you weep! You’re broken.
But notice what they’re doing. “Nehemiah said to them, ‘Go and rejoice, enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’”
And the Levites, now, they’re coming out in these, I think, medium-sized groups, and they “calmed all the people, saying, ‘‘Be still’” – “stop crying” – “‘for this is a sacred day.’ Then the people went away to eat, and drink, and to send portions of food and celebrate with great joy, because” – here’s the key word – “they now understood” – they didn’t just hear – “they understood the words that had been made known to them.”
You need to know something about the Jewish calendar. You might have skipped over it. It says, “It’s the seventh month, the first day.”
That’s when the new year starts. And God commanded the new year starts on October first, in the Jewish calendar, and they were to – the harvest is coming in, and so, on that very first day, what obedience looks like is, the harvest is coming in, and it’s a day to celebrate and rejoice what God has done, and what He’s provided.
And the people understood, they couldn’t focus on all their past failure, because God’s will, on this day, from His Word, is this, and it’s to celebrate.
And it says the reason why is, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” The word strength, there – the joy. When you experience the connection, the byproduct of being reconnected with God, it is that connection with Him that gives you strength.
Notice what, exactly, that they did. Number one, they wept over their sin. And for some of you, an application is going to be to maybe open your journal, and write out, God, I’m really – I’ve got to deal with some stuff.
Second, they received a word of grace. God said, “You just don’t understand. I’m a just God.” But the will of God today is, “I want to bless you. I want to love you.” Romans chapter 2 has this great line, “It is the kindness of the Lord that leads us to repentance.”
Most of us have a view of God that His arms are crossed; His toe is tapping. He has a long, boney finger. And anything you’ve ever done, He is really ticked off. And I don’t know where you got that picture of God, or where I got it, and don’t get me wrong, He doesn’t gloss over sin. But whenever a person has a contrite heart, whenever a person is genuinely, deeply sorry, and you own your stuff, and you blow it, the Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and those that are crushed in spirit.
And when you come like that, you will meet a God who is like this: who loves, who forgives, who cleans you off, who puts His arm around you. Oh, He’ll deal with the consequences – He’ll be fair. But He’ll go through it with you.
And notice, they experienced the joy of obedience. See, for many of you, the next step – God’s will for you is just to take the next step of obedience. What is it that He’s showing you?
He’s bringing things to your mind, not because He’s down on you. He’s bringing things to your mind – it’s called “conviction” – so you could own them, and you could bring them. And you could turn from them. That’s what they did, but notice how they did it. They responded from the heart. This wasn’t perfunctory. This wasn’t, “Oh, yeah, God says this. I guess we’re supposed to do that.” This was deep! This was honest! This was real!
You know those different times you have in your life, and I have in my life, the times where your prayers are short, and they’re superficial, and you’re playing games. And you don’t have a deep connection with God. You don’t hear those little promptings that He gives you. And many times, what it is, He keeps bringing the same thing back over and over and over. I don’t know what it is with you.
But it’s a sensitive issue, and you don’t want to deal with it. And so, you keep this superficial thing going. And then, you’ve had those times, like I have, where you get before God, and you call it what it is, and you see it for what it is, and the tears come, and you own it, and you just feel like the lowest, worst person. “I am desperate, and I’m sorry,” and there’s this guilt that comes. And there’s this amazing release as you bring it to Him, and you experience, None of this surprised Me. I love you.
Notice, they focused on God’s mercy, rather than on their failure. Isn’t this amazing?
Once you get real, you need to focus on His mercy, and how great a love the Father must have for regular people, like you and me, that He’s called us His children.
And so, you own your stuff, and then you focus on what He’s done. This is the Luke 15; this is the son who has squandered his life, and realizes, he brings nothing; he doesn’t deserve to be a son. But the moment he turns from the pigsty, the moment from his life, and he returns to the father.
What’s the father like? What was Jesus’ picture there? What was He trying to tell? That wasn’t some story. That was for you! What’s He want you to know?
He can repair people that have had affairs! He can repair people that have addictions. He can repair people that have squandered, and your greed has cost you your life fortune. He can repair people that are gossips, and workaholics, and people-pleasers, and codependents, and sex addicts, and rigid, narrow, Bible-thumping Pharisees who are judgmental of other people. All of us.
You come, and when you come to that Father, what’s He do? He’s waiting. And He puts a ring on your finger, and sandals on your feet, because you’re not a slave, you’re a son. And He takes His robe and He wraps it around you, and He walks through it with you.
Notice what they did: They obeyed God’s Word for today. We have this mental catalogue that we play, is that – you know you need to return to God, you know you need to get right with God. And then, the catalogue is, you have this list of seventeen things that need to be addressed, that’s a lie from the enemy of hell. They just obey. You obey today. What’s God saying today? What’s His will today? And so, they did. And their “today” response was – what? “Today we’re supposed to, it’s the first day; it’s the new year. We’re to thank God for the harvest. We’re to thank God for this, and we’re to look forward in faithfulness, and celebrate.”
So, where do you need to respond to the truth? What’s the next step? You want to hear the answer to a prayer that comes, like –whoo! – really quick? Pray this prayer in your heart and mind right now: Dear God, please show me the next step. Whatever You show me, I will do. And I don’t care if you don’t listen to me the rest of the time. Dear God, show me just the next step. I will tell you – whoo!
Now, many of you will not like what the next step is, and many of you actually already know what the next step is. But you’re playing this game, “I don’t want to – I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to do it. I hope he – don’t miss God’s grace. See, you don’t deal with it today, if you’re fortunate it’ll come back around in a month. If you’re fortunate, it’ll come back around. But it may not. Sometimes God says, You want your own way? Here it is, in spades, with all the consequences that come with it.
So, we return to the Word in our response to personal failure. Then, we respond to that truth, from the heart. And then, third, we must apply it to our lives. We’ve got to get it operational. It’s when you act on the Word; it’s when you abide, when you take the step. Jesus says, “That’s when you’ll know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
So, let’s find out what they do. Pick it up at verse 13. Verse 13 – now, notice, it was the first day of the seventh month. Now it’s the second day. “The heads of all the families, along with the priests and the Levites, they gathered around Ezra the scribe to give attention” – literally, the phrase is, literally, “to gain wisdom” – “to give attention to the words of the Law.”
And so, the next day – this is like the very first advanced Bible seminar. And all the leaders and the heads of the families say, “Hey, Ezra, before we go on, could we talk? Because we’ve got to figure out how to apply this to our lives.”
“So they found written in the Law of the Lord that Moses had commanded that the Israelites were to live in booths during the feast of the seventh month.” Of course, they’re in the seventh month. “And they should proclaim this Word and spread it throughout their towns and in Jerusalem: ‘Go out into the hill country and bring back branches of olive and wild olive trees, and from myrtles and from palms and shade trees, to make booths’ – as it is written.”
So, what do the people do? “The people went out and they brought back branches and built themselves booths on their own roofs, and in the courtyards and in the courts of the house of God and in the square by the Water Gate and by the one by the Gate of Ephraim.
“And the whole company that returned from the exile, they built booths and they lived in the tent. And from the days of Joshua the son of Nun until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated it like this. And their joy was very great.” And then, notice the very last line: “Day after day, from the first day to the last, Ezra read from the Book of the Law of God.”
And then, notice, there’s this joy. “And they celebrated the feast for seven days, and on the eighth day, in accordance with the regulation, there was an assembly.”
So, what did they do? The fathers and the leaders came to be equipped.
And notice, the second thing is, they discovered a command to obey.
What you found is, day one was the Feast of the Trumpets. Well, then the tenth day would be the Day of Atonement. And then, on the fifteenth day, they were supposed to go out and get these branches, and they’d build these little huts, and they would sleep outside for seven days, to remind them of their wilderness wandering.
Why did the people of Israel end up in the wilderness? Can anybody remember? Because they disobeyed God, right? So, the wilderness wandering is – what? A time of discipline.
And so, what they learned was, “We’re supposed to do this every year to remember that God wants us to be in the promised land, but if you disobey – part of our heritage is, our fathers failed to believe, and trust, and take the steps of faith, and this is what happens.”
And guess what they do – they obey. They went out – notice – immediately. They build it on the roof; the build it in the courtyards. They build it in the house of God.
Well, then, how did they do it? First, they recognized their need for spiritual insight.
Second is, they focused on present obedience, instead of past failure. See, if they were in a modern counseling session, they would have been unpacking the last hundred years of how they got there: “I did this. I did this. I did this. I did this. I did this. I did this. And I think this is the reason for that.” Now, there is a place and a time, personally, but some of you, you could spend the rest of your life unpacking baggage and remorse. There’s a thing called “the cross.” And it covers your sin. And you come to the cross, and you receive the atonement, or the covering, of your sin.
And then, the thing is – what’s obedience look like today? “Wow, I’m upside down financially. I’m going to get out of debt. I’m living with someone – ah, let’s see, I’m not real – actually, I am really sure. That’s not part of God’s – well, we love each other. Yeah, yeah, deet, dat, boop, bap, beep, beep. Those are my excuses. This is God’s will.”
You know what it is, right? Obey. Immediately. Today. What’s the next thing He wants you to do? And by the way, when you take a step of obedience, that joy kicks in. Is it hard? Of course it’s hard! Did you get where you’re at overnight? No. Is everything going to change overnight? No. But it starts with this first step. And then, notice, they developed a pattern of intake and obedience to God’s Word. It said, “Day after day.”
Some of you need to make some big steps. But all of us need to begin to walk. For some, you’re here today, and this is the greatest day of your earthly life. You just didn’t know it when you got up. I’m serious. You came. It’s about adversity. You’re getting some help. But you’re outside of Christ. If you were to die today, you’d be eternally separated from the living God, because no amount of your being nice, or a little bit more moral than other people.
God does not grade on the curve. Sorry. You have to have a hundred points of absolute perfection to have a relationship with an absolutely holy God. You can be a ninety-six, a ninety-seven, or a minus ten – it’s pass/fail. And the only way you can have a hundred points is to allow Christ to do for you what you could never do for yourself. When He died upon the cross, He paid for your sin, my sin, and the sins of all people, of all time. He atoned, He covered for them, and He says, “Whosoever would believe in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
And for some, the will of God the next step in this room is, right now, for you to say, God, I need You. I have missed the mark. I have sinned. I’ve got lots of stuff in my life. And I want You to know, I want to turn from that sin. I’m going to ask You to come into my life, and make me Your son or Your daughter, and I want a new life. And He will do that. And you’ll need to tell someone. And about eighty or ninety percent of the people, at some point in their life, have done that, and they have all the same struggles you and I do. But I will tell you, they are new people. There has been a transformation, and He wants that for you.
For others, you’ve been thinking the whole time I’ve been talking, and fighting with it. You need to decide; you ask God, What’s the next step? Is it getting into His Word? Is it deal with a sin issue? Is it get in community? I don’t know what it is! You take that step, and the process of restoration will occur.