As I have read through Ezra this week, I’ve been struck by two themes: The consistency of the process of building God’s Kingdom and the difference one man or woman, partnering with God, can make in changing the course of history. Today I’ll blog about the process. On Monday I’ll blog about the difference one man or woman can make. Both topics spoke quite loudly to me from the book of Ezra.

I’ve read the book of Ezra before, and I’ve heard my share of sermons that include parts of the story in Ezra. As I read it this week, however, it just screamed to me about the church planting process. The application is not nearly so focused, however, the process applies to anything God puts it in the heart of His people to do. Read on.

God Changes a Heart: In verse 1, “in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia.” When God wants to accomplish something in this earth, he plants an idea, a vision or a dream into someone’s heart. God accomplishes His purposes through humans. Yes, at times He uses nature to set things in motion, but usually He plants something in someone’s heart. He might use a believer or a non-believer. Despite Cyrus’s words in verses 2-4, historians believe that he was not a believer in the God acknowledges. Rather, he was a master manipulator and he knew that invoking the God of the Hebrews would inspire them to begin to rebuild the temple.

The vision is shared. Some join themselves to the work and others provide financial assistance.

Then the family heads of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites—everyone whose heart God had moved—prepared to go up and build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem. All their neighbors assisted them with articles of silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with valuable gifts, in addition to all the freewill offerings. Ezra 1:5-6

Imagine the excitement everyone must have felt as some took of on a great new adventure for God while others made it possible for them to go! Can you remember the beginning phases of a ministry you’ve been involved in? There was such faith and enthusiasm. So much trusting God. But then the enemy learned of your plans and things began to change.

The enemy tries to infiltrate and ruin the effort from the inside.

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 because, like you, we seek your God and have been sacrificing to him since the time of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.” Ezra 4:1-2

Not all offers of help are sincere. But Israel had been tricked before (remember the Gibeonites in Joshua 9?), but this was not to be the case. The Israelites declined the offer of the deceivers and continued to build. In America today, it can be very easy for dissension to begin at this point as we tend to be a nation of many opinions and weak following. In other words, when we’re not happy with a decision our leader makes, we tend to move on instead of trust that they have discernment for the vision God has planted in their heart. Do people make mistakes. Of course, but that’s what grace (from God and from one another) is for. If you continue reading in chapter 4, you’ll see that it was the leaders, not the entire group that made the decision to build without the help that was offered.

The enemy tries to discourage God’s people and make them afraid.

Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building. They hired counselors 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. Ezra 4:4-5

I find it interesting that Israel’s enemies were even willing to pay counselors. The word used might also be translated consultants or advisors. Israel’s enemies went out and hired consultants to frustrate the Israelites plans! You can see this happening in our society today. God’s enemies are willing to go to great lengths to stop the message of Christ from being proclaimed.

This process is one that has happened over and over again throughout history, and it continues today. God speaks into the heart of someone to do something for Him. He (or she) shares the vision and others join him (or her). The enemy sees the plan beginning to work so he first tries to infiltrate the project. What a better way to ruin the work than from the inside! When that fails, he seeks to discourage and/or put fear into the heart of those who were once excited about God’s plan and being a part of it.

I’m reminded of the verse from my last blog:

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, Ephesians 5:15-16a

(Isn’t it cool how the whole Bible fits together?)

Live carefully, friends. Don’t let the enemy frustrate your plans.

Monday: It all starts with one man or woman…could it be you?

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