WEEK 6 - When Revival Goes Wrong - Devotional
People forget, but life with God is a series of forgetting and renewal. If we want to see revival, we have to create the conditions and embrace the failure and return, again and again. Nehemiah goes away for a while after their covenant renewal to God and comes back and the revival all fell apart! People are living in the sacred precincts of the temple, the priests are gone because no one is taking care of them, and everyone is working on the Sabbath! And to Nehemiah it must have felt like starting over, as if all his hard work had been for nothing. This week we look at how revival goes wrong and how we can be encouraged to persevere in following Jesus even when we fail.
Read Nehemiah 13:1- 31
1 On that day the Book of Moses was read aloud in the hearing of the people and there it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever be admitted into the assembly of God, 2 because they had not met the Israelites with food and water but had hired Balaam to call a curse down on them. (Our God, however, turned the curse into a blessing.) 3 When the people heard this law, they excluded from Israel all who were of foreign descent. 4 Before this, Eliashib the priest had been put in charge of the storerooms of the house of our God. He was closely associated with Tobiah, 5 and he had provided him with a large room formerly used to store the grain offerings and incense and temple articles, and also the tithes of grain, new wine and olive oil prescribed for the Levites, musicians and gatekeepers, as well as the contributions for the priests. 6 But while all this was going on, I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I had returned to the king. Some time later I asked his permission 7 and came back to Jerusalem. Here I learned about the evil thing Eliashib had done in providing Tobiah a room in the courts of the house of God. 8 I was greatly displeased and threw all Tobiah’s household goods out of the room. 9 I gave orders to purify the rooms, and then I put back into them the equipment of the house of God, with the grain offerings and the incense. 10 I also learned that the portions assigned to the Levites had not been given to them, and that all the Levites and musicians responsible for the service had gone back to their own fields. 11 So I rebuked the officials and asked them, “Why is the house of God neglected?” Then I called them together and stationed them at their posts. 12 All Judah brought the tithes of grain, new wine and olive oil into the storerooms. 13 I put Shelemiah the priest, Zadok the scribe, and a Levite named Pedaiah in charge of the storerooms and made Hanan son of Zakkur, the son of Mattaniah, their assistant, because they were considered trustworthy. They were made responsible for distributing the supplies to their fellow Levites. 14 Remember me for this, my God, and do not blot out what I have so faithfully done for the house of my God and its services.
15 In those days I saw people in Judah treading winepresses on the Sabbath and bringing in grain and loading it on donkeys, together with wine, grapes, figs and all other kinds of loads. And they were bringing all this into Jerusalem on the Sabbath. Therefore I warned them against selling food on that day. 16 People from Tyre who lived in Jerusalem were bringing in fish and all kinds of merchandise and selling them in Jerusalem on the Sabbath to the people of Judah. 17 I rebuked the nobles of Judah and said to them, “What is this wicked thing you are doing—desecrating the Sabbath day? 18 Didn’t your ancestors do the same things, so that our God brought all this calamity on us and on this city? Now you are stirring up more wrath against Israel by desecrating the Sabbath.”
19 When evening shadows fell on the gates of Jerusalem before the Sabbath, I ordered the doors to be shut and not opened until the Sabbath was over. I stationed some of my own men at the gates so that no load could be brought in on the Sabbath day. 20 Once or twice the merchants and sellers of all kinds of goods spent the night outside Jerusalem. 21 But I warned them and said, “Why do you spend the night by the wall? If you do this again, I will arrest you.” From that time on they no longer came on the Sabbath. 22 Then I commanded the Levites to purify themselves and go and guard the gates in order to keep the Sabbath day holy. Remember me for this also, my God, and show mercy to me according to your great love. 23 Moreover, in those days I saw men of Judah who had married women from Ashdod, Ammon and Moab. 24 Half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod or the language of one of the other peoples, and did not know how to speak the language of Judah. 25 I rebuked them and called curses down on them. I beat some of the men and pulled out their hair. I made them take an oath in God’s name and said: “You are not to give your daughters in marriage to their sons, nor are you to take their daughters in marriage for your sons or for yourselves. 26 Was it not because of marriages like these that Solomon king of Israel sinned? Among the many nations there was no king like him. He was loved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel, but even he was led into sin by foreign women. 27 Must we hear now that you too are doing all this terrible wickedness and are being unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women?”
28 One of the sons of Joiada son of Eliashib the high priest was son-in-law to Sanballat the Horonite. And I drove him away from me. 29 Remember them, my God, because they defiled the priestly office and the covenant of the priesthood and of the Levites. 30 So I purified the priests and the Levites of everything foreign, and assigned them duties, each to his own task. 31 I also made provision for contributions of wood at designated times, and for the firstfruits.
Sometimes we get so hung up on the idea of revival that we lose sight of the fact that revival is just part of our faith journey. It’s not the whole thing. And so much growth and impact happens in the spaces in between. There are breakthrough moments in your relationship with God. There are times of spontaneous revival that the Holy Spirit brings about, like we saw in Nehemiah chapter 8. and I think it’s so important to remind ourselves of those times. We can hang on to them as markers; as reminders of what God can do in our lives. But revival isn’t the whole story. So much growth can happen in the spaces in between.
This chapter of Nehemiah is so useful and actually encouraging because it shows what a real relationship with God is like. It shows the constant cycle of loving God and falling away and coming back. It is a strange but encouraging ending to the book because it would have looked way better if Nehemiah just left and pretended everything was fine. But it’s much more realistic and honest to say that things fall apart. And when they do, we fall back on the grace and steadfast love of God to restore us again.
- What areas of faithfulness did God’s people forget in Nehemiah 13?
- How did you feel about Nehemiah’s reaction to what he found when he returned? Justifiable or over reaction to the sins of the people? How does observing Nehemiah’s reaction allow us to meditate on how we want to respond to others in their failure?
- What are the conditions we can control for revival to happen? What can we not control?
- How do you handle your own failure in following Jesus? In what ways do you handle failure well and where do you feel like you fall short?
WEEK 5 - Culture of Celebration - Devotional
After the people heard the Word read, they returned to God and returned to the holy city of Jerusalem. They gathered together with instruments, singing, dancing and celebration as they dedicated the completed wall. They were not just celebrating their accomplishment -- they were celebrating God’s grace and provision that allowed their project to be completed, and allowed them to return to their city and their God-given identity as God’s people.
Read Nehemiah 12:27-47
27 For the dedication of the new wall of Jerusalem, the Levites throughout the land were asked to come to Jerusalem to assist in the ceremonies. They were to take part in the joyous occasion with their songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps, and lyres. 28 The singers were brought together from the region around Jerusalem and from the villages of the Netophathites. 29 They also came from Beth-gilgal and the rural areas near Geba and Azmaveth, for the singers had built their own settlements around Jerusalem. 30 The priests and Levites first purified themselves; then they purified the people, the gates, and the wall. 31 I led the leaders of Judah to the top of the wall and organized two large choirs to give thanks. One of the choirs proceeded southward along the top of the wall to the Dung Gate. 32 Hoshaiah and half the leaders of Judah followed them, 33 along with Azariah, Ezra, Meshullam, 34 Judah, Benjamin, Shemaiah, and Jeremiah. 35 Then came some priests who played trumpets, including Zechariah son of Jonathan, son of Shemaiah, son of Mattaniah, son of Micaiah, son of Zaccur, a descendant of Asaph. 36 And Zechariah’s colleagues were Shemaiah, Azarel, Milalai, Gilalai, Maai, Nethanel, Judah, and Hanani. They used the musical instruments prescribed by David, the man of God. Ezra the scribe led this procession. 37 At the Fountain Gate they went straight up the steps on the ascent of the city wall toward the City of David. They passed the house of David and then proceeded to the Water Gate on the east. 38 The second choir giving thanks went northward around the other way to meet them. I followed them, together with the other half of the people, along the top of the wall past the Tower of the Ovens to the Broad Wall, 39 then past the Ephraim Gate to the Old City Gate, past the Fish Gate and the Tower of Hananel, and on to the Tower of the Hundred. Then we continued on to the Sheep Gate and stopped at the Guard Gate. 40 The two choirs that were giving thanks then proceeded to the Temple of God, where they took their places. So did I, together with the group of leaders who were with me. 41 We went together with the trumpet-playing priests—Eliakim, Maaseiah, Miniamin, Micaiah, Elioenai, Zechariah, and Hananiah— 42 and the singers—Maaseiah, Shemaiah, Eleazar, Uzzi, Jehohanan, Malkijah, Elam, and Ezer. They played and sang loudly under the direction of Jezrahiah the choir director. 43 Many sacrifices were offered on that joyous day, for God had given the people cause for great joy. The women and children also participated in the celebration, and the joy of the people of Jerusalem could be heard far away.
44 On that day men were appointed to be in charge of the storerooms for the offerings, the first part of the harvest, and the tithes. They were responsible to collect from the fields outside the towns the portions required by the Law for the priests and Levites. For all the people of Judah took joy in the priests and Levites and their work. 45 They performed the service of their God and the service of purification, as commanded by David and his son Solomon, and so did the singers and the gatekeepers. 46 The custom of having choir directors to lead the choirs in hymns of praise and thanksgiving to God began long ago in the days of David and Asaph. 47 So now, in the days of Zerubbabel and of Nehemiah, all Israel brought a daily supply of food for the singers, the gatekeepers, and the Levites. The Levites, in turn, gave a portion of what they received to the priests, the descendants of Aaron.
This passage refers to celebration according to the commands of King David multiple times. In considering the life of David, we see a king who brought all of his highs and lows before God in prayer and song (see the Psalms!). He danced before the Lord (2 Sam 6) and cultivated a culture of celebration for the people of God. But he also was open before God in his lament, fears, frustration and anger.
- What can we learn from David’s willingness to hold both lament and celebration openly and freely before the Lord?
- What makes it difficult for you to set aside times of celebration for what the Lord has done? What helps make such celebration possible in the life of the community?
- How can we as a community cultivate a more robust culture of celebration in our faith life together?
Read Psalm 13
For the choir director: A psalm of David.
1 O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?
How long will you look the other way?
2 How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
with sorrow in my heart every day?
How long will my enemy have the upper hand?
3 Turn and answer me, O Lord my God!
Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.
4 Don’t let my enemies gloat, saying, “We have defeated him!”
Don’t let them rejoice at my downfall.
5 But I trust in your unfailing love.
I will rejoice because you have rescued me.
6 I will sing to the Lord
because he is good to me.
- What strikes you as you see David expressing such a range of emotions within a short Psalm like this?
- Are there certain emotions that you hesitate to bring before the Lord? What could help change that?
WEEK 4 - Rediscovering God's Word - Devotional
Nehemiah returned to his people and led the Israelites to rebuild the fortress and city gates of their city. However, Nehemiah knew the physical structures were not the point. Nehemiah knew that for them to return as God’s covenant people, they had to rebuild spiritual structures as well. Nehemiah 7-9 is all about returning to God, confessing our sin, and vowing to keep God's law. The cutting of the heart began by an attentive ear to the Words of God.
Read Nehemiah 8:1-12
1 All the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel. 2 So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. 3 He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law. 4 Ezra the teacher of the Law stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion. Beside him on his right stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah and Maaseiah; and on his left were Pedaiah, Mishael, Malkijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam. 5 Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. 6 Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. 7 The Levites—Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan and Pelaiah—instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there. 8 They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read. 9 Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. 10 Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” 11 The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a holy day. Do not grieve.” 12 Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.
People reacted to Ezra’s reading from the Tora with first “Amen and Amen, then raising of hands, and bowing down in submission. But once it was ready, they were told to stop weeping and mourning and to rejoice in God as their strength.
Question: What do you think might have happened when they first heard the word and then what might have happened when they started mourning during the reading of God’s word?
We might easily think because it was a Holy day, Ezra would see it fitting to stay in a solemn state of mourning. But Ezra sees it fitting to rejoice.
Question: What does this say about the holiness of God? What does the eating and drinking and celebration communicate about how God deals with us in our state of confession?
How does this passage inspire you in regards to your reverence and dependence on God’s Word?
Read Ezekiel 37:12-14
12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”
Question: How does the promise of God putting his Spirit in us change the way we approach Scripture and God’s commands? The Israelites repeatedly broke their end of the covenant and recommitted their promise to always follow the covenant law, but of course, we know, they couldn’t do that. How do we live with the Spirit in us in relation to God’s commands? Does it change anything compared to the Israelites way of relating to God?
WEEK 3 - Opposition - Devotional
With bold faith Nehemiah steps into the unknown of trying to build up Jerusalem’s shattered walls. His ruthless trust in God caused many bystanders and surrounding nations unease so they mocked them, doubted them and eventually threatened Nehemiah and the Israelites with the sword. We learn that anytime someone steps into God’s calling on their life they can expect to face opposition. Nehemiah shows us how to respond to opposition: prayer, encouraging those he is leading and coming up with a strategic plan.
Read Nehemiah 4:1-23
Why do you think we face opposition when we follow Jesus?
How might we strengthen ourselves in the Lord when pressed by our enemies?
What are the promises of God when we face opposition?
Read Psalm 27
Nehemiah prayed and took action. Sometimes these two responses are pitted against one or the other but Nehemiah finds them both vital. Why do you think that prayer and personal action are needed to fight opposition?
WEEK 2 - Radical Faith- Devotional
In the ancient Near East, city walls provided protection against very real threats -- the ruined wall meant that the people remaining in the area were exposed and vulnerable. But also, Nehemiah knew this wall had been a beautiful symbol of the city of Jerusalem -- a strong and secure center for the nation of Judah. When Nehemiah heard the news that the wall protecting the city of Jerusalem was in ruins, he wept, he fasted, and he prayed. He was willing to risk trading influence and wealth to head into a messy place, risking offending the powers at hand in Persia, and facing opposition once he arrived in Jerusalem. But with boldness even in the face of being frightened, Nehemiah approached the king.
Read Nehemiah 2:1-10
1 Early the following spring, in the month of Nisan, during the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes’ reign, I was serving the king his wine. I had never before appeared sad in his presence. 2 So the king asked me, “Why are you looking so sad? You don’t look sick to me. You must be deeply troubled.”
Then I was terrified, 3 but I replied, “Long live the king! How can I not be sad? For the city where my ancestors are buried is in ruins, and the gates have been destroyed by fire.”
4 The king asked, “Well, how can I help you?”
With a prayer to the God of heaven, 5 I replied, “If it please the king, and if you are pleased with me, your servant, send me to Judah to rebuild the city where my ancestors are buried.”
6 The king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked, “How long will you be gone? When will you return?” After I told him how long I would be gone, the king agreed to my request.
7 I also said to the king, “If it please the king, let me have letters addressed to the governors of the province west of the Euphrates River, instructing them to let me travel safely through their territories on my way to Judah. 8 And please give me a letter addressed to Asaph, the manager of the king’s forest, instructing him to give me timber. I will need it to make beams for the gates of the Temple fortress, for the city walls, and for a house for myself.” And the king granted these requests, because the gracious hand of God was on me.
9 When I came to the governors of the province west of the Euphrates River, I delivered the king’s letters to them. The king, I should add, had sent along army officers and horsemen to protect me. 10 But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard of my arrival, they were very displeased that someone had come to help the people of Israel.
Nehemiah exemplifies faith in action: he was a man of prayer, faithful to trust in God’s story and promises to rebuild when His people returned to Him. His radical faith resulted in favor from the king to accomplish the goal at hand, and Nehemiah gave all of the credit to God for that favor.
What do you see in Nehemiah’s recorded prayers that stands out to you?
Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr once said: “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” In what way might God be calling you or us as a community into a step of faith in areas of justice or healing?
Nehemiah’s readiness to rebuild the wall must have been in response to his knowledge of God’s promises and story. Read the passage below, and consider what it means to know God’s story and live into that now, even when it hasn’t fully come to fruition yet.
Read Ezekiel 36:33
“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: When I cleanse you from your sins, I will repopulate your cities, and the ruins will be rebuilt. 34 The fields that used to lie empty and desolate in plain view of everyone will again be farmed. 35 And when I bring you back, people will say, ‘This former wasteland is now like the Garden of Eden! The abandoned and ruined cities now have strong walls and are filled with people!’ 36 Then the surrounding nations that survive will know that I, the Lord, have rebuilt the ruins and replanted the wasteland. For I, the Lord, have spoken, and I will do what I say.”
WEEK 1 - A Disrupted Heart - Devotional
Nehemiah’s story begins with a spiritual hurt. It was a time when God’s people and God’s agenda in the world seemed hopeless lost while Nehemiah lived in the lap of luxury of the King’s palace as a cupbearer.
Read Nehemiah 1:1-4
1 The words of Nehemiah son of Hakaliah: In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, 2 Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem. 3 They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.”4 When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.
Imagine the scene. Luxury and commodities surrounded Nehemiah when the news hit that his people, land, and city had been destroyed and disgraced. The conditions in Jerusalem did not directly affect his social context, or personal life, yet his response was to weep in grief with a disrupted heart. A disrupted heart isn’t simply an emotive response or knee jerk reaction, a flash in the pan social media post, but a posture and internal response of conviction, consequence and purpose for a season. This took time for Nehemiah. He fasted and prayed and went to the mat with God to pour out his heart. Visit these links for more resources on studying Nehemiah or watching a brief overview of the book.
What do you think are the top three needs affecting the neighborhood you live in? Affecting Chicago as a whole?
- What is a disrupted heart?
It is something we might have a hard time always describing, but when it happens, we know it is there. It’s a concern we can’t seem to shake. It is a voice calling us that won’t leave us alone. They are songs that seem to want to be born but we can’t seem to finalize the lyrics. It takes us out of maintenance and into mission. It is a passionate plea for God’s agenda and often results in opposition, even from God’s people at times.
- What is a disrupted heart?
Having a disrupted heart isn’t something you can muster up on your own will. We can’t always force a changed heart, but what are the conditions that help us develop a disrupted heart or position us well to experience a disrupted heart?
Read Nehemiah 1:5–11
5 Then I said: “Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments,6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. 7 We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses. 8 “Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, 9 but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’ 10 “They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. 11 Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.” I was cupbearer to the king.
How did a disrupted heart affect the way Nehemiah talked to God?
What characteristics of Nehemiah’s prayer stand out to you?
What is your next bold step in prayer you would like to take?