Weekly Thought: Encouragement from Every Book Esther: A Story of Gallows, Timely Courage, and the Unmistakable Work of God

The books of Ezra and Nehemiah recount the hope-filled, yet difficult struggle of God’s people as they return from exile and rebuild the nation. The Lord is clearly at work in fulfilling his promise and bringing his people back from the darkness of living as foreigners in a strange land. They rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, they reconstruct walls around the city, they seek to turn back to God’s Law, and God’s presence is undeniably in their midst as he provides for their needs. Judah is finally home. Jerusalem is being reestablished. God has not abandoned the family of Abraham.
Yet, even as all of this is going on for years in Jerusalem, not everyone in the Jewish nation gets to go home. Not all of God’s people get to see the glory of the temple as it rises from the rubble in Jerusalem. In fact, a great number remain in exile under the rule of a pagan empire, Persia. So what about those people? God is in Jerusalem in his holy temple, but is he still with his people in exile? Has God abandoned those left behind, those who didn’t go home?
These are some of the puzzling questions that might strike readers of the book of Esther. Set in the capital city of the Persian empire amidst evil kings and devious rulers, Esther tells the account of the plight of the Jews still living in exile. Famously, God is not mentioned once in the entire story. So where is God? Has he left his people to destruction? As the events of Esther unfold, the resounding answer is that God certainly has not forsaken his chosen family. Although seemingly silent and invisible, the Lord is at work on every page of the book of Esther.
Apparent coincidences and ironies abound throughout the narrative of Esther. A lowly Jewish orphan girl somehow catches the eye of the king of Persia and wins a beauty contest to become the next queen. Her relative and de facto father figure, Mordecai, happens to overhear an

assassination plot against the king and saves his life. And just as Esther rises to her royal position, wicked Haman convinces the king to order the extermination of all of the Jewish people. As Esther and Mordecai hear of the horrifying plot, they mourn greatly at the danger coming upon their people. Yet, Mordecai points out to Esther that what has been happening in their lives may be no coincidence after all:
“Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14).
Although Mordecai does not mention God explicitly, it seems clear that he has a deep trust in the promises that God will be with and deliver his people. Not only that, but he wonders if perhaps the events of Esther’s life were all leading to this so that she would be in the right place at the right time in order to bring deliverance for God’s people. Even so, Esther is hesitant and afraid. What if Mordecai has it all wrong? What if she enters the king’s presence unsummoned and is killed on the spot? What if God really isn’t at work? But even in her fears, Esther chooses the difficult path of courage and sacrifice:
“Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:15-16)

Esther bravely decides to put her own life at risk for the chance of saving her people from the plot of Haman. Throughout the rest of the story, it becomes clearer and clearer that God truly is at work. In the very next chapter, Haman hatches a plan to have Mordecai killed, and he builds a gallows for that very end. And just as he is about to ask the king to execute Mordecai, the king is planning to honor Mordecai for saving his life. Just that night, the king just so happened to be restless and was read the account of Mordecai thwarting the assassination attempt against the king. In the very next chapter, Haman’s plot to kill the Jews is revealed by Esther, and the king responds by executing Haman on the gallows he built for Mordecai, and he then promotes Mordecai to take Haman’s place. In his new position of power, Mordecai is able to issue a decree that allows the Jews to protect themselves from their enemies, thus saving them from Haman’s original order.
As the book concludes, it becomes evident that truly all the details, coincidences, and events of the story were working together for this purpose. The beauty of Esther, her rise to power, Mordecai’s overhearing of the assassination plot, the sleeplessness of the king, the pride of Haman, and countless other details all perfectly collide to provide a redemption from sure destruction. It then becomes unmistakable that God has providentially orchestrated the salvation of his holy nation. Even when he appears absent, he is working behind the scenes in his own wondrous way. Not only is he in his temple in Jerusalem, he is in exile in Susa, moving and protecting and providing. When Haman sold the Jews for silver and cast the lot for their annihilation, God already had a plan in place to use unlikely heroes to provide rescue.
The book of Esther is a profound reminder of God’s abiding presence, his mysterious providence, and his utter faithfulness to his people. It prompts us to consider how God is

working in our day and in our lives and how we can have the timely courage of Esther and Mordecai so that we might be willing to take hold of the opportunities that God has set before us to be a part of his redemptive work. Even more powerful are the echoes of the gospel story in Esther. Just as the gallows built by Haman was the means of his own downfall, the cross used to execute Jesus was the means of destroying Satan’s power. Just as Mordecai was doomed for a gruesome death but exalted to power, Jesus was raised up and seated at the right hand of the throne of God. When Jesus was sold for silver and destined for destruction, God worked victory and salvation for his people. When God seemed most absent, he was totally involved and present. And just as Esther was, Jesus was willing to lay down his own life for the people. Make no mistake, God is at work in our world, and each day he gives us opportunities to participate in his redemptive plan. Perhaps we have come to this particular moment in our lives for such a time as this.

Weekly Thought: Encouragement from Every Book Nehemiah: The Joy of The Lord is Your Strength

What happens when we hear the Word of God? When God speaks, things happen. Worlds are formed. Light appears and darkness scatters. The foundations of the earth tremble at his voice. But what happens in us when we hear the Word of God? What is supposed to happen? Because if we truly listen to the voice of God in Scripture, we cannot but help but be massively affected in some way. If the same Lord who said “Let there be light” speaks into our lives, something amazing can occur.
As with the book of Ezra, in the book of Nehemiah we see both physical and spiritual rebuilding among God’s people returning from exile. Once again, God works in the heart of a pagan king so that Nehemiah is allowed to return to Jerusalem and help rebuild the city walls. Nehemiah comes up against trials from all fronts in this task. He must deal with crafty enemies and a difficult undertaking but because of his servant leadership, the people have a mind to work, and they accomplish the mission of rebuilding the city walls.
Yet again, however, the spiritual restoration is the major focus in the book of Nehemiah rather than the physical walls. We see over and over that it’s the Word of the Lord that is at the center. God’s own Word is what truly create change in the hearts of the people. For instance, in Nehemiah 5, when it is discovered that the people are oppressing the poor and exacting interest from their neighbors, Nehemiah is greatly disturbed and points the people back to the foundational principles of God’s Law. And in the same chapter, Nehemiah leads by example in not participating in all the wealth and privileges afforded by his position in order to not lay a heavy burden on the people. Nehemiah was living with a fear of God and his Word.

Not only did Nehemiah seek to live out the Word by example and service, but he also desired greatly for it to be taught among the people. In Nehemiah 8, Ezra reads the book of the Law and he and other leaders explain it to the people:
“And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading” (Nehemiah 8:6-8).
This is a wonderful moment for Judah. The covenant is being renewed; they are being reminded of God’s holy standard for them. And not only are they simply hearing it, but great care is taken so they understand it as well. So what happens when these people hear and understand the Word of God? What is the result of their understanding? Notice what happens next:
“And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your
strength.” So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be

grieved.” And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.”
What is the result of their understanding? It is not the moment of happiness that we might first expect. It is great weeping and mourning. Why? It’s because they see the standard so clearly set before them, and it is unmistakable that they have fallen woefully short. They are convicted by the truth of God’s Word. They have not kept their side of the covenant; they have been miserably unfaithful. This is not a wrong response. It is good and right that they feel this way because it reflects the reality. They had been faithless; they were guilty.
Yet, the leaders insist that they cease their weeping and mourning. Why? The answer is there in the text: “And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Understanding God’s Word certainly creates in us a sense of sorrow and inadequacy, as it should. However, he also imparts a superior power—his own joy. This moment was not about their failures but about God’s great faithfulness and his covenant-keeping love. As they came to him in repentance and renewed fervor to obey the covenant, they could have joy because God did not give up on his people, even in exile. Our strength is not in our obedience or power; it is in God’s joy. His steadfast love and joy in his people supersedes their failures, their guilt, and their shame. The leaders remind the people that this a holy day of rejoicing in all that God had done in working for them. Godly grief and repentance are good and appropriate—as is demonstrated by the people’s prayer in the next chapter—but joy in God should always triumph His mercy and strength turns our rightful shame and guilt into rejoicing over what God has done. This allows us to be free from reliance of our own works and free from the overwhelming burden of guilt so that we are sustained by the Lord’s mighty working, despite our weakness.

Understanding God’s Word should routinely convict us and make us mourn over the gravity of our sin. We aren’t really grasping his truth if we aren’t brought to our knees by our grievous sin and his great holiness. Yet, if we are truly hearing what God has to say, we will not be left in shame for long. His Word always provides a joy and hope because of his faithfulness. Who he is provides us a solid hope amidst our wickedness. It constantly reminds us to cast off our ways and to continually pursue his way by his strength and grace. As a result, our change comes from a trust in his unchanging goodness rather than from a reluctant, guilt-induced desire to modify our behavior. The joy of the Lord is our strength.
This is one of the great meanings of the cross of Jesus Christ. Certainly, we cannot see the cross without seeing in it the horrors of our sin. The consequences of our rebellion puts the Son of God to death. Every person with a soft heart will weep concerning his part in the death of God’s beloved one. We know, however, that our mourning over the cross is not the dominant, ultimate reaction that we should have. In the cross, we see the strengthening joy of God because he faithfully removes our sin in Jesus and allows us to be reconciled to him by his grace. His indestructible life and his infinite joy overpower the sorrow of our unfaithfulness. It is by this grace and joy that we are empowered to love and serve this faithful God. As we saw in Ezra, repentance and grief are essential, but they are not final. God replaces that sadness with happy hope for those who come to him in love and humility. The joy of the Lord is our strength.
“For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5).

Weekly Thought: Encouragement from Every Book Ezra: A Restored People

After many years of suffering and darkness in exile for God’s people in Babylon, hope springs anew in the book of Ezra. Amazingly, the Lord stirs up the pagan king Cyrus to allow a group of the exiled Jews to return home to Jerusalem and rebuild the holy temple of God. The Lord’s faithfulness is evident in his way of working; he stirs up the heart of the king for his purposes and for the good of his people. Finally, after the shame of the destruction of the temple and the disorientation of living in a foreign land, there is light and a new beginning for Israel. Cyrus even provides all the resources needed for this group to be successful in accomplishing the task of building the temple. Led by Zerubbabel, God’s people head for home and a fresh start.
Yet, as we read throughout the book of Ezra, we discover that the work of rebuilding and restoration is far from simple. Due to apathy, opposition, and discouragement, it takes nearly twenty years for the construction of the temple to be finally completed. Through it all, though, God is faithful and the temple rises from the rubble once more. Naturally, this is an occasion of worship and great rejoicing in what God had done:
“And the people of Israel, the priests and the Levites, and the rest of the returned exiles, celebrated the dedication of this house of God with joy” (Ezra 6:16).
“And they kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with joy, for the Lord had made them joyful and had turned the heart of the king of Assyria to them, so that he aided them in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel” (Ezra 6:22).

This picture of true worship and joyful thanksgiving would provide a lovely and tidy ending to the story for God’s people. After brokenness, now we see restoration. Out of the decades of sorrow arises a new moment of joy. Through failure, God provides redemption. However, as the book of Ezra makes clear, the completion of the physical temple is not the end. There is much more work to be done. True restoration is about more than right ritual or joyful worship.
This is where Ezra comes onto the scene. Nearly sixty years after the temple has been established, the scribe Ezra is sent to Jerusalem to continue the mission of restoration in a new way. His work is more than mere physical labor. His task is to teach and to help rebuild the people, to renew their covenant faithfulness and commitment to the Law of God. While the rebuilding of a physical holy place—the temple—was a clear sign of hope and of God’s presence, God also desires for his own people to be holy and set apart in every way, not just in the visible symbols of cedar and stone. As is evident in Ezra 7:9-10, Ezra is just the man for the job:
“For on the first day of the first month he began to go up from Babylonia, and on the first day of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem, for the good hand of his God was on him. For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.”
Ezra reflects what should be the attitude of all who seek God’s will: setting in our heart to not only study God’s Word but also to do it and to teach it to others. For God’s people to be truly faithful and holy, they need leaders like Ezra who have deep-rooted desire to learn, obey, and proclaim.

Even with the right disposition of heart, Ezra realized that in his day, restoration and renewal requires hard work and difficult choices because the challenges he faced were very great. This reality is on display in Ezra 9 as he is informed about Israel’s serious sin:
“The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands with their abominations, from the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. For they have taken some of their daughters to be wives for themselves and for their sons, so that the holy
race[a] has mixed itself with the peoples of the lands. And in this faithlessness the hand of the officials and chief men has been foremost.” As soon as I heard this, I tore my garment and my cloak and pulled hair from my head and beard and sat appalled. Then all who trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the faithlessness of the returned exiles, gathered around me while I sat appalled until the evening sacrifice” (Ezra 9:1-4).
The holy temple was a sign and symbol of God’s distinct and special presence among Israel, who were supposed to be set apart and holy in the way that they lived. Yet, they were not living up to that call to purity. In fact, they were marrying foreigners of other lands and were participating in their abominations, which was one of the major reasons they ended up in exile in the first place. They became just like every other nation in idolatry, in wickedness, and in injustice. These marriages threatened their mission to rebuild as a holy people devoted to the Lord and his law because they were directly disobeying God in aligning with foreign nations.
Ezra’s response to Israel’s sin shows what is needed for true restoration. In his heartfelt and heart-wrenching prayer to the Lord, he responds in total recognition of the gravity of the

people’s sin, an appeal to God’s mercy and love, and a call to repentance. Notice these aspects in portions of Ezra’s prayer:
“O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens. From the days of our fathers to this day we have been in great guilt. And for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been given into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plundering, and to utter shame, as it is today” (Ezra 9:6-7).
“For we are slaves. Yet our God has not forsaken us in our slavery, but has extended to us his steadfast love before the kings of Persia, to grant us some reviving to set up the house of our God, to repair its ruins, and to give us protection in Judea and Jerusalem.” (Ezra 9:9)
“O Lord, the God of Israel, you are just, for we are left a remnant that has escaped, as it is today. Behold, we are before you in our guilt, for none can stand before you because of this.” (Ezra 9:15)
In his praying, Ezra does not make an attempt to hide or to diminish the weightiness of the sins that the people have committed. He openly admits how undeserving and ungrateful Israel has been. He also recognizes God’s steadfast love despite their unfaithfulness. It is clear that Israel’s only hope is the mercy and longsuffering love of God. And in his praying, he demonstrates his understanding of the need for repentance, that the people turn back to the Word of God as spoken in the Law and the Prophets. Ezra’s praying, fasting, confessing, and weeping before God leads the people to be heartbroken over their own sin, and they decide to make a

covenant to repent and do what is right. The people attempt to turn back to holiness in their marriage relationships and in their association with pagan nations.
This account from God’s word reminds us that restoration to what God wants us to be must begin with an intensely honest admission of our guilt before the Lord, with a broken heart concerning sin, a reliance on God’s mercy, and a commitment to change for the better. Ezra reminds us that holiness must be utterly pervasive in the lives of God’s people. It’s not just about the outward appearance or in physical buildings or in the worship of the mouth. It’s about a heart to God’s will and a courage to make tough decisions in order to obey that will. It’s about being totally holy in our hearts, in our relationships, in our families, and in everything we do. The Lord Jesus has set before us a holy standard to follow, one that leaves no area of our lives untouched. Being a restored and holy people of God’s own possession requires a consistent evaluation of our lives in relation to Jesus and a constant willingness to lament and repent when we fail to live up to it. And when we do that and rely on God’s mercy and faithfulness to help as we do, we can have joyful confidence that God is restoring, refreshing, and renewing his people in his love, grace, and forgiveness.

Sunday, January 31 st

Prayer focus topic—Glory of God
Prayer points—As Jesus prayed that God’s name would be hallowed, let us also pray that God’s
name would be honored and glorified. Pray that all we do and all we ask for and all we pray for
will ultimately serve the purpose of glorifying God in heaven. Pray that our lives would be aimed
for this purpose above all other pursuits in our lives.

Saturday, January 30 th

Prayer focus topic—Thanksgiving
Prayer points—Take today to focus on giving thanks in prayer. Thank God for the abundant
physical and spiritual blessings he has given in the past year and the ones he gives us each day.
Pray that he will help us to always have hearts of gratitude toward him.

Weekly Thought: Encouragement from Every Book 2 Chronicles: Prophets, Priests, and Kings

What happens when the worship of the Lord is neglected? What becomes of a nation when Kings abuse their power to build self-exalting empires? What is the fate of a people who live in a land where truth is a scare commodity? These are some of the key questions addressed in 2 Chronicles as the slow decay of Judah is recounted. Inevitably, their faithlessness leads to conquest at the hands of Babylon. This is a story of a people turning from their God, but it is also a story of prophets, priests, and kings. This is a history of Judah, but the main players are prophets, priests, and kings, who all had a great role to play in preserving the faithfulness of the people of God. Prophets were charged with the mission of speaking the truth of God’s Word to those in power, even when the message was wildly unpopular. Priests were designated as the holy representatives of God to the people and of the people to God; they offered sacrifice and were responsible for the proper worship of the Lord and of the service of the temple. And of course, kings were to rule wisely and humbly over the nation, guiding them in the ways of the Lord.
In 2 Chronicles, we read of the calamitous consequences resulting from the failures of the leaders. In 2 Chronicles 18, we see four-hundred prophets simply telling the king what he wants to hear; it’s hinted that this has become commonplace in both Israel and Judah. The holy priesthood falters as well, allowing idol worship and unclean things even in the temple, in addition to failing to keep the holy feast days and observe Passover. Their wickedness is summed up in 2 Chronicles 36:14:

“All the officers of the priests and the people likewise were exceedingly unfaithful, following all the abominations of the nations. And they polluted the house of the Lord that he had made holy in Jerusalem.”
While many prophets and priests are neglectful of their duties, the rulers of the people, the kings, display great acts of evil also. Manasseh burns his own children and many more are similarly violent and idolatrous. The picture is clear. God’s people have been deeply corrupted, starting with even the religious and national leaders.
Yet even amidst all of this chaos and rebellion, 2 Chronicles also presents us with several scattered stories throughout the book of flawed, yet courageous leaders who set their heart to do what was right despite being surrounded by wickedness.
In contrast to the lying prophets of 2 Chronicles 18, the prophet Micaiah responds with the difficult truth, proclaiming “As the Lord lives, what my God says, that I will speak” (18:14). Others like Shemaiah, Hanani, and Azariah confront kings by telling them to turn to God and to forsake their evil ways. They boldly proclaim God’s Word in places where the truth is hated. They offer a glimmer of hope and a call to obedience as they seek to right the course of the nation.
There are faithful priests too in 2 Chronicles. The priest Jehoiada is a striking example of courageous devotion to God. He rebels against the illegitimate Queen Athaliah and leads the people to restore young Joash as the rightful king. He then institutes sweeping reforms by cutting off Baal worship, by organizing the priests and Levites in their service, and by turning the people back to God:

“And Jehoiada made a covenant between himself and all the people and the king that they should be the Lord’s people” (23:16).
All the days of his life, he led the king in the ways of the Lord; when Jehoiada died, Joash turned to wickedness. Jehoiada’s son, the priest Zechariah, is the lone force standing up to this evil:
“ Then the Spirit of God clothed Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest, and he stood above the people, and said to them, “Thus says God, ‘Why do you break the commandments of the Lord, so that you cannot prosper? Because you have forsaken the Lord, he has forsaken you.’” But they conspired against him, and by command of the king they stoned him with stones in the court of the house of the Lord” (24:20-21).
Zechariah boldly stands up for the cause of holiness and truth and is stoned for it in the court of the house of the Lord. Even as the service and worship of the Lord is often tainted and tarnished and repudiated, men like Jehoiada and Zechariah risked their own lives to honor the Lord.
In addition to the prophets and priests, there are also several moments in 2 Chronicles of incredible humility and devotion to God from Judah’s kings. Despite most of these rulers swerving into idolatry and wickedness, there are periods of holy triumph. In 2 Chronicles 20, for instance, Jehoshaphat leads the people in prayer, fasting, and song, and he trusts totally in God to win a battle for them, demonstrating amazing humility in his prayer:
“We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (20:12).

This faith of the king results in a time of rejoicing in victory and in the worship of the Lord. Another king, Hezekiah, guides the nation to celebrate Passover for the first time in decades, instructing the people to work around the clock to make preparations. Even wicked Manasseh at one point humbles himself before God in prayer. In 2 Chronicles, we get glimpses of the victory, the rejoicing, and the true worship that comes when a faithful king sets his heart to humbly serve God and shepherd the people. Amidst generations and generations of failure, there are flashes of hope. There are echoes of the beauty of faithfulness to God.
In the original Hebrew ordering of the Old Testament, 2 Chronicles was the last book in the canon. It served as a summation and repetition of the story of God’s people, a reminder of the road to destruction and captivity in Babylon. As ancient readers studied this book of God’s Word, perhaps they were struck by those glimmers of hope in the stories of those rare, courageous leaders. Perhaps they thought, “We need a unwavering, truth-telling prophet like Micaiah. We need to have a purifying, sacrificial priest like Zechariah or Jehoiada. We truly need a prayerful and humble king to serve like Jehoshaphat or Hezekiah or Asa or Josiah.” I believe the book of 2 Chronicles is designed to point us to the desperate need for faithful prophets, priests, and kings. God’s people need someone who will tell God’s truth no matter what. We need someone holy and pure to represent God and to go on our behalf to offer proper sacrifices. We need a king to shepherd us and guide us in humble obedience. Great things happen in 2 Chronicles when prophets, priests, and kings step up to the task and fulfill their divinely appointed role. Yet, even the best of these also failed. Even when we read of the most righteous kings, we also read of their stumbles, their pride, and their disobedience.
Therefore, 2 Chronicles reminds us that what we truly need is a perfect prophet, priest, and king. The Gospels present Jesus Christ as distinctly fulfilling all three of these roles. He is a

prophet and teacher, relentlessly calling the people and the religious leaders back to true faithfulness to God. He is the great High Priest, holy and pure as he cleanses the temple and offers the perfect sacrifice of himself on our behalf. He is the truly humble and prayerful king, relying totally on the Father as he rules and shepherds his people. Even our best leaders will falter at times, but Christ never wavers in truth, in purity, or in his kingly authority. He alone is the trustworthy leader. He is the better Zechariah. He is the superior Micaiah. He is the greater Jehoshaphat. Thanks be to God for a prophet, priest, and king who never fails his people!

Friday, January 29 th :

Prayer focus topic—Churches of Christ in New England
Prayer points—Let’s focus in prayer on our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ in New England.
Pray that God will bless the churches of New England and will help them grow and reach out
with the gospel. Pray for continued unity, fellowship, and encouragement among the churches in
this region. Pray for the leaders of those congregations to stay faithful and true to the Word. Pray
that God will raise up new ministers, missionaries, elders, leaders, and servants for the Church in
New England so that the kingdom will grow numerically and spiritually. Pray that we will be
able to stay connected despite many events being cancelled this year due to Covid.

Thursday, January 28 th

Prayer focus topic—Enemies
Prayer points—As Jesus commanded us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute
us, let us spend this day specifically praying for those who are opposed to us. Think about those
personally and broadly who might be classified in your mind as an enemy: maybe a co-worker,
or even a family member, or someone who has hurt us, or someone in an opposing political
party, or maybe even the enemies of our nation. Pray that all these will come to know Christ.
Pray that they will repent and experience mercy and forgiveness that we know through Jesus.
Pray that we can see them as Jesus did and reach out to even those who mistreat us or disagree.

Wednesday, January 27 th

Prayer focus topic—Goat Ministry in India
Prayer points—Thank God that we get to be a small part of the goat ministry that helps widows
in India. Pray that God would bless our efforts and our funds and that all that we give will beused wisely for the sake of those in need. Pray for those widows that receive these goats that they
will be blessed physically and spiritually.

Tuesday, January 26 th

Prayer focus topic—Widows and Orphans
Prayer points—We know that one of God’s plans for the Church is to take care of widows and
orphans. Pray for God’s help as we seek to do that this year. Pray that we as the Church will look
for ways to support the children who are most vulnerable in our community, country, and world.
Pray that the Church here would continually be a safe family for those who have no spiritual
family. Ask for wisdom to know the best ways that we can serve the widows and orphans in our
congregation and in the world.

Monday, January 25 th

Prayer focus topic—Free Day
Prayer points—Let’s pray that God would bless Free Day this year. Thank God for the
opportunity to serve others, and ask for God’s help that the items we give and the service we
render will bear fruit for his kingdom and display the light and love of Jesus. Pray also for the
various benevolence works that we support throughout the year.

Sunday, January 24 th

Prayer focus topic—Unbelieving/ Unfaithful Family Members
Prayer points—Today, let’s focus on praying for our immediate and distant relatives who do not
know Christ or who have strayed from God. Pray that we can have wisdom and courage to reach
out with the truth of God’s Word to those we love. Ask that these will be drawn closer to Christ
by our example and by the circumstances of their lives. Pray that we will have peace and trust in
God in these situations.

Saturday, January 23 rd

Prayer focus topic—Covid Concerns
Prayer points—Let’s pray on this day about the many concerns we have related to Covid. Pray
for the effectiveness and safety of the vaccines. Pray for the safety and health of all, especially
those most vulnerable to the virus. Pray for those grieving. Pray for those struggling financially.
Ask God to help us know how to love our neighbors during this time.

Friday, January 22 nd

Prayer focus topic—Community service opportunities
Prayer points—Pray today for open doors to serve the community. Ask that God would help us
see the ways that we can meet the needs of those around us in a way that truly helps and draws
people closer to Christ. Pray that we can find even more ways this year to be more inviting,
more generous, and more supportive to the community around us. Pray that God would use the
many talents present in the congregation for his glory.

Thursday, January 21 st

Prayer focus topic—Recently baptized believers
Prayer points—Pray today for those in our Church family who have been recently baptized and
are newer to the faith. Thank God for the example that they are to all of us. Pray that God will
help them grow in grace and knowledge and that he will strengthen all of us to encourage them
and disciple them. Pray that we will continually be a loving family and community for them.

Wednesday, January 20 th

Prayer focus topic—Government leadership
Prayer points—Focus in prayer on our leaders at the various levels of government: our president,
members of congress, our governor, and state and local officials. Pray that God will grant them
wisdom to make righteous choices. Pray that we will have the humility to humbly submit to all
governing authorities so that we can live quiet and peaceable lives.

Weekly Thought: Encouragement from Every Book 1 Chronicles: Rejoice and Tremble at His Presence

God is here. Right now and in every moment and in every place, the Lord of all is
present. No one is outside of his reach or his sight. Nothing happens apart from his knowledge
and permissive will. God is here. Not only is present in all places in a general sense, his people
have the privilege of his special and abiding presence, to be near him and have him near to us in
a unique way. What kind of feelings should this truth produce in us? What should our response
be to God’s presence? Should we rejoice with singing and gladness? Or should we tremble in
The glory of God’s presence among his people is one of the themes emphasized in the
book of 1 Chronicles, which recounts the life of David through a different perspective than the
account of 1 and 2 Samuel. In addition to highlighting the ark of the covenant, the priesthood,
and the Messianic line, the preparation of the building of the temple is of great import for the
writer of Chronicles. In the book, we read of David’s desire to build a magnificent temple for the
ark of God to dwell in to be a sign of God’s special presence among his people. When David
tells of his grand designs to build a house for God, the Lord responds by telling David that it is
actually he who will build an unshakeable house for David, meaning he would establish David’s
kingly line forever. Nevertheless, the Lord allows David to begin preparations for his son
Solomon to eventually build the temple, which would a powerful reminder of God’s presence.
This begins a time of joy and excitement at this new project designed to honor the God of Israel.
Throughout 1 Chronicles, though, there are sobering reminders of the seriousness and
gravity of God’s holy presence. Take for instance, the tragic occurrence of 1 Chronicles 13:7-11:

“And they carried the ark of God on a new cart, from the house of Abinadab, and Uzzah and
Ahiowere driving the cart. And David and all Israel were celebrating before God with all their
might, with song and lyres and harps and tambourines and cymbals and trumpets. And when they
came to the threshing floor of Chidon, Uzzah put out his hand to take hold of the ark, for the
oxen stumbled. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and he struck him
down because he put out his hand to the ark, and he died there before God. And David was
angry because the Lord had broken out against Uzzah. And that place is called Perez-uzza to
this day.”

The ark of the covenant served as the symbol of the seat of God’s presence in the
tabernacle and later in the temple. As it is being moved to the city of Jerusalem, David ensures
the ark moves with great fanfare and rejoicing, with songs and instruments and shouting. Yet,
this happy moment is shockingly interrupted when the ark begins to fall and Uzzah puts out his
hand to steady it. Immediately, the Lord is angry, and he strikes Uzzah dead in an instant. This is
a seemingly innocent act, isn’t it? Why would God do such a thing? Why is the Lord so angry at
a simple touch of the ark? Even David, who was rejoicing just moments before, is upset with
God and no longer wants the ark in Jerusalem.
Certainly, God is being neither vindictive or unjust. Rather, he is demonstrating the great
worth and the great danger of his holiness and presence. David eventually comes around on this
point, and he realizes his mistake a few chapters later when he attempts once again to transport
the ark:

“Then David summoned the priests Zadok and Abiathar, and the Levites Uriel, Asaiah, Joel,
Shemaiah, Eliel, and Amminadab, and said to them, “You are the heads of the fathers’ houses of
the Levites. Consecrate yourselves, you and your brothers, so that you may bring up the ark of
the LORD, the God of Israel, to the place that I have prepared for it. Because you did not carry it
the first time, the LORD our God broke out against us, because we did not seek him according to
the rule.” So the priests and the Levites consecrated themselves to bring up the ark of the LORD,
the God of Israel. And the Levites carried the ark of God on their shoulders with the poles, as
Moses had commanded according to the word of the LORD” (1 Chronicles 15:11-15).

What had been the problem? Although they had previously rejoiced at God’s presence,
they had not taken care to transport the ark according to the word of the Lord. The ark was
carried by the wrong people and in the wrong fashion. In so doing, they had treated God’s
presence as a trivial thing, neglecting his careful instructions. The second time, the priests were
rightly told to consecrate themselves to prepare for the task. They were a holy people set apart
and prepared to do the serious work that God called them to do. God’s presence is no frivolity. It
is the most serious thing imaginable because God is pure and righteous and holy, and no one may
presume that they may come into the Lord’s presence with unclean hands. Thus, God’s judgment
on Uzzah is a sign and reminder of the awe and reverence that all must have for God and his
commands. When we neglect to do so, we do not honor the greatness and the righteousness of
God; we treat the Lord of glory as common and unspectacular and profane.
Even so, God’s presence is not only cause for fear but for great praise and happiness.
David’s song of thanks to God in 1 Chronicles 16 gives insight into this dual emotional response
that we ought to have:

“Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy are in his place. Ascribe to the Lord, O
families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength! Ascribe to the Lord the glory due
his name; bring an offering and come before him! Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness;
tremble before him, all the earth; yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved. Let the
heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice, and let them say among nations, “The Lord reigns!”

The Lord is a God of joy but also a God of terrifying strength and power. He is glorious
and good. That’s why in this passage trembling is placed right alongside rejoicing. God’s
presence reminds us of how small we are but also of how thankful we should be that God loves
us and draws near to us. To know that the almighty God seeks my good and cares about our lives
should create in our hearts a fearful desire to do what is right and an abundant joy in the God
who watches over us. Notice the charge that David gives to his young son Solomon as he is
encouraging him to ready himself to do the work of building the temple:

“And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and
with a willing mind, for the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought. If
you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will cast you off forever. Be
careful now, for the Lord has chosen you to build a house for the sanctuary; be strong and do it”
(1 Chronicles 28:9-10).

We cannot hide our hearts, thoughts, or intentions from the all-knowing and omnipresent
God. He searches each of us. But the amazing truth is that if we seek him, he is near to us and he

desires to know us and help us. We see this throughout the whole story of the Bible; even as sin
separates, God is seeking to be present with his people. The holy Son of God even came to
unholy sinners in order to make them clean so they could re-enter the presence of God. That’s
cause for rejoicing and trembling.
The New Testament makes the radical declaration that God dwells in Christians by his
Spirit. The Church is his new temple. This should cause us to shout for joy but also tremble in
fear. Because God is with us and in us, our lives take on much greater significance because we
are representatives of God’s character and holiness. This vastly elevates the seriousness of every
choice we make and how we interact with others, but it also increases our happiness and our
joyful motivation to do what is right. The presence of God in us by his Spirit is no small thing; it
is no trifle. It is the most frightening and happy truth the world has ever known. As C.S. Lewis
put it his Chronicles of Narnia, God is not safe, but he is good. That is exceedingly good news
for the saved children of God. God is with us; let us tremble. God is with us; let us rejoice.

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but
much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God
who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13).

Weekly Thought: Encouragement from Every Book
2 Kings: Open Eyes to the Living God

It has often been noted that we tend to become like what we admire. We imitate what we
deem to be valuable and worthwhile; it’s only natural. And the object of our admiration tends to
be what we most often set before our eyes. What we choose to gaze upon, to behold, has great
influence on what and who we are. This fact is at the root of the danger of idolatry (the worship
of false gods). Not only does idolatry dishonor God and devalue his great holiness and worth, it
traps us by deceiving our eyes into admiring what is not ultimately valuable. We pass up the
living, active, loving God for mere objects: statues of gold, figurines of silver, or pictures on a
Some readers of the Bible might wonder why the Almighty God takes idolatry so
seriously. Why does he seem to care about that particular sin in many cases more than he does
about seemingly graver injustices like murder and violence? Is God’s jealousy and anger about
idolatry a result of mere ego or pettiness from the creator? What we may not realize is that
almost all evil and injustice finds its source in idolatry. They are inextricably linked. Why? It’s
because we become like what we admire, what we worship.
As Psalm 115:3-8 reminds us, we become like what we worship and trust in. Worship of
anything besides the true God corrupts us and makes us lifeless because we elevate what is
material and temporary over the one who is just, compassion, transcendent, and powerful over all
things. If we value lifeless images of gold and silver (or anything else for that matter) over God,
we become dull to the needs of others and we forget the just commands of God that remind us to
love God and love neighbor. When we choose gods of our own design, we neglect and reject the
fact that there is a holy standard that should govern our lives. We are implicitly saying that we

are the determiners of our own lives; we decide what is right and wrong because we decide what
our personal god is rather than submitting to a standard outside of ourselves.
All of this is at the core of what goes wrong in Israel in the book of 2 Kings, which
recounts the long and tragic demise of God’s people by recording the consistent failures of the
rulers of Israel and Judah. King after king is listed in the historical record, and what the inspired
author emphasizes is not the great military victories or accomplishments. Rather, the focus of the
text is on the wickedness or righteousness of the king in question. The major criteria for each
king is first and foremost how they responded in relation to idolatry. Did they worship the false
gods of pagan nations or did they tear down idols and high places? That’s the key question for
each king, and only a handful get a passing grade (and even the good kings usually don’t go far
enough). 2 Kings 17 records the eventual fall and destruction of Israel, the natural consequence
of so many years of sin. The chapter sums up well how God’s own people could end up at such a
low point:

“ And they did wicked things, provoking the Lord to anger, and they served idols, of which
the Lord had said to them, “You shall not do this.” Yet the Lord warned Israel and Judah by
every prophet and every seer, saying, “Turn from your evil ways and keep my commandments
and my statutes, in accordance with all the Law that I commanded your fathers, and that I sent to
you by my servants the prophets.” But they would not listen, but were stubborn, as their fathers
had been, who did not believe in the Lord their God. They despised his statutes and his covenant
that he made with their fathers and the warnings that he gave them. They went after false
idols and became false, and they followed the nations that were around them, concerning whom
the Lord had commanded them that they should not do like them. And they abandoned all the

commandments of the Lord their God, and made for themselves metal images of two calves; and
they made an Asherah and worshiped all the host of heaven and served Baal. And they burned
their sons and their daughters as offerings and used divination and omens and sold themselves to
do evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger” (2 Kings 17:11-17).

In this lengthy text, horrible atrocities and crimes of Israel are mentioned. They begin to
even burn their own children in sacrifice to false gods. How did Israel come to do the
unthinkable? How did they become like the worst of the pagans? The text clearly shows the
natural progression. It starts with idolatry and disobedience to the commandments of the Lord.
And as verse 16 says, they “went after false idols and became false.” They became like what
they worshipped. They were unloving and violent and untrustworthy because they abandoned the
God of Israel, who is the only truly loving and just one. And the book of 2 Kings vividly displays
the tragic consequences. Violence begets violence and there are constant rebellions and coups
and betrayal and soon Israel is just as bad and unjust as any other nation. Idolatry only leads to
wickedness and trouble and pain.
Yet even as Israel and Judah sets their eyes on worthless idols, the faithful God is
revealing himself through his prophets and his mighty deeds. He even delivers his undeserving
people from their enemies when they call out to him. One example of this comes in 2 Kings 19
when Hezekiah, a rare righteous king of Judah, calls out to God as they face the mighty armies of
Sennacherib. Notice his prayer:

“O Lord, the God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the
kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. 16 Incline your ear, O Lord, and

hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; and hear the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to
mock the living God. 17 Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their
lands 18 and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods, but the work of men’s
hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. 19 So now, O Lord our God, save us,
please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O Lord, are God

Hezekiah is one of the few who recognize that the Lord is the only true God. And we
later read that God does answer this prayer by destroying the vast enemy armies in one night,
showing himself to be the only God. Yet, the irony is that Hezekiah asks God to open his eyes to
what is happening when really it is God who has been seeing everything all along. It is the
people who are blind to how God has been working. What the people really need is to open their
eyes to who God is and what he has been doing. This is illustrated on a different occasion in 2
Kings 6. In this instance, Israel is surrounded by the enemy armies of Syria and the prophet
Elisha’s servant is greatly afraid. However, Elisha knows there is no need to fear:

“And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” He said, “Do not be afraid, for
those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said,
“O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man,
and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha”
(2 Kings 6:15-17).

If we had open eyes to see, we would know all that God is working for us and how powerful he
truly is. We could see that he alone can help us when our idols inevitably fail and frustrate. We
could God’s incredible ability to deliver. While we set our gaze on worthless things, God is
trying to shift our eyes and open them to his goodness and glory.
If there is evil and injustice that we are concerned about in the world, rest assured that
God cares about that injustice too. What God wants us to see, though, is that all that evil occurs
when we turn our eyes from him and his standard. Only by looking upon him and his plan can
the great problems of our world (and our own hearts) be solved. The consequences of our evil
idolatry are much great than we think, and the power of God to defeat that evil is much greater
than we realize. If we fix our eyes on Jesus, we will be able to see all that God has done and is
doing to confront evil in the world, and we will begin to realize that he is transforming us into a
kind of people who reflect the goodness and beauty and truth of God’s righteous character. Lord,
open our eyes to see!

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with
unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from
one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:17-18).

Weekly Thought: Encouragement from Every Book 1 Kings: Uneven Faith

Faith can be an unsteady endeavor. For most of us, our faith and our faithfulness
unfortunately ebbs and flows. Spiritual triumphs are followed by defeat. Trust in the Lord goes
up and down. Sometimes, we feel a fire in our bones to be all that God wants us to be, but other
times the Lord feels totally distant. Despite how it might seem, this phenomenon is not evidence
of any inconsistency or absence on the part of God. Rather, it is a product of our faulty
perception of our circumstances.
Just as in the book of Judges, in 1 Kings we see over and over again this pattern of ups
and downs (although there are admittedly more moments of failure than of obedience). King
Solomon starts off with impressive humility and desire for wisdom in 1 Kings 3, yet even he
plummets into the snare of idolatry and evil by taking many foreign wives. On a larger scale,
God’s people cycle through periods of faithfulness and disobedience. As the kingdom of God
splits as a result of Solomon’s sin, we read of many kings from both the northern kingdom of
Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. Sometimes kings uphold righteousness, but when they
do, it is not long before the next generation succumbs to the pull of sinful ways once again.
Interestingly, almost every king that is mentioned is measured against the standard of David’s
faithfulness to God. Ironically, the writer of 1 Kings reminds us that even David was not quite so
consistent either. Speaking of King Abijam, he writes:

“And he walked in all the sins that his father did before him, and his heart was not wholly true to
the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father. Nevertheless, for David’s sake the Lord his
God gave him a lamp in Jerusalem, setting up his son after him, and establishing
Jerusalem, because David did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and did not turn aside from

anything that he commanded him all the days of his life, except in the matter of Uriah the
Hittite” (1 Kings 15:3-5).

So David was completely devoted to God, except for when he wasn’t. So it goes with the
human heart. The unevenness of human faithfulness is not only evident in generational shifts and
trends, but we know from our own experience that it can even occur on a personal level from day
to day. One example of this in 1 Kings comes in chapters 18 and 19 as we read about the great
prophet Elijah. In 1 Kings 18, Elijah proves to be a shining example of boldness, courage, and
faith as he alone stands up to the wicked King Ahab and the 450 evil prophets of Baal. He
challenges them to a test with total faith that the Lord will be shown to be the true God of Israel.
Whichever god sends fire down is the true and living God. After the prophets of Baal fail
spectacularly, Elijah builds an altar and calls for a great amount of water to poured around it and
then calls for fire from heaven. God undeniably shows up in fire and power, and the prophets of
Baal are defeated. One man’s faith in the great might of God led to a victory over the
surrounding enemies. Elijah’s faith displays itself further at the end of the chapter when he is
confident that God will end the three-year drought. Seven times Elijah sends a servant to check
for signs of a rainstorm.1 Kings 18:44 says this:

“And at the seventh time he said, “Behold, a little cloud like a man’s hand is rising from the
sea.” And he said, “Go up, say to Ahab, ‘Prepare your chariot and go down, lest the rain stop

Tuesday, January 19 th

Prayer focus topic—Decisions to follow Christ
Prayer points—We focus this day’s prayer on those who are considering making the decision to
follow Christ and put him on in baptism. We especially want to pray for the kids and teens who
are considering this important topic so that they will be granted wisdom and courage. Pray that
we as the Church body will encourage them and teach them faithfully as they consider these
decisions to follow Jesus.