Shaking

Then I summoned the priests and made the nobles and officials take an oath to do what they had promised. I also shook out the folds of my robe and said, “In this way may God shake out of their house and possessions anyone who does not keep this promise. So may such a person be shaken out and emptied!”

Nehemiah 5:12-13

Nehemiah not only returned to Jerusalem and orchestrated the rebuilding of the walls, but he also protected the people–both physically and financially–in the midst of their work. The workers were afraid that their enemies would attack while they worked so Nehemiah organized a system whereby they would be physically guarded and protected. The workers were also financially burdened because of the taxes and interest that previous leaders had exacted from them. So, Nehemiah made the nobles of the region promise to stop collecting interest on their loans during this season of rebuilding.

After the nobles and priests made their promise, Nehemiah did a prophetic act signifying judgment against them if they didn’t stick to their promise. He shook out the folds of his robe and pronounced a shaking on anyone not keeping their word. Jesus’s disciples did a similar prophetic act of shaking when they left a town that rejected them and the message of the Kingdom.

If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. 

But the Jewish leaders incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. So they shook the dust off their feet as a warning to them and went to Iconium. 

Matthew 10:14 & Acts 13:50-51

Throughout the Bible, this idea of shaking was used as both judgment and refining. The idea is that God would allow a metaphorical earthquake to impact a person or the whole people of God. Things were shaken. Yet, those things with firm foundations were left standing, and things that were sinful or selfish fell to the ground.

This is why over and over again in the Psalms we read things like, “Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken“(Psalm 62:2). This is why Jesus told the parable of the person who build their house on the rock instead of the sand. When the storms came, only one was left standing (Matthew 7:24-27; Luke 6:46-49).

Shaking is also something the Lord uses to sift a person’s life.

“For I will give the command,
    and I will shake the people of Israel
    among all the nations
as grain is shaken in a sieve,
    and not a pebble will reach the ground.

Amos 9:9

The prophet Amos was prophesying of a time the Lord would shake the people of Israel so that the dead things would fall away and only the healthy things would remain. Jesus told Peter this same thing would happen to Peter and the disciples.

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

Luke 22:31-32

For those who have put their trust in the Lord, a season of shaking becomes a time of refinement. For those who have put their trust in other things, a season of shaking becomes a time that reveals the emptiness and powerlessness of the things they’ve put their trust in. It becomes a both a time of judgment against false gods and an invitation to repentance.

If you haven’t noticed, there is a shaking happening right now, both in society and in the church. As a society we are being sifted. As a church we are being refined. Our false gods are being exposed and judged for the empty and powerless things that they are. May we build our life on the rock and on nothing else. And may everything else fall to the ground.

The Hand of God

And because the gracious hand of my God was on me, the king granted my requests.

Nehemiah 2:8

Both Ezra and Nehemiah use the same phrase to describe what enabled them to return from exile and rebuild the Temple and the walls of Jerusalem. They both gave credit to “the gracious hand of God” on them.

Ezra came up from Babylon. He was a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses, which the Lord, the God of Israel, had given. The king had granted him everything he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was on him…Ezra arrived in Jerusalem in the fifth month of the seventh year of the king. He had begun his journey from Babylon on the first day of the first month, and he arrived in Jerusalem on the first day of the fifth month, for the gracious hand of his God was on him.

Ezra 7:6-9

What is interesting about this phrase is that in other parts of the Bible, when the hand of the Lord is on a person or a people, it’s not a good thing. When the hand of the Lord was upon the enemies of Israel, it always meant judgment and disaster for them. An example of this is when the ark of the covenant was stolen and taken into Philistine territory. Everywhere it went, the hand of the Lord was upon it and that wasn’t a good thing for the Philistines.

The Lord’s hand was heavy on the people of Ashdod and its vicinity; he brought devastation on them and afflicted them with tumors. When the people of Ashdod saw what was happening, they said, “The ark of the god of Israel must not stay here with us, because his hand is heavy on us and on Dagon our god.” 

1 Samuel 5:6-7

So let’s put all of this together. Grace is not just forgiveness and mercy; it is the supernatural enablement of God. God’s grace enables us to do what we otherwise could not do on our own. When we are in covenant relationship to God and His hand is upon us, it means that a special grace is upon us. It means His favor is upon us. The practical results of God’s hand being upon us means that breakthrough happens, doors open, things accelerate, and incredible opportunities arise.

When God sets us apart for a particular calling or mission and we decide to obey–despite the hardship–God will often place His hand upon us. His special grace and favor isn’t just about His love for us, but it is also about accomplishing the mission for which He has sent us.

Yet, if we live separated from God, the same hand of God upon us is terrifying. It’s like the Holy Spirit and the covenant relationship are the support structure that allow God’s hand upon us to be a good thing. But if the Spirit isn’t present, if the covenant relationship isn’t there, the weightiness of the hand of the Lord could crush us. Instead of the intense presence of the Lord feeling like love, peace and joy, the intense presence of the Lord feels like fear because of our unresolved sin.

To use a different word picture, the Lord is a consuming fire. For those in relationship to God through Jesus, the fire of the Lord is a refining fire and empowering fire. But to those who remain at a distance from God, that same fire feels like painful judgement. God’s fire is the same. God’s hand is the same. God doesn’t change. But our experience of Him changes based on our relationship to Him.

As followers of Jesus, when the gracious hand of God is on us, I believe we are accompanied on our mission by the angel of breakthrough assigned to bring breakthrough to whatever obstacle may arise before us. When the gracious hand of God is on us, His favor rests on us. The impossible suddenly becomes possible.

The Harvest

Where there are no oxen, the feeding trough is clean,
but an abundant harvest is produced by strong oxen.

Proverbs 14:4 (New English Translation)

This proverb describes in a picture a move of the Holy Spirit. Whenever God moves powerfully in a church through the Holy Spirit, things will get a little messy. If we want to control everything and keep it tidy and clean, we will likely have to ask the Holy Spirit to leave. But if we want a genuine move of God in our midst, we should be prepared to have a mess on our hands. We will have to clean the barn occasionally.

But the reverse is also mentioned in this proverb. When we allow the Holy Spirit to move, despite the mess, there will be an abundant harvest. His works are greater than what we can do on our own. His power is greater than ours. His ability to transform and ignite people far surpasses what our church programs can do.

Yet, feeding oxen is not only messy but it can be costly. Every farmer knows you must pay the price to feed the oxen so that an even greater harvest can be produced through the power of the oxen. Allowing the Holy Spirit to move in our midst will be costly. It require dying to self on many different levels. It will require personal sacrifice and corporate devotion. It will require a surrender of our norms and traditions. It will require getting over ourselves and not being so easily offended by things we don’t understand. Most of all, it will demand that we break from our addiction to control everything.

Our Sunday services will have to cease to be so tightly controlled. Our small groups and prayer times will have to open up to the move of the Spirit and not be quenched by our pre-arranged agenda. Most Christians are willing to give up time, energy, and money for the sake of the Kingdom but few are willing to give up their addiction to control.

Addiction to control looks like having to know 1) exactly what is going to happen, 2) exactly how long it will take, and 3) exactly who will be doing what. If not knowing these things causes such anxiety that you start to feel suffocated with a tightness in your chest–if not knowing these things makes you feel trapped–you might be addicted to control. When we demand that we have control in every environment of the church, we are essentially telling the Holy Spirit that He is not welcome. He is not welcome to do something outside of our scheduled plan.

Most churches have fallen in love with a clean feeding trough and a barn that smells like Pine-Sol. But the harvest is meager and we wonder why.

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

Matthew 9:35-38

Opposition

When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the exiles were building a temple for the Lord, the God of Israel, they came to Zerubbabel and to the heads of the families and said, “Let us help you build…” 

Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building. They bribed officials to work against them and frustrate their plans during the entire reign of Cyrus king of Persia and down to the reign of Darius king of Persia. At the beginning of the reign of Xerxes, they lodged an accusation against the people of Judah and Jerusalem.

Ezra 4:1-2, 4-6

A large group of the people of God returned from exile to Jerusalem in order to rebuild the Temple. They were released to do so by an order from the king of Persia, King Cyrus. This was all orchestrated by the Lord.

…in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia…

Ezra 1:1

But once they started making sacrifices to the Lord and rebuilding the Temple, opposition came. Whenever we are called by God to accomplish His plans, there will be opposition. This is especially true when we are building something new or rebuilding something that should have always been. And notice the strategies of the opposition. Opposition to the Lord’s work usually goes through these same stages.

First, there’s the attempt to join the work in order to derail the work. This “friendly” and soft approach is often how opposition first arrives on the scene. If we invite the wrong people to give their input into the work we know we are called to do, it will get side-tracked, watered down, and compromised.

Secondly, there is an attempt to discourage through fear. This next wave of opposition is a series of people who are “concerned” about where this might lead. Fear is the main theme. Worst case scenario after worst case scenario gets listed as reasons why the work should stop. The attempt is to spread fear in such a way that people start getting discouraged and want to bail out.

If those two tactics don’t work, the next strategy of opposition intensifies into manipulation and accusation. The opposition starts recruiting people to their side with various forms of emotional bribery, manipulation, and false accusations about the ones leading the work of the Lord. (We read about how Absalom did this to King David in 2 Samuel 15:1-12). Lies about the leaders and character assassinations are the bread and butter of this stage of opposition.

Finally, if none of this stops the work of the Lord, the next move is making threats, including the threat of physical violence (see Nehemiah 4:11). While these threats are often empty, they can still cause a lot of pain and a lot of division.

For those who are called to step out in faith to accomplish a work of God, opposition will come. And the enemy isn’t creative enough to change his tactics. It usually looks something like the above strategies. The hard part is that many times this kind of opposition will come from people close to us. So it’s important that we face this opposition with love and grace for those who come against what God is doing. They think they are being helpful and wise even as they fight against what God is clearly doing.

I am reminded of times where I was the one pushing against and opposing a work of God. I thought I was being righteous and theologically sound. I thought I was in the right. I thought I was doing the right thing and warning against disaster. I didn’t realize until years later that I was actually fighting a work of the Lord. I didn’t realize until years later that I was the opposition; I was a puppet of the enemy. And when I came to realize my folly, I spent months in repentance for it. It was painful to realize how wrong I was. It was painful to come to an awareness of my own false accusations against those leaders God was using to lead a work of the Lord.

So when we do face opposition, we need to show grace. We need to show love. But we shouldn’t let opposition discourage us or stop us from what we’ve been called to do. God has called us to accomplish His work. It’s not our plan; it’s His plan. And we shouldn’t stop for any reason.

Un-productivity

God gave them all into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar. He carried to Babylon all the articles from the temple of God, both large and small, and the treasures of the Lord’s temple and the treasures of the king and his officials. They set fire to God’s temple and broke down the wall of Jerusalem; they burned all the palaces and destroyed everything of value there.

He carried into exile to Babylon the remnant, who escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and his successors until the kingdom of Persia came to power. The land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah.

2 Chronicles 36:17-21

In my daily devotional reading of scripture, I got to the end of 2 Kings with a deep sadness in my heart. God’s people rebelled against Him, and they lost everything as Babylon conquered them and exiled them. Rebellion and sin without repentance always leads to a tragic story. I flipped to the end of 2 Chronicles to read that writer’s version of the same story. That’s when I noticed a line that feels very familiar to what we are living through right now.

In the midst of a horrific moment in history for the people of God–the Temple burned down, the sacred items stolen, the people being enslaved and exiled, Jerusalem destroyed, the leaders killed–God mentions one bright spot, “The land enjoyed its sabbath rests…” Notice it’s plural.

In the covenant that God made with His people, giving work a rest and giving the land a rest was part of the deal. Every seven days the people were to rest from work and every seven years the land was to rest from productivity. Amid all of their rebellion, the people of God certainly weren’t following this command.

‘When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a sabbath to the Lord. For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the Lord. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest. Whatever the land yields during the sabbath year will be food for you…

Leviticus 25:2-6

The Lord was using a tragic situation to catch up on all the rest the land should have had but didn’t. So instead of giving the land rest once every seven years, the land got 70 years of rest all at once. Seventy times seven is 490 years worth of sabbath rests for the land. That many years reaches all the way back to the time of King David.

And what does 70 times 7 remind you of in the New Testament?

Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.

Matthew 18:21-22 NASB

Seventy times seven is all about forgiveness. For the people of God in exile, God was taking a terrible situation and using it to restore the land and bring rest to the productivity of the soil. He was also using the situation to restore the people’s hearts back to faithfulness and bring rest to their wayward souls. Within 70 years, the people would return to the land and return to their covenant with the Lord. The restoration of the land itself was a sign of God’s limitless forgiveness.

So, what is God bringing rest to right now? Is He allowing the earth to rest? Is He challenging our addiction to productivity and using this terrible situation to restore all the sabbath rests we should have been taking? Is He inviting us into His limitless forgiveness?

Maybe hyper-productivity isn’t what God ever wanted for us. Maybe fruitfulness is what He wanted, which includes regular cycles of rest and the embrace of intentionally unproductive days.

Future Generations

In the third year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, Hezekiah son of Ahaz king of Judah began to reign…He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father David had done. He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles…
Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. He held fast to the Lord and did not stop following him; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses.

2 Kings 18:1-6

King Hezekiah was a bright spot in an otherwise dark season for the people of God. Most of the kings had turned away from the Lord until Hezekiah, and Israel had already been conquered by Assyria. Only the kingdom of Judah was left.

Hezekiah’s faithfulness is contrasted sharply with his son Manasseh’s and his grandson Amon’s. Here is what scripture says of Amon:

He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, as his father Manasseh had done. He followed completely the ways of his father, worshiping the idols his father had worshiped, and bowing down to them. He forsook the Lord, the God of his ancestors, and did not walk in obedience to him.

2 Kings 21:20-22

So while Hezekiah was completely faithful to the Lord, Manasseh and Amon were worse than the former kings of Israel in their disobedience and infidelity. Yet, when Josiah–Amon’s son and Hezekiah’s great-grandson–became king of Judah, he made a hard turn back to the Lord. Scripture says, “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and followed completely the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left” (2 Kings 22:2).

King Josiah is the one who rediscovered the Book of the Law in the Temple of the Lord. Josiah is the one who re-established the covenant of God and enacted massive reforms throughout the land leading the people back to the worship of God alone.

This is a good reminder that the faithfulness of one generation can impact future generations. Though fidelity to the Lord may skip a generation or two, though there may be some prodigals in the family line, God has a way of honoring the faithfulness of former generations by causing a flourishing of faithfulness in future generations.

I sense this in my own life. I had two faithful grandmothers who I know often prayed for their grandchildren. I can’t help but sense that my own experiences in ministry are a result, not only of faithful parents, but of faithful grandparents. And I’ve also learned that even further back in my family line were some pastors and evangelists. It makes me wonder about how spiritual inheritance works in the Kingdom of God.

Our God is a God of the generations. When God sent Moses to set His people free, God told Moses to refer to Him as “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob“(Exodus 3:16). He’s a multigenerational God who often keeps His promises to one generation by fulfilling it in the next generation.

Peter reminds us that God thinks in long-term plans and doesn’t rush to accomplish His purposes. What we often perceive as “slowness” is really just God’s patience with us.

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you…

2 Peter 3:8-9

What if the things happening between you and God right now are God answering the prayer that one of your ancestors prayed centuries ago? What if the spiritual gifts and open doors that you’ve experienced are, in part, a result of the faithfulness of past generations?

We must also wrestle with these questions: What are we doing now that will have ripple effects in the Kingdom of God down through our family line? What prayer are we praying now that our great-grandchildren will receive the answer for? What seeds are we planting now in the Kingdom of God that will bear fruit a century from now?

Understanding Physical Healing

In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, “This is what the Lord says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.”
Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, “Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.
Before Isaiah had left the middle court, the word of the Lord came to him: “Go back and tell Hezekiah, the ruler of my people, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you. On the third day from now you will go up to the temple of the Lord. I will add fifteen years to your life. 

2 Kings 20:1-6

We can learn so many things from this dramatic healing of King Hezekiah. First, prayer changes things. I don’t like it when people say, “Prayer doesn’t change things; it changes us.” Nope. Prayer does both.

Hezekiah got a direct word from the Lord through the prophet Isaiah that he was going to die from the illness he had. Then, Hezekiah cried out to the Lord and the Lord healed him. Prayer matters. Prayer for physical healing matters. The fatalistic idea that “God’s going to do what God’s going to do” is a poor understanding of God’s sovereignty. God has chosen to be in covenant relationship with His people, which means that what we pray and what we ask for in prayer has an effect on things.

Secondly, most people don’t understand the connection between “small” healings and “big” healings. All miraculous healings are “big” in the sense that God chooses to divinely heal. But what I mean is that people don’t seem to care much about physical healing until they or someone they love is in Hezekiah’s position with an illness that is heading toward death.

I’ve encountered this attitude with people in my own church and people I’ve talked to about physical healing. They ask me why I think praying for physical healing is so important. They always use the argument that it is more important that people get saved and experience the loving community of the church than it is that they get physically healed. But this argument borders on gnosticism (an early heresy that thinks “spiritual” things are of ultimate importance while “physical” things don’t matter).

When a person doesn’t understand why I get so excited about “small” healings like a injured knee getting healed or a migraine problem going away, I start asking them about whether they would have that same cavalier attitude about stage 4 cancer getting healed or someone with traumatic brain injury getting healed. In every case, the person who was relatively indifferent about physical healing two seconds ago suddenly agrees that physical healing in those situations is supremely important. And what becomes clear is that they don’t understand the connection between the knee getting healed and the cancer getting healed. Most people don’t.

First of all, Jesus did not make this distinction between small and big healings. He healed blindness and He healed fevers. He raised the dead and He healed crippled hands. Jesus treated sickness as an attack on the body that God created. Whether it was a fever or blindness, Jesus wanted it gone.

Secondly, any spiritual gift must be used faithfully in order for it to grow. We accept this as a truth of the Kingdom when it comes to gifts like teaching or hospitality. We intuitively understand the parable of the talents applies not just to our financial resources but also to how we steward our spiritual gifts. This line of the parable should be ringing in our ears, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things“(Matthew 25:23).

The gift of healing (1 Corinthians 12:9) is no different. As we are faithful to pray for smaller physical needs and see God heal those, our faith grows. As we are faithful with “smaller” miracles, God can begin to trust us with “bigger” ones. When the apostle Paul talks about spiritual gifts in Romans 12, he teaches that we operate in our gifts in accordance with our faith (Romans 12:6). So while different gifts are given simply by God’s grace, we grow in these gifts by faith. We must exercise our faith as we use our gifts in order to mature in them.

So, when it comes to gifts of healing, praying for the “smaller” healings is what prepares you and your faith for the day you pray for life-threatening illnesses. Indifference toward small healing is a recipe for powerlessness and doubt when you need a big miracle. This is how all spiritual gifts work. If you’ve never preached to a group of 200 people, you wouldn’t assume you could step into a stadium full of people and preach an amazing sermon to thousands. Yet, this is exactly how we treat healing prayer.

Someone might say, “But couldn’t God move powerfully anyway?” Yes! Of course He could. He could also help that person who’s never preached to preach an incredibly powerful and moving sermon to a stadium full of people. God loves to do that! But on our end, we are being irresponsible and arrogant if we are relying on God’s sovereignty to bail us out of our indifference.

Paul’s advice to his protege Timothy was, “…be prepared in season and out of season…”(2 Timothy 4:2). This advice applies to all the spiritual gifts. And when it comes to healing, being prepared means we are praying for small and big miracles alike. It means we grow in our ability to hear the Holy Spirit’s guidance in healing prayer. It means we are seeing “small” healings happen and allowing those to build our faith.

So we celebrate every healing, big or small, because it is a tangible expression of God’s grace. We pursue and celebrate the healing of every disease, big or small, because healing is a sign of God’s Kingdom breaking into this world. We pray for healing because it is an act of love and compassion that was modeled for us by Jesus. Cavalier indifference toward physical healing is an unbiblical and irresponsible reaction that dishonors Jesus’s activity in the world.

What was important to Jesus should be important to us as His followers. And clearly, from reading the Gospels, physical healing was extremely important to Jesus.

Is it important to you? Who have you prayed for recently?