1 Samuel 4, Ezekiel 17, Ephesians 4

Read 1 Samuel 4, Ezekiel 17, and Ephesians 4.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 4.

This passage records one of the darkest days in Israel’s history. Not only did God’s people lose in battle to the Philistines, they lost the Ark of the Covenant, the physical symbol of God’s presence with his people.

And why did they lose it? Because they treated it as a good luck charm, a super-weapon of mass destruction rather than what it was intended to be—a place where atonement would be made for the people of God.

What was a terrible day for Israel nationally was also a horrible day for Eli and his family personally. Just as God had prophesied to Eli through the prophet in 1 Samuel 2:30-34, Eli’s family was cut out of the priesthood and his two sons died on the same day. Just as God had reaffirmed his prophecy through Samuel in chapter 3, so it happened here in 1 Samuel 4. Furthermore, the wife of Phinehas also died giving birth to their son, leaving the boy orphaned. 

This is why we should respond in repentance when God speaks to us through is word about our sin. If we refuse to turn at God’s rebuke, he will bring correction into our lives. 

This is also why we should not treat our faith as a good luck charm. God did not save you so that you would disregard and disobey him for most of your life, then call on him to fix your life when things go badly. Instead, he saved us and called us so that we would bow before him in worship and honor, not only pleasing him with our prayers and our praise, but with a life of obedience to his word.

It is easy for us to act like practical atheists, affirming God with our mouths, but disregarding his word and his ways until trouble comes into our lives. Then, like a spare tire, we pull God out and ask for his help. God is gracious and does help us in our needs and trials, but that should be an outgrowth of lives that are devoted to him, not our fix-all when our sins have put us in jeopardy. 

Judges 18, Ezekiel 7, Psalms 93-95

Read Judges 18, Ezekiel 7, and Psalms 93-95.

This devotional is about Psalm 95

Psalm 95 encourages us to lift our voices joyfully to the Lord. Verse 1-2 invites us (“Come…”) to “sing” and “shout.” Verse 2 calls us to “come before him” and “extol him.”

Why? Because he is the Creator and his creation is magnificent. Verse 3 tells us he is the great God and king above all. Verses 4-5 tell us that “the depths of the earth”–places that, to this day, humanity has not seen–are “in his hand.” Think about the massive amount of water in the world–over 300 million cubic miles! But God holds them in the palm of his hand, like the splash of water you put in your hand to rinse your mouth after you brush your teeth. That’s how great our God is.

But, that’s not all. The highest peaks of the mountains on earth “belong to him,” as does the sea and all the land on earth. So the first reason we should sing and shout and praise God joyfully is that he is the creator.

After all the noise of worship described in verses 1-5, the song that we call Psalm 95 turns more quiet, more reverent. It invites (again, “Come”) us to “bow down in worship and kneel before the LORD” (v. 6). The reason this time is that God watches over and cares for Israel, “the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.” Like a conscientious shepherd, then, God watches over his people, making sure that not one of us is lost for all eternity.

But, we have a responsibility, according to verses 7d-11, which is to “hear his voice.” Jesus told us that the sheep know the shepherds voice and follow him. But what if we tune out God’s voice? What if we refuse to listen and follow our shepherd-Lord? Then we are like Israel during the desert wanderings after their exodus from Egypt. 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 harden our hearts and turn deaf ears to his voice, we show ourselves to be unbelievers, sheep not of God’s flock. Therefore, the rest that God promises will never be ours (v. 11).

If you know the Lord, you will love the Lord. You will want to sing his praises and bow reverently before him. You will listen when he speaks in his word and be eager to follow his commands.

Is that the state of your heart and your life? Or are worship, prayer, scripture reading, and preaching things you’d rather avoid or that you just endure? If it is the latter, you need to be saved.

Listen to the voice of the shepherd-Lord who watches over us. Hear his voice and follow his commands.

Joshua 20-21, Jeremiah 42, Psalms 84-86

Read Joshua 20-21, Jeremiah 42, Psalms 84-86.

This devotional is about Psalm 84.

In this song, the Psalmist described the joy he felt when he thought about coming to the Lord’s tabernacle to worship. Remember that in the Old Testament. the tabernacle and then the temple were the places where God’s presence was promised to be. God is spirit and everywhere present in the fullness of his being, but in order to unite Israel spiritually and keep her worship from being polluted by pagan gods and ideas, God designated a central altar and sanctuary to be the place of worship. He promised to make that tent (the Tabernacle) and later that house (the Temple) his “dwelling place” on earth.

As the Psalmist thought about approaching the tabernacle to worship, he spoke of “how lovely” that place was (v. 1). We’ve read already this year about the careful planning and high quality materials that went into building God’s tabernacle. In a few months, we’ll read about Solomon’s elaborate, ornate preparations for the temple. Both of these places of worship were truly magnificent structures, the best humanity at that time could give to the one and only God.

But the Psalmist was not drawn to that place because of its appearance. According to verse 2, it was the opportunity to be with God that sparked his desire to go there: “…my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.” The opportunity to give to God, to sing to him in worship, and to hear from his word made this songwriter sing with excitement.

Notice verse 3: “Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young—a place near your altar, Lord Almighty, my King and my God.” These words make me wonder; as the Psalmist walked toward the tabernacle or even within its courts, maybe, he looked up in the trees and saw birds that had made their nests there. “What blessed birds” he may have thought, “to make your home in the sanctified place of the Lord! You fall asleep at night and rise each morning in God’s presence. Your days are filled with the smells of burnt offerings and incense offerings, with the sounds of singing and the public reading of scripture. What could be better than to live in such a place if you love God and desire to worship him.” Accordingly verse 4 goes on to say, “Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you.” And, later in verse 10, “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than dwell in the tents of the wicked.” For a believer, there is no better place to be than where the Lord is.

These days, we have the promise of God that he is with us always, that he hears our prayers and is exalted in our worship anywhere we offer them to him.

Still, though, the Bible says that there is a special presence of the Lord within his church when she gathers. First Timothy 3:15 says, “…God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” Note that the church is not the building where we meet, it is the people who have joined together to be the local expression of the body of Christ. The Lord’s presence is with us as we gather to worship, whether in Ypsilanti, Michigan or…, I don’t know… say, Dayton Ohio or Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Given this truth, don’t you want to be there when we gather for worship on Sunday?

I thank the Lord for the time we’ll have as we come and worship. Be there and join with us to experience the joy of God’s people and be blessed by him. God’s favor falls on us like the light of the son when we worship him and live obediently to his word (vv. 11-12), so come and receive it with the rest of your family in Christ.

Joshua 6:6-27, Jeremiah 32, 2 Corinthians 13

Read Joshua 6:6-27, Jeremiah 32, and 2 Corinthians 13.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 32.

In the first section of Jeremiah 32, Jerusalem was in big trouble. Nebuchadnezzar had the city under siege (v. 2), which means he was going to starve the people into surrender. 

Jeremiah, likewise, was in trouble. Not only was he in Jerusalem, he was incarcerated in the palace (v. 2b-5). While in this predicament, Jeremiah’s uncle approached him wanting to do business; specifically, he wanted Jeremiah to buy some land from him (v. 8). God had told Jeremiah this would happen (vv. 6-7), so Jeremiah bought the field and made it all official (vv. 9-12). Then Jeremiah had the deed preserved in a clay jar (vv. 14-15).

The purpose of this transaction was to demonstrate that God was not finished with Jerusalem. Although God had been warning the people that their city would fall to the Babylonians, after 70 years in captivity, God’s people would be returned to this land. Jeremiah’s family, then, would be able to use the field that Jeremiah purchased.

After this event, Jeremiah prayed an eloquent, worshipful, God-honoring prayer (vv. 17-25). He praised the Lord as Creator (v. 17a), all-powerful (v. 17b), loving and just (v. 18a-b), exalted and powerful (v. 18c), wise and all-knowing (v. 19), revealing (v. 20), redeeming (v. 21), and covenant-keeping (v. 22). He also acknowledged the guilt of Israel (v. 23), a form of repentance. This is a great, great model for us in our prayers. In a very dire situation, Jeremiah worshipped God personally and specifically and confessed sin before asking for God’s help in verse 24-25.

What is our prayer life like? Is it like ordering in a fast-food drive-thru? Do we fly in, demand what we want from God, and expect it to be “hot and ready” when we expect? 

Or do we take time to love God with our words, asking for his help but acknowledging that his will may be very different from what we want. This is reverent prayer; this is what it means to bow before the Lord, not just symbolically with our posture but in every way submitting ourselves to our almighty master? Are we willing to accept the kind of “no” to our prayers that Jeremiah received in this passage? Can we hold on to his promises even if he waits for generations before keeping them?

Numbers 28, Isaiah 51, Psalms 60-62

Read Numbers 28, Isaiah 51, Psalms 60-62.

This devotional is about Numbers 28.

When we think of worship, we think of music*. When the ancient Israelites thought of worship, they thought of the smell of burning meat, grain, oil, and wine.

Music, as a regular element of Israel’s worship, came later in Israel’s history. Sacrificing things to God was the primary way in which Jewish people worshipped him.

This chapter tells us about routine worship offerings. These are different than sin offerings or thank offerings. God commanded sacrifices when someone sinned or when they were thankful or when they had a child. But the offerings described here in Numbers 28 were not offerings presented for an occasion or because someone had sinned. These offerings were presented to the Lord as part of the everyday activity of the temple. In this chapter, we read about:

  • Food offerings (vv. 1-8). They were offered twice a day, morning and night (v. 4). Each time they were offered, a lamb was killed and burned thoroughly (v. 3). Grain and flour and olive oil were also offered with the lamb (v. 5) as well as wine (v. 7).
  • Sabbath offerings. This was a doubling of the daily food offerings that I just described for you (vv. 9-10).
  • Monthly offerings. These were offered at new moon (v. 14) and consisted of extra meat–two young bulls, one ram, and seven year-old male lambs (v. 11), puts the grain, oil, and wine described above (vv. 12-15).
  • Passover offerings (vv. 16-25).
  • Firstfruits offerings (vv. 26-27).

Food was precious to God’s people. It was hard and expensive to produce but valuable both to have and to sell. Yet God, who does not need food–ever–commanded Israel to offer to him what would have been delicious meals for us humans. This went on twice a day, every day.

Why? Because sacrificing valuable food to God, twice a day, everyday, with extras offered on Saturday and month, showed how God was worth more than the daily food and drink God’s people needed. It not only reminded God’s people that he was worth more than the things they produced and needed but that he must be prioritized over themselves and their families.

Think about how good the temple must have smelled on a daily basis. The smell was “pleasing” to God (v. 2) as an act of worship, but it smelled pretty pleasant, and appetizing, to God’s people, too, like the aroma of a good restaurant smells to us.

This is how Israel worshipped God. They routinely gave to him things that were precious and valuable to them.

We don’t bring sin offerings to God because Christ died for our sins, but we are still commanded to worship God. We give our bodies to serve him in worship as “living sacrifices” (Romans 12:1). We sing and speak praises to him, which Hebrews 12:15 calls “a sacrifice of praise.”

The question I have, after reading this passage is this: Do I routinely give the best of my worship to God? Do I gladly give him my best time and energy to serve? Do I sing loudly, from my heart, to praise and thank him for who he is and what he’s done for me? Do I come to church to worship gladly, every Sunday, and arrive rested and attentive? Or do I drag myself into church after staying up too late on Saturday night.

God deserves the best of our worship just as he deserved and demanded Israel’s best food, not to earn favor with God but because he is great and worthy of our love and our best.

How is the quality of your worship at this point in your life?


* For some Christians, that’s all they think of is music. But Christian worship has more elements than just worship music. Prayer, scripture reading, meditation, and even preaching are elements of Christian worship

Numbers 21, Isaiah 44, Psalms 57-59

Read Numbers 21, Isaiah 44, Psalms 57-59.

This devotional is about Psalm 57.

According to the superscription, David wrote this Psalm during one of the most fearful times in his life. Saul, the king that he attempted to serve faithfully, was hunting him to take his life. David was separated from his family and living in caves like an animal.

In the middle of this desperate, unjust situation, however, 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 refuge of 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 bet 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 karaoke-style with your favorite recording or a-cappella 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.

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. God created you with the capacity to make music both to glorify him and to encourage yourself so use this gift of singing to pray and praise the Lord for his glory and your good.

Numbers 12-13, Isaiah 37, Psalms 54-56

Read Numbers 12-13, Isaiah 37, and Psalms 54-56.

This devotional is about Isaiah 37.

Yesterday’s reading from Isaiah 36 described how the Assyrian king Sennacherib attacked the southern kingdom of Judah and put the city of Jerusalem under siege. Having successfully stopped the flow of water into the city, the Assyrians invited the people of Jerusalem to surrender before they died of dehydration and starvation.

Here in Isaiah 37, Hezekiah, the king of Judah, showed great spiritual leadership. Instead of mustering his army and trying to fire them up with a rousing speech, Hezekiah recognized that God was the only possible route to deliverance.

Hezekiah began his demonstration of spiritual leadership by humbling himself, personally before the Lord by putting on the garments of humility and going to the Lord’s temple (v. 1). Then he sent some of his deputies, themselves clothed in humble sackcloth, to Isaiah the prophet (v. 2). Their message to Isaiah, in verse 3, was not “Get us out of this!” or even “Pray for us!” Instead, they acknowledged how desperate their situation and need for God was (v. 3) and pointed out to Isaiah that the Assyrians had spoken words of ridicule against the one true God, the God of Israel (v. 4a). As a result, they asked Isaiah to pray that God would preserve his people from this dangerous moment in their history (v. 5).

Isaiah responded by assuring Hezekiah’s officials that God would fight for Israel and repay the Assyrians for their blasphemy (vv. 5-7).

Meanwhile, Sennacherib sent a personal letter to Hezekiah once again denying that God would deliver them and calling on Hezekiah to surrender (vv. 9-13). Hezekiah took the letter he received and brought it before the Lord (v. 14). He prayed and began by praising God for who He is (v. 15-16) and calling on God to deliver his people (vv. 18-20).

At the end of Hezekiah’s prayer, he said the words that God always wants to hear: “…deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, Lord, are the only God.” As he called on God to fight for his people, Hezekiah tied his request to the demonstration of God’s glory (v. 20).

God answered Hezekiah’s prayer (vv. 21-38) and here we are thousands of years later reading about what God did and praising God in our hearts for his almighty power and defense of his people.

When we ask God for something in prayer, do we ever think about what God would get out of answering our prayers? The biggest human need we think we have is insignificant compared to the importance of magnifying the glory of God and calling people to surrender to him.

God is loving and compassionate toward his people but his main objective in this world is to spread the knowledge of himself throughout the world. Do we ask God to use our weaknesses, our needs, and the answers to prayer that we seek from him in ways that help spread the knowledge of God and bring worship to him? Or is our praying self-seeking, concerned mostly (or only) with getting what we want from God for our own relief or our own life-enhancement?

The kind of prayer God loves to answer is the one that recognizes God’s purposes in this world and aligns the answer we seek with the advancement of God’s agenda in some way.

If God were to give you today the answer you’ve been asking him for in prayer, how would that answer spread his knowledge in the world? Tying our requests to what God is concerned about—his kingdom—is important for an encouraging answer to our requests.

Think about what you find yourself asking from God in prayer. Is the answer you want really just a way to make yourself comfortable? Or do you see how answering your prayer might have an impact on the real reasons Christ came into the human race? Do you see how God is glorified when he answers in such “difficult” situations? When you pray, connect your prayers to the promises of God and his mission to reach his chosen ones and see if God does not answer more quickly, more completely and thoroughly in your life.

Exodus 24, Job 42, Luke 6

Read Exodus 24, Job 42, and Luke 6.

This devotional is about Exodus 24.

God commanded Moses, Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy elders to come to worship him (v. 1). They were to come nearer than the rest of Israel, but to worship “at a distance” (v.1b). According to verse 2, only Moses was chosen from among them to approach the Lord.

After Moses instructed the Israelites and made preparations (vv. 3-8), the 74 men God had chosen did approach the Lord’s presence according to verse 9.

In verse 10, what they saw was “The God of Israel….” but there is almost no description of what God looked like in this manifestation. Rather, the only description we are given is merely what he was standing on: “Under his feet was something like a pavement made of lapis lazuli, as bright blue as the sky.”

God is pure spirit and does not have a body; however, for this revelation, he made himself visible in some way. Whatever they saw had feet, according to verse 10, but that’s all we know.

Based on other appearances of God in the Bible and the fact that they saw feet, whatever they saw probably resembled a man in some form. However, what they saw was so wonderful and so terrifying that Moses did not even attempt to describe Him, only what he was standing on.

This is our God; his nature is beyond what words can describe or the human brain can even comprehend. Although we do not deserve to stand in his presence, his grace compelled him to reveal himself to us. More than that, he did everything in Christ that we could not do for ourselves to reconcile us to himself and even adopt us into his family. Someday we will know God “face to face.” We will fall before him and worship in awe but also in perfect love and acceptance in Christ.

Part of living a godly life is to recognize that this holy God, who was too incredible to describe, is watching us day and night. Everything we do and even our thoughts and reasons for doing what we do are completely seen and known by God. As Christians, we do not fear God’s wrath any longer but the knowledge that he is watching us should change how we live. We are accepted in Christ in God’s sight and, because of that, we should live holy lives in his sight as well.

Are you trying to hide anything? You may be successful at concealing it from other people but our perfect and holy God sees all and he is terrifyingly powerful and perfect in holiness. Since we have perfect standing with him by grace in Christ, let’s strive to live holy lives in his sight each day.

Exodus 9, Job 27, Hebrews 13

Read Exodus 9, Job 27, and Hebrews 13.

This devotional is about Hebrews 13.

The author of Hebrews wrapped up his message by giving believers some ways to put our faith into action. It starts with love (v. 1) which shows itself in how we act toward other believers (again, v. 1), how we receive and care for outsiders (v. 2), and how we pray for and care for those who are suffering under persecution for Christ (v. 3).

Living for Christ in this age means honoring marriage with purity (v. 4), living without greed and materialism (vv. 5-6), acting properly toward the leaders of our church (vv. 7-17), and praying for all those who are serving the Lord (vv. 18-19). Finally, the author of Hebrews prayed a beautiful benediction over the original readers of this book (vv. 20-21) and closed (vv. 22-25).

For today’s devotional thoughts I’d like to focus on verses 15-16: “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” These verses follow verses 11-14 where the author of Hebrews made one final reference to Jesus as our priest. Just like the body of a sin offering is offered outside the camp, Jesus was sacrificed outside the city of Jerusalem (v. 12). Going to him for salvation is, metaphorically, like leaving the “city” of Judaism. All who follow Christ are now outsiders but that’s OK because we’re looking for an eternal city anyway (v. 14).

But just as there were thank offerings and free will offerings in the Old Testament whereby a worshipper could bring a sacrifice just because he loved God, now the author of Hebrews says that we Christians bring a thank offering in our words. He tells us to offer this offering “continually;” that is, many times throughout our lives. And the content of this offering is “the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.” This is evangelism. One of our acts of worship as Christians is to claim Jesus openly and tell others about our faith in him.

The second type of Christian sacrifice is described in verse 16: “ And do not forget to do good and to share with others….” This consists of being generous to others. It may be others who have a need or simply others whom we choose to bless by giving. So we do not bring a sacrifice for our sins, to appease God’s wrath for what we have done. Jesus paid the penalty for this himself and his blood makes “the people holy” (v. 12). Like an Old Testament worshipper who brings freewill offerings just out of love for God, we bring sacrifices of worship to God when we openly identify with Christ and share his eternally life-changing message and when we are generous to others around us.

Here’s an opportunity, then, for us to look at serving God this week. Are there lost people around you who don’t even know that you are a Christian? Look for an open door to speak to that person about Christ. Are there others around you who have needs or who just would be blessed by your generosity? Reach out to bless them with what you have–a financial gift, a meal, whatever. God loves these kinds of Christian sacrifices because they show our love and devotion to Jesus. Yes, the Lord loves our worship and praise in singing and prayer, but he also is delighted in our actions through evangelism and showing kindness to others.

Genesis 41, Job 7, Hebrews 1

Read Genesis 41, Job 7, Hebrews 1.

This devotional is about Hebrews 1.

God created us with a desire to worship him. When we rebelled against him, that desire to worship him remained but has now been bent by the sinful nature within each of us. A worshipper who is morally bent will look for something else to worship besides God and that means worshipping what God created instead of the Creator himself. This “worship” does not always take the form of bowing down in prayer and praise to something other than God. It can take the form of fascination with something or someone other than God.

The book of Hebrews was written to teach Jewish people that Jesus is better than whatever else fascinates them. Christ as God’s messenger is the focus (vv. 1-2) and the author of Hebrews argued that Christ was superior to other messengers from God, namely angels.

The author of Hebrews does not disrespect angels or deny their importance (or existence!). Instead, the author described the greatness of Christ (vv. 2b-3) and then set out to demonstrate the many ways in which Christ is superior to angels (vv. 4-14). First, Jesus’s name is superior to their name (vv. 4-5). Second, the exaltation he receives as God (vv. 6-13) shows him to be greater than the role of servant that angels have for believers (v. 14). Angels are important agents in God’s creation, but they are merely created beings not the Creator himself. But Jesus is the Creator and Lord.

I don’t recall ever meeting someone who worshipped angels, but there are people who have more of an interest in the supernatural and the afterlife than they do in God. They are fascinated by stories from people who have near death experiences. Or, they want to examine world events and world leaders t figure out who the Beast in Revelation is. Or, they wish to decode some hidden message they believe is in the Bible. Some people are fascinated by believers from the past or images of the virgin Mary on a tortilla or some other aspect of theology or spirituality or paranormal activity. All of these are ways in which people miss the greatness of Jesus because of their fascination. While they may not intend to steal glory from Christ, they dishonor him by focusing on something besides him that is subservient to him.

Has that happened for you? Is there any aspect of spiritual life that fascinates you more than the Lord Jesus? If so, allow this passage refocus your mind on the glories of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Genesis 27, Esther 3, Proverbs 3:1-20

Read Genesis 27, Esther 3, Proverbs 3:1-20.

This devotional is about Proverbs 3:7-8.

Everyone is looking for the secret formula, the missing key that unlocks health and prosperity and happiness. These verses claim to have that formula or key. Look at all the favorable results that are described here:

  • Long life: Verse 2a says that something “will prolong your life many years.”
  • Peace in your heart and money in your pocket: Verse 2b says that it will “bring you peace and prosperity.”
  • An easy road in life: Verse 6b: “he will make your paths straight.”
  • A healthy body: Verse 8 says, “This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.”

These verses are Hebrew poetry and in Hebrew poetry ideas are repeated or restated in parallel phrases. So when verse 8 says, “This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones,” whatever “this” refers to must be the missing ingredient, the secret formula, the key that unlocks the life we all want. 

So what is that secret? Verse 7: Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil.” The parallel commands are to do what your parents taught you to do (v. 1), submit to God (vv. 5a. 6a), love him faithfully (v. 3a), and worship him reverently (v. 7a). This is the secret formula to a successful life.

Lots of us say that we are doing these things but what is the real proof? The answer is in verse 7b: “shun evil.” Avoiding evil behavior is the test of whether or not someone loves God, worships God, and truly submits to and obeys God. More specifically, one who will “shun evil” is someone who has learned to “lean not on your own understanding” (v. 5b).

Our default instinct about how to live a peaceful, happy, prosperous life is to do evil and get away with it. We think that happiness comes from:

  • materialism instead of wise stewardship (vv. 9-10)
  • dishonesty instead of telling the truth
  • taking advantage of others instead of serving with integrity
  • sexual pleasure instead of loving faithfulness
  • and on and on

Every sin you commit in your life is an act that happens when you “lean… on your own understanding.” Sin promises immediate shortcuts to happiness that instinctively appeal to our inner hunger for success and happiness. And, it is true that sin gives a certain amount of pleasure for a while.

But the pleasure sin offers diminishes over time; meanwhile the hidden costs of sin increase over time.

By contrast, someone who believes God’s commands instead of his own (sinful) instincts builds a life that gradually provides greater levels of happiness.

So this is the biblical formula for happiness: love God and show it by doing what God commands. This is a “secret” formula in the sense that it is the opposite of “your own understanding” (v. 5b).

It is also a secret in the sense that it requires the saving grace of God. Only the gift of eternal life in Jesus can make you want to fear God, love God, trust God and obey God when everything else in your body and mind screams at you to go the other way.

Today you may be offered a direct but sinful choice that seems like it will give you the pleasure you seek. You will be offered a dozen little choices that promise the same thing.

But because you know the Lord and have his Spirit, his word, and his new life in you, trust him and do the right(eous) thing instead. This is the secret path to true happiness.

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.