Very Interesting article from our friends at Prison Fellowship.

It is a struggle for so many who have never been incarcerated. For ex-mates the challenges can seem insurmountable. But with God and His people it too can be overcome

Why Ex-Prisoners Can't Find Work.

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And it came to pass in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes the king, that wine was before him: and I took up the wine, and gave it unto the king. Now I had not been beforetime sad in his presence.

2 Wherefore the king said unto me, why is thy countenance sad, seeing thou art not sick? This is nothing else but sorrow of heart. Then I was very sore afraid,

3 And said unto the king, Let the king live forever: why should not my countenance be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers' sepulchres, lieth waste, and the gates thereof are consumed with fire?        

 4 Then the king said unto me, For what dost thou make request? So I prayed to the God of heaven    

                 Nehemiah 2:1-4

 

            Last time we looked Nehemiah was crying out to God for wisdom on what to do about the devastation in Jerusalem. For many of us that is where our story would end. We have recognized that our lives our broken and that only God can fix them. We even pray and ask God for help in correcting our broken lives and then we stop.

 

            I believe the greatest deterrent to men and women moving beyond praying and doing things needed to rebuild their futures is fear. Oh I know men “we don’t fear anything”; yeah right. Sorry I am not convinced.

 

            Fear takes many forms. There is actually a website http://phobialist.com/  dedicated to listing all the things people are afraid of. Some are common like Acrophobia- Fear of heights or how about Agoraphobia- Fear of open spaces or of being in crowded, public places like markets it includes the fear of leaving a safe place. Others like Arachibutyrophobia- Fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of the mouth would seem rather rare.   This site lists hundreds maybe thousands of know fears, all of which folks can easily use to be indecisive and inactive.

 

            Before I go on let me clarify one point, I do believe that some folks have legitimate medical explanations for having these phobia. But I dare say that number is minimal compared to those who are just looking for an excuse to sit on the side lines.

 

            The Bible on the other hand only defines two forms of fear. First there is what I will call healthy fear. As you may recall in our look at Nehemiah’s prayer he called God “great and terrible”. This was in reverence to God as Nehemiah recognized and clearly acknowledges the Lord God’s exalted position.  The great as in the One who is able to accomplish mighty things and     The Terrible as in the One who is able to impose immense judgments. This first type is righteous and is to be encouraged. It is a fear that requires action. It requires faith and it requires a strong fellowship with God.  It is the fear Nehemiah had when the King asks him what was wrong.

 

            Then of course there is unhealthy fear, this is a crippling fear, filled with weakness and quivering. It leads to inaction and loss. It is what Ray Stedman describes as: Many today find themselves in almost total ruin. They have lost their way and are wide open to the attacks of any destructive or hostile force. Others have severely damaged areas in their lives. They are, perhaps, still held in bondage to wrongful attitudes or habits. It almost goes without saying that if you are praying for help, as Nehemiah prayed for help in the opening chapter of this book, then you should expect an answer: Expect God to do something. Be ready for it when it comes.

 

            I believe that the type of fear most associated with why people do not take action to change or rebuild their lives is the fear of change. This fear of change or changing things is called Metathesiophobia.  We get so used to our rebellious ways that we do not feel comfortable in any other environment or the thought of making moves to improve our lives is far too scary a thought to act upon.

 

            We can come up with all sorts of excuses like, what can I do I am only one person, or resignation like whatever happens, happens. Two modern quotes seem to dispel these notions:  If you think you're too small to make a difference, try going to bed with a mosquito in the room – unknown and from R.S. Sproul No choice is a choice. No choice is to accept things as they are---and they are unacceptable.  

 

            While in the Army I had a 3x5 card with the saying “The max effective range of an excuse is zero meters” on it. It was a daily reminder that inaction equaled failure and where lives matter failure was not an option.  You may have heard the old farm saying “make hay while the sun shines” or how about “never put off tomorrow what you can do today” and any sailor would recognize “Time and tide waits for no man”.  All these sayings have one thing in common they require us to take action to not procrastinate, to get about doing something.

 

            I entitled this sermon Carpe Diem or Seize the Day. While dictionaries define this as meaning:  the enjoyment of the pleasures of the moment without concern for the future. I take it as a battle cry to take every opportunity to make righteous changes in our lives. Note I said righteous changes. In a  believer’s life it is getting about God’s work for us.

 

            Let us look back at Nehemiah for a moment. In Chapter 1 verse one; we are in the month of Chisleu or Kislev which equates to our Nov-Dec. Now look at today’s text in verse one; we have fast forwarded to Nisan or Mar-April time frame.  When I say we must seize the day and make righteous changes to our lives I mean us to be like Nehemiah. He and we must be patient and wait upon the Lord.  Nehemiah did not pray and go off halfcocked without any preparation. No Nehemiah took a lesson from Habakkuk 2:3 - For the vision [is] yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry. I hope you can see it.  Even though the bible is silent on the matter we can extrapolate that Nehemiah waited upon the Lord before taking action. This is not much of a leap since even if we assume Dec 31st and March 1st for the dates referenced in Chapters 1 and 2 we are taking a period of 2 months. What was Nehemiah doing for that period? We do know his countenance {or expression} was sad. One can only guess that he continued on prayer seeking God’s guidance.

           

            It is when God actually reveals to us the chosen path that we must spring into action.  The bible is very clear on this matter it takes a dim view of those who are lazy (slothful)

 

Proverbs Chapter 24:30-32  I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; 31 And, lo, it was all grown over with thorns, [and] nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down. 32 Then I saw, [and] considered [it] well: I looked upon [it, and] received instruction.

 

2 Thessalonians 3:10 (AMP)  For while we were yet with you, we gave you this rule and charge: If anyone will not work, neither let him eat

 

            Compare that with what the Bible says about working:

 

James 1:23-25 ESV For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

 

James 2:18 ESV But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

 

Colossians 3:23-24 ESV Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.

 

            Verse three of our text is very telling:

 

(AMP) And said to the king, Let the king live forever! Why should I not be sad faced when the city, the place of my fathers’ sepulchers, lies waste, and its [fortified] gates are consumed by fire?

 

One thing that might easily be missed is back in verse 2. The King recognized something was amiss in his servant Nehemiah. I want to tell you this is a trait of a very good leader. I cannot begin to tell you the number of leaders (bosses) I have seen over the years that were clueless. I or one of my fellow employees could be bleeding all over the floor never mind just looking sad and they would never notice. But notice Artaxerxes does recognize something is wrong with Nehemiah. Then Nehemiah, in verse 3, does not hesitate in his response to the King. He clearly and intelligibly points out that he has every reason to be sad. He seizes the opportunity to plead the plight of his people before the King.  Nehemiah had waited (and prayed) for 2 to 4 months for God to give his insight on how to help the people in and the city of Jerusalem. When God provided the occasion to take action he did not waiver. He found the strength in his belief that God is able in His (God’s) time.

 

            The King responds to what Nehemiah has told him in a manner I think most bosses would; what do you want me to do about it? While some would ask this with sarcasm I do not think it the case here. The text would seem to imply genuine concern on the part of the King, Nehemiah’s boss.

 

            The final sentence of our text is the most telling to me. I for one when asked this by the King would probably launch right into suggested courses of action. You know give the King some options on what I think could be done to rectify the problem(s). Yet Nehemiah does something I need to do more of, he: prayed to the God of heaven. Here is a guy who apparently has been praying for 2-4 months and he immediately prays some more. So what’s up with that? Isn’t he prayed up enough? Can’t Nehemiah handle it on his own after all that prayer? An emphatic NO!!!!!  Nehemiah (unlike many of us) does get it. What he gets is he is nothing and God is everything. 

 

            Nehemiah chooses Proverbs 3:5 Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. What will you choose when your opportunity for change comes? Will you seize the day or be muddled in fear.  Will you be a Nehemiah fearless in your work for Christ? Or maybe you are unable to “seize the day” and will be more like  the rich young ruler—who was afraid of change and unwilling to give up the comfort of his wealthy lifestyle to follow Jesus (Luke 18:18-23). The choice is coming and it is yours alone to make.

 

In HIS Service.

 

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PRAYING PART FOUR

5 And said, I beseech thee, O LORD God of heaven, the great and terrible God, that keepeth covenant and mercy for them that love him and observe his commandments:

6 Let thine ear now be attentive, and thine eyes open, that thou mayest hear the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee now, day and night, for the children of Israel thy servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee: both I and my father's house have sinned.

7 We have dealt very corruptly against thee, and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the judgments, which thou commandedst thy servant Moses.

8 Remember, I beseech thee, the word that thou commandedst thy servant Moses, saying, If ye transgress, I will scatter you abroad among the nations:

9 But if ye turn unto me, and keep my commandments, and do them; though there were of you cast out unto the uttermost part of the heaven, yet will I gather them from thence, and will bring them unto the place that I have chosen to set my name there.

10 Now these are thy servants and thy people, whom thou hast redeemed by thy great power, and by thy strong hand.

11 O LORD, I beseech thee, let now thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servant, and to the prayer of thy servants, who desire to fear thy name: and prosper, I pray thee, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man. For I was the king's cupbearer.

Nehemiah 1:5-11

 

            Last time we began our look at Nehemiah’s actual prayer, with an eye towards its meeting our previous analysis of prayer.  We got through two topics last time, 1) Only God (that is the God of the Bible) is worthy of our prayers and 2) we must always acknowledge our humble state when we pray.

            Today we will explore the final two points of Nehemiah’s prayer, 1) His prayer was and our prayer must; be founded upon hope and 2) we must pray with faithful expectation. While at first glance these two may seem similar I hope to show their significant and important differences.

 

1)  Prayers must be founded upon hope  

Verse 8-9   Remember, I beseech thee, the word that thou commandedst thy servant Moses, saying, If ye transgress, I will scatter you abroad among the nations:

9 But if ye turn unto me, and keep my commandments, and do them; though there were of you cast out unto the uttermost part of the heaven, yet will I gather them from thence, and will bring them unto the place that I have chosen to set my name there.

            It may seem obvious but I think it may be helpful if I first define the word “HOPE”.  Hope has come to mean the following:

noun

1. A feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.

            Note the uncertainty of the matter, it is a feeling and desire

2. Grounds for believing that something good may happen.

            Again uncertainty; it may happen as in "he does see some hope for the future"

 

Now the classic or dare I say biblical definition is quite different. Although considered “Archaic” or out of fashion it is: a sense of trust or confident expectation

 

            You can see the modern translation is one of uncertainty a feeling without foundation as in wishful thinking. The biblical definition conveys conviction. It is in that manner Nehemiah prayed to God.

            Look with me what he prayed;

1) He implores God to remember

2) To remember His promise to the Israelites

3) That even though they had been disobedient and scattered abroad

4) If they repented He was powerful enough to gather them

5) Gather them not just anywhere but in Jerusalem

            Nehemiah points out that God had made certain promises and Nehemiah expected God to honor them. Should we expect anything less? I dare say no, for why pray to God if you do not trust Him to hear your prayers and more importantly be capable of fulfilling them.

            Our hope today is the same as Nehemiah’s. God has promised us just as He did the Israelites. Yet our Hope is founded upon something greater than that of those of Nehemiah’s time, our Hope is still in God but founded upon Christ.

1 Timothy 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the commandment of God our Saviour, and Lord Jesus Christ, which is our hope;  I hope you see it is still God where our Hope lies, it is just founded upon Christ and His work at Calvary.   Psalm 130:5 reiterates this: I wait for the Lord, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope.

            Our hope stands in stark contrast to that of the wicked (those without Christ):

 

Prov 10:28 The hope of the righteous shall be gladness: but the expectation of the wicked shall perish

            Our hope brings joy

Prov 11:7 When a wicked man dieth, his expectation shall perish: and the hope of unjust men perisheth.

            The unrighteous only hope is death

Prov 11:23 The desire of the righteous is only good: but the expectation of the wicked is wrath

            Believers desire (hope in) good things the sinner in evil

Prov 23:18 Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off.

            Our hope is in a future that cannot be taken away          

 

2)  Pray with faithful expectation

10 Now these are thy servants and thy people, whom thou hast redeemed by thy great power, and by thy strong hand.

11 O Lord, I beseech thee, let now thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servant, and to the prayer of thy servants, who desire to fear thy name: and prosper, I pray thee, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man. For I was the king's cupbearer.

 

You need not utterly despair even of those who for the present "turn again and rend you." For if all your arguments and persuasives fail, there is yet another remedy left, and one that is frequently found effectual, when no other method avails. This is prayer. Therefore, whatsoever you desire or want, either for others or for your own soul, "Ask, and it shall be given you." -- JOHN WESLEY

 

 

Elijah prayed to God for rain and then sent his servant to see if there was any sign of it (1 Kings 18:41–46). He sent his servant seven times—Elijah had great expectation in God! Expectant prayer conquers discouragement and waits upon the Lord. James 1:6–7 tells us to ask with unwavering faith. http://www.joelbeeke.org/author/jrbeeke/

            We have discussed many times that one must pray in a manner that honors God and acknowledges His authority and control in all matters. Praying in such a manner that imposes your will upon God, (belief things will always work out as you planned), that just by asking God He will remove all troubles in your life or asking God for proof He is with you, are all recipes for prayer disaster.

            Everyone who prays does so with expectations at some level. These prayers are either founded on Worldly Expectations or Righteous Expectations. Righteous expectations start with:

            1) God’s sovereignty - Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

            2) Obedience - Joshua 1:7-9 Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success

            3) Faith - Matthew 11:28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

            4) Confidence - 1 John 5:14 And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.

            I like what R.C. Sproul says on the matter:

We can take comfort from the fact that God knows our hearts and hears our unspoken petitions more than the words that emanate from our lips. Whenever we are unable to express the deep feelings and emotions of our souls or when we are completely unclear about what it is for which we ought to be praying, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us. Romans 8:26-27 says, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” When we don’t know how to pray or what to pray for in a given situation, the Holy Spirit assists us. There is reason to believe from the text that if we pray incorrectly, the Holy Spirit corrects the error in our prayers before he takes them before the Father, for verse 27 tells us that he “intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”     Excerpt from Does Prayer Change Things?  by R.C. Sproul

            Let us look back on Nehemiah’s prayer a moment:

10 Now these are thy servants and thy people, whom thou hast redeemed by thy great power, and by thy strong hand.

            By declaring himself and those in Jerusalem God’s redeemed Nehemiah has a righteous expectation of God hearing these prayers of His people.

11 O Lord, I beseech thee, let now thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servant, and to the prayer of thy servants, who desire to fear thy name: and prosper, I pray thee, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man. For I was the king's cupbearer.

            Humbly but with confidence Nehemiah asks God to look favorably upon his prayer. The end of which is so significant but many miss it.

I pray thee, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man. For I was the king's cupbearer.

            Note what Nehemiah asks for, mercy from the King of Persia. Nehemiah did not ask amiss. He pleaded with God to look favorably upon him not by building him up but by changing the heart of his captor. In essence Nehemiah prayed God use this pagan to bring about your will. There was no ego involved here, no vengeance against those who had oppressed God’s people, no self in this at all. Instead Nehemiah prayed for God to bring glory upon himself by using a pagan King to do God’s bidding. That my friend’s is a righteous prayer, it is a God centered prayer. Only with God centered prayers do we have a faithful expectation of being answered.

            I will close by citing part of an article by noted author and Pastor Derek Thomas. He expresses 4 points in the article and I will only quote the final.

How can we ensure that our prayers are God-centered? Consider the following five-step strategy:

1. Remind yourself that there is only one God in the universe, and that you are not Him.

2. Adoration comes first, before confession, thanksgiving, or supplication. Worship the Lord in your praying.

3. Read a psalm before you pray, and attempt to emulate what you find: a preoccupation with God in all His multifaceted nature. Find psalms of joy or grief, praise or lament, and note how the psalmist spends time with God, making Him the center of his thoughts and desires.

4. Learn to love God’s names so that saying and repeating them fills you with an inexpressible joy, a reminder of who He is and His covenant faithfulness to you in the gospel of His grace.

5. Learn to “wait” upon the Lord. Watch how the psalmist, “fainting” as he thinks of his own troubles, finds relief by deliberately focusing on the great things God has done:

I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds (Ps. 77:11–12). http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/god-centered-prayer/

 

Until next time may God watch over and protect you.

 

In HIS Service