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.

Breakthrough For All

Then David came to the two hundred men who had been too exhausted to follow him and who were left behind at the Besor Valley. They came out to meet David and the men with him. As David and his men approached, he asked them how they were. But all the evil men and troublemakers among David’s followers said, “Because they did not go out with us, we will not share with them the plunder we recovered. However, each man may take his wife and children and go.”

David replied, “No, my brothers, you must not do that with what the Lord has given us. He has protected us and delivered into our hands the raiding party that came against us. Who will listen to what you say? The share of the man who stayed with the supplies is to be the same as that of him who went down to the battle. All will share alike.” David made this a statute and ordinance for Israel from that day to this.

1 Samuel 30:21-25

David and his men had been staying in the Philistine city of Ziklag. All their belongings were there along with their wives and children. David and his men left to fight a battle alongside the Philistines, but were sent back home because the battle was against Israel. Philistine leaders didn’t know if they could trust David to fight his own people.

When David and his men got back to Ziklag, it had been raided by the Amalekites. All their stuff was taken and their families were kidnapped. David and his men immediately went in hot pursuit of the Amalekites, but a group of them couldn’t keep up. Two hundred out of his six hundred men were too exhausted to continue. Eventually, the remaining men with David caught up to the raiders, defeated them in battle, and returned with their families, their belongings, and some extra plunder.

On their way back home, some of the men who fought didn’t want to share the bounty with the two hundred men who had stopped to rest. But David declares a new statute for his crew, “The share of the man who stayed with the supplies is to be the same as that of him who went down to the battle. All will share alike.

This principle of the Kingdom of God still exists today in the body of Christ. When one person pursues a gift of the Spirit, or when a person perseveres until breakthrough comes, the reward is meant for more than just that person. It becomes a gift to the whole body of Christ.

For instance, if one person’s years of bible study and intimacy with the Lord leads to powerful insights into living the Christian life, it was meant for more than just that person who spent years digging into truth. It was meant to be shared. And when it is shared, those who did little to no work digging into the scriptures benefit if they’re willing to be teachable.

Or, if a person pursues gifts of healing and prays for people over and over again. Through their victories and their defeats, God begins to pour out a unique gift to see neurological disease healed. Those painful years of persevering in prayer created the fertile soil where that gift could blossom. But that gift was meant for more than that person and his friends. It was meant for the church so that hundreds or even thousands of people with debilitating neurological disease could be set free. Then, as others hear the testimonies of healing, their faith for healing rises even in impossible situations.

One person’s breakthrough becomes breakthrough for the whole body of Christ. “All will share alike.”

There are some in the church who struggle to believe in this principle of the Kingdom because they don’t think it is fair. Like the troublemakers among David’s followers, they feel like people are getting things they didn’t sacrifice for. But the truth is that the whole Christian life is defined by getting what Someone else, namely Jesus, sacrificed for. All of our sacrifices are simply smaller and less significant imitations of His ultimate sacrifice. So when our sacrifice brings breakthrough for others, the joy of getting to identify with Jesus is ours.

The real question for the follower of Jesus is whether they just want to wait around to receive the breakthroughs that other people have paid a price for, or do they want to contribute to the body of Christ with a breakthrough of their own.

I have received SO MUCH from others who paid the price for their breakthrough and were willing to freely pass it along to me. And this is how Jesus always wanted it to be. He told His own disciples, “Freely you have received; freely give“(Matthew 10:8). A burning desire in my heart is to not be just a recipient of everyone else’s breakthroughs. I long to pay the price in order to be able to offer others a breakthrough that has happened in my life.

What about you? What breakthrough will you bring to the body of Christ?

Bringing Breakthrough

Jonathan said to his young armor-bearer, “Come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised men. Perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.”

“Do all that you have in mind,” his armor-bearer said. “Go ahead; I am with you heart and soul.”

Jonathan said, “Come on, then; we will cross over toward them and let them see us. If they say to us, ‘Wait there until we come to you,’ we will stay where we are and not go up to them. But if they say, ‘Come up to us,’ we will climb up, because that will be our sign that the Lord has given them into our hands.”

1 Samuel 14:6-10

Israel was at war with the Philistines. Jonathan, King Saul’s son, decided to take a special ops mission to attack a Philistine outpost located on the edge of a cliff. No one in the army knew of this special mission.

First, notice that Jonathan went boldly because of his confidence in the Lord. It wasn’t confidence in himself. It wasn’t even confidence in a promise from God or a word from the Lord. Jonathan wasn’t guaranteed victory. His confidence was simply in the nature and character of God. Jonathan’s view of God was that the Lord’s heart was, at all times, inclined to give victory to His people. This bold move of faith, as many are, was grounded in a trust of the goodness of God–the faithful nature of God.

Secondly, notice that while the regular army didn’t know Jonathan was undertaking this special ops mission–even his own dad, the king, didn’t know–Jonathan didn’t go alone. He was stepping out in faith and he needed someone to believe in him. Jonathan needed a partner in this mission who trusted him as much as Jonathan trusted God. His armor-bearer was that person. The armor-bearer didn’t know the outcome of the mission or even all the details, and he didn’t need to. He knew Jonathan and trusted him with his life.

The third noteworthy component of this special mission was that Jonathan and the armor-bearer waited for confirmation before attacking. Though they were not directly sent by a command of the Lord, they still waited for confirmation that the Lord was with them. They knew two men had no chance against a Philistine outpost. Their confidence wasn’t in their fighting ability. Their confidence was in the Lord. If He was with them, they knew they would be okay. If the Philistines invited them to come up, that was their sign that the favor of the Lord was on them for victory. And that is exactly what we see happen.

Jonathan climbed up, using his hands and feet, with his armor-bearer right behind him. The Philistines fell before Jonathan, and his armor-bearer followed and killed behind him. In that first attack Jonathan and his armor-bearer killed some twenty men in an area of about half an acre.

Then panic struck the whole army—those in the camp and field, and those in the outposts and raiding parties—and the ground shook. It was a panic sent by God.

1 Samuel 14:13-15

Jonathan and his armor-bearer were spotted by the Philistines and then given a mocking invitation to come up the cliff so the Philistines could kill them. Little did the Philistines know, this invitation was the sign from the Lord that Jonathan would have the victory that day.

Jonathan was faithful to do his part. He trusted the Lord. He stepped out in faith with great risk to himself. The armor-bearer was faithful to do his part. He trusted Jonathan and followed his lead. Then we see the Lord step in. God was faithful to do His part. Not only did He give Jonathan and his armor-bearer favor as they fought, but He also sent the rest of the Philistine army into a panic.

Saul and the main army saw the chaos and joined the battle. What started as Jonathan’s victory became the whole army’s victory.

This is how breakthrough happens in the Church today! One person is willing to step out in faith–a faith that looks crazy to everyone else–not because they were guaranteed an outcome by a word from the Lord but because of their unyielding trust in the character and nature of God. They have someone by their side who believes in them even when no one else does. And the Lord honors their radical faith in such a way that not only does that person get the victory, but the whole Church then is able to step into that area of faith and experience the victory as well.

We see examples of this throughout church history. Martin Luther looked crazy for his time. He was willing to step out in radical faith and trust that we are saved “by grace through faith…not by works”(Ephesians 2:8-9). This was radical, even dangerous, for his day. His bold faith not only created a breakthrough for himself but for the whole Church. We all now embrace that truth with ease, as if it had always been obvious to all believers at all times, but it took someone with radical faith to pioneer a way forward.

This is also true for those who pray for the sick. There are those who pray for healing for diseases that have never, or have rarely ever, seen healing. When people in our skeptical generation do that, they look foolish. They look crazy. At times, they are even called “dangerous.” But what we are witnessing is radical, pioneering faith. We are witnessing a Jonathan who is willing to climb a cliff that no one else would dare climb. We are witnessing someone with bold faith in the nature and character of our good Father.

When healing comes for that disease, there is often a breakthrough for the whole Church. Suddenly people around the world hear the testimony and begin to believe. Faith rises, and the outpost of the enemy that seemed invincible suddenly looks vulnerable. The enemy panics, and the whole Church begins to see breakthrough in that particular disease.

Burning in my heart is a desire to be a Jonathan (and if not a Jonathan then an armor-bearer to a Jonathan). As the Lord looks throughout the earth for those who would trust Him, I wanted to be counted among them. As the Lord looks for those who might be willing to step out with radical faith, I want to be among those who say, “Yes.”