Strategic Prayer Responses
Certain truths intersect our lives at a receptive moment to produce new illumination and gripping application. Ezra provided such an intersection this week as the Lord served it up in my daily reading plan. Ezra models a strategic prayer response in times of great opportunity and seasons of spiritual crisis.
Trust the Reshapes the Task
The context explains that retuning Jewish exiles had settled back in Jerusalem and completed the construction of the temple. Ezra received surprising authorization and provision from the King of Persia (Artaxerxes) to travel to Jerusalem to minister to the resettled Jews. Skilled in the law and under the blessing of the good hand of the Lord, Ezra embarked on his mission to teach God’s word and spark spiritual revival. The pagan king also gave permission for Ezra to take priests and other willing souls with him as he traveled from Persia to Jerusalem.
Before leaving for Jerusalem, the account tells us of an important commitment Ezra embraced:
“Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods. For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king, “The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him, and the power of his wrath is against all who forsake him.” So we fasted and implored our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty.” (Ezra 8:21–23)
Ezra’s authentic reliance on God prompted a resolve to humbly seek the Lord through fasting. His previous public confidence in the good hand of the Lord prevented him from making what seemed to be a logical request: A protective military force to assure safe travel. Instead, Ezra’s bold belief in the mighty hand of God provided the security they needed for the journey.
Desperation and dependence, like that of Ezra, are rare attributes in western society. We are a “can do” people with countless plans, resources and options. A commitment to fast is a resolve to step away from status quo schedules in order to allocate substantive time to pray. We set aside normal time-consuming routines – like eating, social media or entertainment – to capture quality moments to pray. When was that last time you fasted, with a focused intentionality to seek the Lord for his provision and protection – for your life, your children or your church?
A low view of the goodness and power of God is a sure formula for self-reliance.
“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” (Psalm 20:7). King David wrote these words from the same framework as Ezra. As the King of Israel David had many resources but one clear resolve. We must also discover the difference between having options and relying on those options. A low view of the goodness and power of God can tempt us toward self-reliance and away from opportunities for God to show Himself strong on our behalf – and for His glory.
Heartbreaking Discoveries – Heartbroken Leadership
Ezra’s arrival in Jerusalem soon led to a heartbreaking discovery. The Jews had intermarried with pagan the pagan people of the region, an act strictly forbidden by the Old Testament law. The account reads:
“For they have taken some of their daughters to be wives for themselves and for their sons, so that the holy race has mixed itself with the peoples of the lands. And in this faithlessness the hand of the officials and chief men has been foremost.” As soon as I heard this, I tore my garment and my cloak and pulled hair from my head and beard and sat appalled. Then all who trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the faithlessness of the returned exiles, gathered around me while I sat appalled until the evening sacrifice. And at the evening sacrifice I rose from my fasting, with my garment and my cloak torn, and fell upon my knees and spread out my hands to the Lord my God.” (Ezra 9:2–5)
A few lessons capture our attention from this text:
- As leaders go, so go the people. Compromise at the top can lead to corruption throughout.
- Real leaders agonize over the sins of God’s people; they never accommodate disobedience.
- A praying leader, who embraces repentance, will attract others who “tremble at God’s word.” They can collectively win the day through prayer.
Real leaders never accommodate disobedience, but rather agonize over the sins of God’s people.
This Brief Moment
One more scene from Ezra’s ministry provides relevant challenge. Ezra prayed to the Lord, identifying with the sins of the people. As he cried out in confession he declared:
“But now for a brief moment favor has been shown by the Lord our God, to leave us a remnant and to give us a secure hold within his holy place, that our God may brighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our slavery. For we are slaves. Yet our God has not forsaken us in our slavery, but has extended to us his steadfast love before the kings of Persia, to grant us some reviving to set up the house of our God, to repair its ruins, and to give us protection in Judea and Jerusalem.” (Ezra 9:8–9)
As we scan the spiritual landscape of today’s culture, our hearts can palpitate with the same passion. We, too, can pray:
- That God would help us take full advantage of our “brief moment,” seeking him to “brighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving” in these days of spiritual desolation.
- That a faithful remnant will turn the spiritual tide. My friend, Al Toledo offers encouragement, “The commitment of the few can secure the blessing for the many.”
- That we would recognize the many expressions of “slavery” to sin, idolatry and worldliness in our society today.
- That spiritual revival would enable us to “repair” that which is ruined in construct of modern-day ministry
- That the Lord will protect us in this imperative mission. Satan hates a praying leader, a praying core and, especially, a praying church.
“The commitment of the few can secure the blessing for the many.” – Pastor Al Toledo
Embracing Ezra’s Example
I invite you to join with the heart of Ezra, and many others like him, who are scattered across our national landscape. Together let us believe in the goodness and power of God to do great exploits. Let us fast and exhibit extraordinary reliance on his faithful hand of blessing. Let us agonize over the sins of the church. Let us trust him in this brief moment to “brighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving.” He delights in the hearts and prayers of a people like Ezra.