Genesis 23, Nehemiah 12, Matthew 16

Read Genesis 23, Nehemiah 12, Matthew 16.

This devotional is about Nehemiah 12, particularly verses 27-47.

Compared to the growth and expansion of the kingdom that David and Solomon saw, what Nehemiah and his countrymen were doing was small.

But, compared to the ruin that Jerusalem had been for 70 years and the powerlessness and exile that God’s people had experienced for a generation, the days of Nehemiah and Ezra were amazing. They were more hopeful than successful, like a sprout from the ground on a farm that hadn’t produced anything in years. A sprout is not the same as an acre of corn ready to be harvested, but it is a reason to be hopeful. Every acre of corn began with a spout, after all.

So, these were not Judah’s greatest days politically or economically. But God was moving in his people and for his people again. He was working in the hearts of pagan kings and governors to protect and provide for his people. The people were expressing repentance for their disobedience to his word and were publicly recommitting themselves to obey his covenant. And what was result of all of this work God was doing in Jerusalem? Singing!

The wall around Jerusalem was a defense mechanism. It had no real spiritual purpose, like the altar and the temple did. It was there to protect the inhabitants of the city from enemy attacks.

But Nehemiah saw the repair and rebuilding of this wall as a spiritual act, because Jerusalem was God’s city. It was the place where his temple was, where his name would dwell, and eventually where his Messiah would reign. So, when the wall was finished, Nehemiah organized a ceremony to dedicate it (v. 27). And, one of the key features of that dedication ceremony was singing. “Two large choirs” (v. 31) were organized “that gave thanks” (vv. 31, by singing during this ceremony (v. 40).

They were joined by “musical instruments prescribed by David the man of God” (v. 36). The two choirs stood on top of the wall to give thanks, then they came together to continue that singing in the temple (v. 40).

The result of all of this music was joy. Look at how verse 43 described it: “And on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away.”

The music offered to God on that day had such a powerful affect that people wanted it to continue. People brought provisions to the temple (v. 44) to provide for musicians and singers (vv. 46-47). Their actions show what a key, important role music has in the worship of God’s people.

When God is working in people’s lives, they want to praise him in song. Music lifts our hearts when they are wounded and it gives us a way to express our joy when we are glad and thankful for what God has done.

Music can be part of your walk with God as well. Not only can we be thankful for our worship team members who lead us in worship each Sunday, we in this age have the gift of recorded music to help us worship in our private devotional times, to encourage us when we are down, and to help set our hearts to thankfulness and praise as we go to work each day.

Why not pick an uplifting song of praise to listen to on your way to work today? Sing along and let the Lord use this gift to help you start the week off in dedication and praise to him.

That pretty much always works for me.

1 Kings 2, Ezekiel 33

Read 1 Kings 2 and Ezekiel 33.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 33:31-32: “My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to hear your words, but they do not put them into practice. Their mouths speak of love, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.”

It is difficult for us servants of the Lord to speak to people who come faithfully to hear but who leave unchanged Sunday after Sunday, month after month, year after year. On one hand, I am grateful for the audience. It is much easier to speak to a room full of people than it is to speak to an empty room. I’m always grateful for the people who are there and I try to give my best effort no matter how many or how few come, but it is discouraging to see a lot of empty chairs and only a few people.

On the other hand, it is tough to teach God’s word week after week and see little if any change in many people who come to hear it. Again, I’m glad they come to listen; after all, if nobody is listening, nobody will change or grow. But after a while, you start to feel more like an entertainer than a servant of the Lord. That’s what God said to Ezekiel in verse 32: “Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.”

This chapter lists several ways the people in Ezekiel’s day did not practice what Ezekiel preached:

  • Verse 25c says, “…you eat meat with the blood still in it and look to your idols and shed blood….”’
  • Verse 26 says, “You rely on your sword, you do detestable things, and each of you defiles his neighbor’s wife.”
  • Verse 31e says, “Their mouths speak of love, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain.”

So what were God’s people involved in? Idolatry, adultery, violence, greed, and dishonesty. Ezekiel faithfully pronounced God’s verdict on these things as sin; he predicted God’s judgment for such sins. People came routinely and listened, but only for entertainment purposes. After they were done, they returned to living wicked lives again.

But how has your life changed as a Christian in the past month? How about this year, as you’ve read these devotionals. Are you more generous with what you have–to the poor and to God’s work? Are your thoughts and actions toward other people purer, sexually speaking, then before? Are you serving the Lord somewhere in his work or, if you’ve been serving right along, are you more conscious of how your service is an act of worship to God?

One more thing here: Verse 32, as I noted, describes how Ezekiel was treated like a singer instead of a prophet. He was a form of entertainment for people more than a source of spiritual conviction and growth. As I visit other churches when I’m on vacation or watch videos of worship services and messages, I feel like churches are embracing entertainment more and more. The preaching in particular is therapeutic. Pastors give “talks” about “believing in yourself” or “leading great.” They may be interesting, thoughtful, and might contain some good advice. But where’s the need for repentance? Where’s the blood of Christ? Pastors need to read the first 20 verses of our chapter today, Ezekiel 33 and remember that we are watchmen who are called to warn people that God’s judgment is coming not entertain them until his judgment falls.

1 Samuel 29-30, Ezekiel 8

Read 1 Samuel 29-30, Ezekiel 8.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 29-30.

After over a year of stability and prosperity living in the Philistine town of Ziklag, problems came to David and his army. Despite his confidence in David (29:3, 6-7), Achish king of the Philistines refused to let David and his army fight against Israel. This was a wise decision for him; his commanders were certainly correct that David would fight the Philistines from behind (29:4-5). If he refused to harm Saul, God’s anointed king, there is no way he would have fought against his king or the army of his own people.

However, while he and his men were away trying to join the battle, their temporary home city of Ziklag was being attacked and destroyed by the Amalekites (30:1-2). Then some of his own men turned on him; verse 6 says, “David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters.” Their thought process seems to have been, “I know we’ve won many victories together, David, but what have you done for me lately? It’s your fault, somehow, that we lost everything.

This was a situation that would put anyone in stress. Most of us would lash out in self-protective attacks but not David. Instead, according to 30:6c: “But David found strength in the Lord his God.”

We live in an era that talks a lot about self-care. Have a hobby. Get a massage. Go for a hike. Play golf. Veg out in front of the TV. Find a way to deal with your stress by doing something that you enjoy. It isn’t bad advice, exactly, but it isn’t the best advice for us as believers in God. The best way for us to deal with discouragement and defeat is to turn to the Lord. How did David do this, exactly?

Given all the Psalms that he wrote, I have to think that prayer was at the top of that list. David’s psalms are prayers to God set to music. Maybe he grabbed his harp and poured out his heart to the Lord musically but he probably sank to his knees first and asked God for strength and help.

Music may have come next. After praying to the Lord, David may have pulled out one of his favorite songs. He might have played and sang until he felt better.

Finally, verse 7 tells us that he sought God’s truth. The high priest was living in exile with him so he consulted the Urim and Thummim from the priest’s ephod and waited for God to speak.

This is a great pattern for us to follow when we are down, discouraged, disappointed, distraught, or defeated. (1) Pray (2) Listen to and sing along with Christian music (3) Read God’s word and look for direction.

Maybe you came to this devotional feeling down. You’ve got #3 covered; Do #1 and #2 next.

Deuteronomy 12, Isaiah 40

Read Deuteronomy 12 and Isaiah 40.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 12.

People have a tendency to borrow cultural items from different people around them. Other nations like American movies and we like Chinese food and Germon cars, for example. Moses was concerned that God’s people would start to assimilate religious elements from the false religions of the nations around them after they entered the land. This chapter reminds Israel to worship the way God commanded without mixing their worship with the practices of false gods (vv. 4-8, 29-31).

But notice that in the middle of this chapter, Moses commanded the people to bring their offerings to the tabernacle (v. 11) and, while worshipping the Lord there, they were to “…rejoice before the Lord your God—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants” (v. 12). This language reminds us that worshipping the Lord is not supposed to be something that is unpleasant. It isn’t something we dutifully do because it is good for us, like eating vegetables instead of steak. Instead, God designed us for worship and, when we come alive to him by his grace, we rejoice in the worship of the Lord. In our context as Christians, that would meaning singing with joy, learning and receiving his word with joy, praying and giving thanks with joy, fellowshipping around the word with good friends in joy, as well as serving and giving to the Lord’s work in joy.

Certainly there are churches and ministries that try to manufacture joy by being more entertaining or trendy than churches like us. That’s a danger we should watch out for. But we also should be careful not to equate genuine worship with an attitude that is so solemn and serious that “joy” never enters the picture. Solemnity and seriousness are part of worship but so is joy, rejoicing, sanctified laughter, godly friendship, and feasting together.

Most of the time the difference between joyful worship and unpleasant worship comes down to the state of our hearts. When we are preoccupied with the problems and things of this life, we may not be very excited or joyful when we worship together or separately. Certainly sin changes what is important to us and prevents us from wholeheartedly entering into the worship of the Lord.

So how have you felt about worship on Sundays lately? How are these devotionals for you? Is your time of prayer something dry and difficult or is it life-giving and hopeful? If your personal worship or coming together in worship as a church is not something that you rejoice in lately, why not? Are you asking God to change your heart so that you can rejoice in your worship of him?

Numbers 29, Isaiah 21, Psalm 134

Read Numbers 29, Isaiah 21, and Psalm 134.

This devotional is about Psalm 134.

When I was a very young adult, I took on a second job to pay off some credit card debt. I worked as a night auditor at a hotel on Friday nights and Saturday nights. The work was easy and the hotel was usually pretty quiet but the hours were tough. I started work at 11 p.m. and my shift finished at 7 a.m. That was after a week of working full-time in another job and going to seminary. I was young but it was pretty hard on my body; fortunately, after about 10 months I had paid off the credit card debt and was offered a different job that paid better than my full-time job, so I was able to leave the overnight shift.

The song here in Psalm 134 is for the guys who worked the night shift in God’s temple. Leviticus 6:9c says, “The burnt offering is to remain on the altar hearth throughout the night, till morning, and the fire must be kept burning on the altar.” Three times in that paragraph (vv. 9, 12, 13) the Lord said some variation of, “the fire must be kept burning continuously” and twice he said, “it must not go out” (vv. 12, 13). Someone needed to tend to the fire, then, and this song addressed those priests. It calls on them to “praise the Lord” (v. 1a, 2) and reminded them that they were “servants of the Lord.”

The night shift is unpleasant. You work all night then try to sleep during the day but I could usually only sleep for four or five hours, no matter how tired I was. I also had a low-grade headache while I was awake which made it even harder to concentrate than just sleep deprivation did. The priests who worked that night shift might not have been in much of a mood to praise the Lord. This little song was something they could sing to remind them that they were serving the Lord as they tended to the fire overnight. It called on them to ignore their circumstances and focus on the greatness of God and to praise him because of his greatness.

Do your circumstances make you grumpy? Do you feel like complaining rather than praising the Lord? Remember that we are his servants as we go about our lives and that it is a privilege to serve the Lord. So remind yourself of this passage when you don’t feel like praying or praising God; learn a song that you can sing to yourself to refocus your mind on God’s greatness and praise him accordingly.

Leviticus 18, Ecclesiastes 1, Psalm 104

Today we’re reading Leviticus 18, Ecclesiastes 1, Psalm 104.

This devotional is about Psalm 104.

It is really satisfying to do something and be happy about how it turns out. It might be a picture that you took that looks really good. You had it framed and put it up in your home and, periodically when you walk by, it just makes you smile. Or maybe it is a picture that you painted, or flooring that you installed yourself, or a piece of furniture that you repaired or restored. When we do something that turns out well, it brings us a very satisfying sense of pleasure.

The Psalmist here in Psalm 104 believed that God must feel that sense of satisfaction when he looks at creation. As verse 31b says, “may the Lord rejoice in his works.” The Psalmist certainly rejoiced in God’s works. From verse 1 through verse 30, the songwriter detailed what God has created and praised him for it. Then, in verse 33, he announced his intention to “sing to the Lord all my life” and in verse 34 stated his desire: “May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the Lord.” Of all of God’s work, this satisfies God the most. When men and women whom he created worship him and desire to please him even in our thoughts, then God is truly glorified. All of this happens by God’s grace to us in Christ and, when it does happen, it brings immense pleasure to our Lord.

When we take time to think about God in his fullness and awesomeness, those thoughts elevate us spiritually. They cause us to stand in awe of God’s greatness and create in us a desire to know and serve the God who redeemed us. Take some time today to think about the size, complexity, beauty, and intricate detail of the world around us that God created. Then praise him and ask for his help to have a heart and mind that aspire to be pleasing to him.

Leviticus 8, Proverbs 23, Psalm 95

Today’s readings are Leviticus 8, Proverbs 23, Psalm 95.

This devotional is about Psalm 95.

God’s commands only seem burdensome to us because we want to make our own rules and live by our own desires. If humanity understood how much God loves us, we would all view God’s commands as loving and gracious because obedience to them will protect us from the damage and pain that sin causes us and others around us.

Here in Psalm 95, the songwriter encouraged God’s people to come together to sing and shout the Lord’s praises (vv. 1-2, 6) because of his greatness (vv. 3-5) and his care for his people (v. 7). In the last four verses, the song turned from encouraging God’s people to praise him to urging God’s people not to harden their hearts toward him as they had in the past (vv. 8-11).

When the song writer referenced Meribah and Massah in verse 8, he was calling our attention to the events of Exodus 17. That’s where the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and God due to the lack of drinking water, so God commanded Moses to strike a rock with his rod and water poured forth. The point of this section is to remind us that God wants good things for us and will provide for us but we must trust him and not complain to him. When we sit in judgment on God or his word instead of praising and thanking him, we are hardening our hearts to his grace (v. 7b) and cutting ourselves off from the good things he wants to do for us.

Do you find it hard to praise God? Does your mind go blank when the topic of giving thanks to God comes up? Could that be happening because you’ve hardened your heart against God, complaining that he hasn’t given you something instead of worshipping him for who he is and all that he has done for us?

God has been good to us. He has been merciful to us when we’ve rejected him and his word by saving us. Let’s praise and thank him, then, instead of hardening our hearts toward him.

Exodus 15, Job 33, Psalm 63

Today’s readings are Exodus 15, Job 33, Psalm 63.

This devotional is about Psalm 63.

The human body can live for a few weeks without food, for a few days without water, and for a few minutes without oxygen. If your body is deprived of any of these things for long enough, it will be difficult for you to think about anything else. If you can’t breathe and will die in a few minutes, you won’t care how you’re going to pay the mortgage next month or whether the Lions will draft a quarterback in the first round.

The superscription to this Psalm claims that David wrote it “in the Desert of Judah.” In verse 11, he refers to himself as “the king” so the setting of this passage may be when David fled from Absalom his son. Although he was not in immediate danger of starvation or dehydration, David was in a state of deprivation. He was cut off from the water springs of Jerusalem and from “the richest of foods” he would have enjoyed in his palace. What David craved in the desert, however, was not water or food; it was God. “You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.”

He was deprived of God in the sense that he couldn’t see God “in the sanctuary”—the Tabernacle—anymore. He couldn’t offer sacrifices, sing with the people, or hear the Torah read and explained out in the Judean desert. Living in exile, excluded from the comforts and necessities of life, David longed for God more than anything else. He believed that, “I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods” when he rejoiced in God.

None of us knows what it is like to run for your life into the desert. But some people–maybe some reading this, even–know what it is like to have all our financial reserves stripped away and to be evicted from your home. Others know what it is like to lose your family in tragedy or divorce. In our moments of deprivation–and desperation–do we long for fellowship with God or simply for him to deliver us from discomfort? The Bible encourages us to enjoy everything we have–family, material goods, good weather, whatever–as gifts of God. But this Psalm calls us to believe that nothing can satisfy us like knowing and worshipping God can (vv. 1, 5, 11). Does your walk with God give you that kind of joy and satisfaction?

Exodus 9, Job 27, Psalm 57

Today’s readings are Exodus 9, Job 27, and Psalm 57.

This devotional is about Psalm 57.

If the superscription is correct–and it probably is–then David wrote this Psalm during one of the most fearful times in his life. The king that he attempted to serve was hunting him to take his life. David was separated from his family and hiding in caves like an animal. Yet, in the middle of this desperate, unjust situation, David took time to praise God.

This song appears to have a chorus which is sung in verse 5 and again in verse 11. In verses 1-4, David called out to God for mercy, looking to God for his refuge rather than the cave he was in at the moment. After the first chorus in verse 5, he began recounting his woes again, but then turned in verses 7-10 to praising God for his love and faithfulness.

This song illustrates the encouraging power of praise. David had plenty of problems that would be worthy of singing a lament. Instead, however, he laid his problems before God’s throne and chose instead to sing his praises. When the song was done, not one of his problems was solved, but I’ll be he felt better emotionally and was strengthened and edified spiritually.

Try this for yourself the next time you feel discouraged and/or afraid. Choose a song of worship that lifts your heart and sing it out loud to the Lord. Sing it as a duet with your favorite recording or acapella by yourself. If you need to, get in your car and drive so you won’t be observed or overheard or take a shower if that’s where you do your best singing. But, however you do it, harness the encouraging power of music and let it minister to your soul. It lifted David through some very serious problems that you and I will never face. If it worked for him, it will probably help you, too.

Genesis 23, Nehemiah 12, Psalm 22

Today, read Genesis 23, Nehemiah 12, Psalm 22.

This devotional is about Nehemiah 12, particularly verses 27-47.

God was doing something in Jerusalem. Compared to the growth and expansion of the kingdom that David and Solomon saw, what Nehemiah and his countrymen were doing was small. But, compared to the ruin that Jerusalem had been for 70 years and the powerlessness and exile that God’s people had experienced for a generation, the days of Nehemiah and Ezra were amazing. They were more hopeful than successful, like a sprout from the ground on a farm that hadn’t produced anything in years. A sprout is not the same as an acre of corn ready to be harvested, but it is a reason to be hopeful. Every acre of corn began with a spout, after all.

So, these were not Judah’s greatest days politically or economically. But spiritually, they were powerful. God was moving in his people and for his people again. He was working in the hearts of pagan kings and governors to protect and provide for his people. The people were expressing repentance for their disobedience to his word and were publicly recommitting themselves to obey his covenant. And what was result of all of this work God was doing in Jerusalem? Singing!

The wall around Jerusalem was a defense mechanism. It had no real spiritual purpose, like the altar and the temple did. It was there to protect the inhabitants of the city from enemy attacks.

Nehemiah saw the repair and rebuilding of this wall as a spiritual act, however, because Jerusalem was God’s city. It was the place where his temple was, where his name would live, and, eventually, where his Messiah would reign. So, when the wall was finished, Nehemiah organized a ceremony to dedicate it (v. 27). And, one of the key features of that dedication ceremony was singing. “Two large choirs” (v. 31) were organized “that gave thanks” (vv. 31, by singing during this ceremony (v. 40). They were joined by “musical instruments prescribed by David the man of God” (v. 36). The two choirs stood on top of the wall to give thanks, then they came together to continue that singing in the temple (v. 40). The result of all of this music was joy. Look at how verse 43 described it: “And on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away.”

The music offered to God on that day had such a powerful affect that people wanted it to continue. People brought provisions to the temple (v. 44) to provide for musicians and singers (vv. 46-47). This shows what a key, important role music has in the worship of God’s people. When God is working in people’s lives, they want to praise him in song. Music lifts our hearts when they are wounded and it gives us a way to express our joy when we are glad and thankful for what God has done.

This can be part of your walk with God as well. Not only can we be thankful for Nick Slayton and all the worship team members who lead us in worship each Sunday, we in this age have the gift of recorded music to help us worship in our private devotional times, to encourage us when we are down, and to help set our hearts to thankfulness and praise as we go to work each day. Why not pick an uplifting song of praise to listen to on your way to work today? Sing along and let the Lord use this gift to help you start the week off in dedication and praise to him.