I came across this verse during my Bible study group last week, and was reflecting on it today (and if you haven’t had the chance to spend some time in the Book of Ezra recently, I highly recommend it. It only has ten chapters, and you can listen to it easily in one sitting).
Anyway, Ezra was a man used powerfully by the Lord. He was a leader in every sense of the word, and encountered much opposition as he sought to carry out the purposes of God. However, Ezra also enjoyed tremendous favor and respect from people of extraordinarly high standing (read: kings) because he prioritized his relationship with God.
In fact, there’s a verse in chapter 7 of Ezra that spells this out pretty clearly. Let me share it with you here:
I believe Ezra was mightly used by God because at one point in time, he made a decision and commitment to honor God first in all that he said and did. We can learn some important lessons from Ezra!
The words that jump off the page for me are “Ezra had determined in his heart….” To me, this speaks of a firm decision that he made in the past to spend time meditating on the truth of God (found in the Scriptures) and to also respond to this truth with obedience in the day-to-day activities of his life.
Additionally, Ezra was called to do more than simply read the Bible and obey it – he had a specific calling to share what God was teaching him with other people. In Ezra’s specific case, i believe that the Lord gave him a unique calling, to help usher in a time of significant change and progress with the nation of Israel; and while all of us aren’t necessarily called to be world-changing prophets and teachers as Ezra was, we certainly are responsible for sharing what truth we do know with people around us.
I believe that this looks different for each person. For me, it could be as simple as choosing to pause and express sincere appreciaton and gratitude for someone who serves me in a restaurant, for instance, because I recognize that that person is also made in the image of God. For me, I also believe in the power of speaking life into people (not physical life – only God can do that), affirming the strengths and good things that I see, and carefully choosing my words and actions when more constructive feedback needs to be shared. God speaks truth and life into me every moment of each day – certainly I can make an effort to do my small part with others.
Another way that I share the truth of God is by recognizing the patterns that seem to repeat themselves in history. As Solomon said in the Old Testament, “There is nothing new under the sun.” So, when people get all up in arms about the latest political wranglings happening in our world, I choose to remain calm and detached. Why? Well, I recognize that short of Jesus’s return to earth, no person can ever be the solution to the problems that our society faces. For centuries (millienia?), the world has had some good leaders and some really bad ones. Economies have prospered and they have also collapsed. If we place the totality of our trust and hope in people and possessions, we are bound to be disappointed – sometimes catastrophically so.
The Bible commands us to respect the leaders (whether this be in a home, business, or government) who are over us. This can be really, really difficult, because most of the time, we may not agree with everything that they say or do. However, the Lord doesn’t tell us to “agree with our neighbors,” but rather to love them (and if you’re looking for good examples of people in the Bible who honored God while working under difficult leaders, read chapters 37-50 of Genesis; many of the Psalms – David had a really rough time with Saul; the books of Ezra and Nehemiah; and the first part of Daniel. I’m sure there are others, but these are the stories that first come to my mind).
But again, it all begins with a decision. When you make this choice and use it as the foundation for all of your words, actions, and decisions, you will be different, and people will notice. Hear me: Our lives may become difficult, as the enemy of our souls wants us to get discouraged and give up on the paths we have chosen. The key, as far as I tell, is to make the “am I determined in my heart?” decision, pray when life gets hard (and it will), and hang on to Jesus and the truth of the Scriptures with everything that you’ve got!
As I think of the legacy that Ezra left behind for us, I am forced to ask myself: Have I made this choice? Have I determined in my heart (not merely intellectual assent) to study God’s truth, obey it, and then share it with people I know?
I like to think that I have, but honestly, some days are better than others. Thankfully, God’s love and grace cover my many shortcomings, and His forgiveness is immediate and sure.
What about you?
Dear Lord, thank you for including Ezra’s story in the Bible so we have a sterling example of what a well lived and purpose-filled life looks like. We understand and accept that there will be some difficult choices and circumstances that we will encounter when we – like Ezra – have determined in our hearts to learn Your truths, obey them, and share these insights with others.
Help me to be a woman who determines in her heart first and foremost to serve You, and when life gets challenging – as it often does – to be like Ezra and seek You first in prayer, rather than relying on human wisdom (or what “seems right,” according to the book of Proverbs). I can then expect that You will respond according to Your timing and good purposes – although I can never anticipate the specific way(s) that you may choose to answer my petitions.
Finally, thank You for the truth of Your Word! It is absolutely life-changing for those who earnestly seek You with sincere and humble hearts. In Your name I pray, Amen.