“Come to the feast.” Esther 5:8

Ever wonder why Esther appears to be stalling? Why is she planning dinners when she should be serving her enemy on a platter? Is she losing her nerve, buckling at the last minute because Haman the hater is staring her in the face? The king offers whatever she wishes, up to half the kingdom, and what does she say? “Come back tomorrow.”

Why not today? Why shouldn’t our enemies; the principalities, the rulers of darkness, the spiritual hosts of wickedness be snuffed out today? 

Here’s the million dollar question I’m hearing from the Holy Spirit in the midst of my inquiry, If I offered you anything up to half My kingdom, what would you say?

Immediately thinking of my grand kids, I halted the long list of fear-filled requests rushing at my head. I stopped to hear my King.

And then I understood.

Remember? Esther hesitated at first. What her adopted father was asking her to do could cost her her very life. Voicing her fears, Mordecai rebukes Esther—and supernatural courage takes hold of her.

From birth Mordecai had always taken good care of Esther. He was trustworthy, and she had every reason to obey him. According to her story—Esther was nothing if not obedient—and God was about to bless her for it.

When God asks us to do something—it rarely makes sense to our shortsightedness.

“Do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor detest His correction; for whom the Lord loves He corrects, just as a father the child in whom he delights.” (Proverbs 3:11-12)

“Esther also was taken.” Esther 2:8

With all the liberties I enjoy in my circumstances, I quickly forget the realities of oppression.

I once thought Esther a lucky woman. Her purity and beauty was such, she was noticed by the king’s men and escorted to the palace. Bathed in sweet scents and expensive oils for months, I wondered how soft my skin would feel after that kind of attention. The shine of her hair, the pampering of her nails, every callous soothed, every muscle like butter.

But then I pray and read this morning and the Holy Spirit enlightens me in a brand new way.

Esther’s freedom was taken away. She was likely carried out the door without packing one thing. Suddenly the comforts she received from her loved one, was done. Everything that felt like home was stripped in an instant. Her future no longer guarded by a loyal, protective uncle—she was eye-candy for a self absorbed king.

And suddenly all the physical luxuries don’t mean a thing.

“Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon the earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:25-26)

“The singers.” Nehemiah 12:29

Church music passed over my ears like a long, boring recital when I was a kid. Can we move this along, I thought—I’ve got dolls to dress and frogs to catch. 

We’ll never bridle the power of true praise grabbing hold the broken soul.

I’m ashamed to admit it—I’ve thought the singers less imperative than the preachers. Like appetizers at dinner—Can we just get to the meat of the meal? My goodness! Have I read the Psalms? Sorry, but this is just taking hold this morning as the Holy Spirit is clearing my mind with Nehemiah.

The songs of sincere praise have power to save. “For God had made them rejoice with great joy. And the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.” (vs 43)

There’s nothin further from joy than a lost soul. And the Giver uses every good thing for softening hearts and bringing people home. How many times has a song to God brought a sinner face down? I know of at least one—my husband!

“Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing. Then they said among the nations, ‘The Lord hath done great things for them.'” (Psalm 126:2)

“When I am weak then I am strong, Grace is my shield and Christ my song.” –Charles Spurgeon

“My God put it on my heart.” Nehemiah 7:5

We hear it all the time, “Follow your heart.” Well, I don’t know about you, but my heart has gotten me into a boatload of trouble. I shudder at the thought of returning to, and following through, every deep-seeded, passionate plan my heart compels me to do.

So how do we know the difference between what our fickle heart is chasing and what our God desires to do through us?

I’m certain the following is by no means an exhaustive list, but I found three things happening in Nehemiah also spoken of in the New Testament

If God has put something on your heart—it’s for the good of everyone. “All the people gathered as one man.” (Nehemiah 8:1)

“In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality.” (Acts 10:34)

If God has put something on your heart—it brings order. “And day by day, from the first day to the last day, he read from the Book of the Law of God” (Nehemiah 8:18)

“God is not the author of confusion but of peace.” (1 Corinthians 14:33)

If God has put something on your heart—it brings God glory. “They bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.” (Nehemiah 8:6)

“In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His own will, that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory.” (Ephesians 1:11-12)

Hope this helps, my friends!

“I sat down and wept and mourned for days.” Nehemiah 1:4

When Jerusalem was taken into captivity because of their rebellion against God, their enemies broke and burned down their city walls. The people who survived the exile returned to a city with no walls, no gate.

When Nehemiah hears of Jerusalem’s trouble and shame, he sits down and literally weeps—for days. 

Why? “Why is the wall so important,” I asked God. “Why do the people of God need a wall? Doesn’t a wall shut people out from getting to God? And shouldn’t Nehemiah be relieved Jerusalem is finally free? Why didn’t we hear of Nehemiah’s grief while Jerusalem was in captivity?”

I kept reading.

I read until the Holy Spirit made it plain.

JESUS IS THE WALL. Our refuge, our strength, our help in times of trouble. Nehemiah was brokenhearted because his people were without a Savior! 

“The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms; He will thrust out the enemy from before you, and will say, ‘Destroy!'” (Deuteronomy 33:27)

“For You have been a shelter for me, a strong tower from the enemy.” (Psalm 61:3)

“The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.” (Proverbs 18:10)

“The vessels are holy.” Ezra 8:28

Are you God’s vessel?

Are you washed clean and used for service inside the house of God? From Moses to Jesus the holy vessels were designed to hold pure water—living water. Water able to turn what God cannot even look upon into His own precious possession.

Jesus is the one way to the house of God. He poured Himself out to make our souls whiter than snow. To make us His own. 

You may say, “I don’t want to be owned by anyone, least of all a God I don’t know.” If this is you, hear me. If you are not owned by God, you are His enemy. You are a vessel used by Satan—used against God. Wielded in ways you may not even be aware of. A vessel for destruction.

“You’re so melodramatic, JoAnn,” you may be thinking in your head. But this is not a tale meant to manipulate. It is Good News sent to eradicate. To bring peace like you’ve never known. To settle the uncertainty inside your head. News so earth-shaking you’ll never see the world without hope again. You’ll never walk alone. 

“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7)

“They did not stop them.” Ezra 5:5

What is God asking you to rebuild? A broken marriage? A vacant community? Your own abandoned heart? Don’t let those troublemakers stop you. Those voices in your head threatening your progress. Those discouragers of hope in what God desires to accomplish in His people and for His glory.

When God stirs our heart for His desire we begin the work of prayer—we ask God questions to be clear. Like Abraham, “What will You give me?” Like Moses, “What shall I tell them?” And Mary, “How can this be?” We get curious, and wait on God to speak. But we do not stop. We don’t sit on the sidelines thinking, If God wants this to happen, He’ll move my feet. No, we move in God’s direction. We take action. Because we believe His love in us, we actively follow His will for us.

The book of Ezra says, “the eye of their God was on the elders of the Jews.” (vs 5) The children of God need not fear the rumors of this big, loud, busybody world—Your Father has His eye on you. You won’t get lost, or left behind, no one can snatch you from His hand. Rest assured He brought you here, and He’ll see you through to the end.

“There is a harp that will be silent till your fingers strike its strings.” –Charles Spurgeon

“When I am afraid, I will trust in You.” (Psalm 56:3)

“Faith apart from works is dead.” James 2:26

I’m no risk taker. And putting your faith in God, is risky business. Putting faith in a decent wage comes naturally, a healthy diet—piece of cake. But faith in a God who made everything out of nothing always seems to be too much of a stretch for me. Why is that?

When I stand back and look, it makes zero sense. Aren’t we safer trusting in the Spirit of God than a capricious job, a fluctuating economy, an aging body? How many times has God gone back on a promise? Has God’s goal changed since you met Him? When was the last time God suffered cutbacks? Who ever lifted us above illness, suffering, discouragement, sorrow? Our accountant? Our doctor?

I have every reason to put my faith only in the Spirit of God. 

The voice inside my head says, “It’s too risky.” “What if it fails?” “It’s unrealistic. Just keep life simple.” But that voice is death. 

“By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.” (Hebrews 11:7)

How impossible is your ark?

“Faith goes up the stairs that love has built and looks out the windows which hope has opened.” –Charles Spurgeon

“Whoever trusts in the LORD is safe.” Proverbs 29:25

“Be safe,” we hear all over the place, and it makes me laugh when I think of the way the children of God are called to live. Wholly trusting the Holy Spirit’s leading, offering ourselves, a living sacrifice. Does that sound safe to you?

Oh, but wait.

After Paul and Silas were drug to prison and locked in stocks, who made the earth quake, causing doors to open and chains to break? When Daniel was cast into a hungry pride, who sent His angel locking the lips of lions? Who fought for and delivered Gideon from armies far bigger than his? Who gave Naomi a daughter after losing husband and sons?

“Not so fast”, you say. “What about the torture so many who trusted the Lord were given to—beheading, burned, hung from a cross?”

Yes, their temporary building was destroyed, but their spirit, (the masterpiece of who they were) was never in danger in their Lord. Truth be known, they passed from death to life long before their flesh perished.

“For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men.” (1 Timothy 4:10)

The death of our bodies is not the scariest thing we face. Not by a long shot. What begins beyond our pulse should concern us most. 

“Sustained by such a doctrine we can enjoy security even on earth; not that high and glorious security which renders us free from every slip, but that holy security which arises from the sure promise of Jesus that none who believe in him shall ever perish, but shall be with him where he is.” –Charles Spurgeon

“The Levites had to slaughter the Passover lamb for everyone who was not clean.” 2 Chronicles 30:17

“Why so much blood, God?” I questioned this morning. One-thousand bulls, seven-thousand sheep, sacrificed and splattered across the altar of the Lord. I just don’t get it. And when all was burnt up, they sang for days, bursting with joy and gladness.

The image of it all makes me cringe. The killing of innocent animals, their blood smeared everywhere. How can this be a scene of celebration? It sounds more like a horror movie than a love story.

Then it hit me. The horror of sin. It’s utter carelessness, cruelty, destruction seeping into everyday actions like it’s no big thing. We’re not so easy on anything like we are on our own sin. We make light of it, ignore it, subscribe to it, open the door for it in moments of suffering and pain. We easily forget, sin steals. Sin kills.

“I have come that they may have life,” said the last Sacrifice.

Death is not the end—it’s a beginning. When Jerusalem witnessed this gruesome sight, they felt the depth of their rebellion. And when the sacrifice went up in smoke, they realized for the first time, they could be healed, whole, and clean.

“Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins.” (Hebrews 9:22) In other words, without just punishment, our conscience would never be clean. No amount of good behavior, hard work, or generosity puts away the shame running through our veins.

Happiness and heaven are merely an illusion for those with no need for forgiveness. But a broken and contrite heart understands its reason for singing in every circumstance. We’ve felt the darkness within us, witnessed the horror we’ve been saved from. The sacrificial love of Christ has captured us.

“Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)

“In the time of his distress he became yet more faithless to the Lord.” 2 Chronicles 28:22

When your conscience bothers you, what do you do? When you realize you’ve blown it, do you stay faithful to your poor decision, determined to stay hidden and preserve your reputation?

The Bible calls this, bondage.

Jesus came to free you from your distress—your sin, your rebellion against Him. He came to set you free.

You see, the world sends the message that power equals success—take whatever you can get and forget the rest. But the Bible teaches us something completely opposite. Leave the stuff that leaves you empty after all is said and done. Die to yourself and experience liberty found in the resurrection of Christ. Because that’s what Jesus did on the cross for us—He overcame our distress. He put an end to our slavery to sin. We can be forgiven. 

The world thinks peace will be when the latest war ends. But has that ever been the case? Peace doesn’t come by way of man’s devices. Everlasting peace can only be experienced when we surrender the battle within us. 

Today, we can say we’re sorry. We can repent. We can lay it all down at the cross and walk free women and men.

“Come and be free, for thus saith the Lord, there is immediate, unconditional emancipation for all such as desire to be delivered from sin, and to have the liberty wherewith Christ makes his people free.” –Charles Spurgeon

“The king listened to them.” 2 Chronicles 24:17

It’s often a gradual, seductive turn. We come to a crossroad, a challenge, a loss and start listening to people’s advice. We can feel desperate to realign the course we are on when the future suddenly looks different.

This is not the time to abandon God. This is the moment we cling tighter than we ever have. 

“Count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1: 2-4)

Our address can change, our income can be adjusted, birth and death can reshape the landscape of our future—but the voice of the Holy Spirit can never be replaced. There be no new fangled way to overcome the trials we face, no greater plan than the ones God has for those who love Him. In fact, we squander the extraordinary when we fall for the latest, surefire way to peace on earth.

“Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2: 10-11)