[From December 9, 2011]
"Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might deny ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our possessions."
The phrase, 'The Lord works in mysterious ways' is used quite a bit among the faithful... usually because it's so true! Today's reading from Ezra 7-8 is a prime example. Many Israelites had been taken into captivity by the Babylonians and forced to remain there for close to 70 years. Their eventual return came in four stages: Sheshbazzar's group (when Cyrus was king)... Zerubbabel & Jeshua's group (when Darius I was king)... Ezra's group (when Artaxerxes I was king)... and Nehemiah's group (Artaxerxes II was king).
Today I was reading about the 3rd group - led by Ezra. King Artaxerxes not only allowed them to return to Israel, but gave them money to buy "worship supplies" (animals for sacrifice, etc.) and a letter instructing other Babylonian treasuries to give them additional funds, if needed.
Before setting out, Ezra did a couple of things I think are excellent. First, he gave thanks: "Blessed be the LORD, the God of our ancestors, who put such a thing as this into the heart of the king to glorify the house of the LORD in Jerusalem..." Second, he gathered the people together before leaving, and called them to fast and pray for their safe return to Jerusalem. That's not really surprising, as this happens many times in Scripture. But the candor expressed by Ezra is! He writes, "For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king that the hand of our God is gracious to all who seek him, but his power and his wrath are against all who forsake him."
I love that! He wanted a guard of soldiers for protection... but that would contradict his earlier testimony to the King about God's provision! So instead, Ezra called the people to fast & pray. God works in mysterious ways - to call us to a life of faithfulness.
As Christians... as leaders... as people of faith... we may not always have "saint-like" belief. We can struggle and doubt with the best of them. But will it draw us closer to God in the end? Will it bring us to the LORD in prayer? Will we deny ourselves (and our trust in our strength/ability to accomplish our plans) and seek God's favor (and strength!)? Because that's what ultimately matters.
(Oh yah, Ezra & Co. eventually made it home safely. Praise the Lord!)