Then God Stirred the hearts of the priests and Levites and the leaders of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple of the Lord. Ezra 1:5 NLT
Before God stirred the hearts of the exiles in Babylon to return and rebuild the Temple, Ezra tells us in verse 1, “He stirred the heart of Cyrus,” then king of Persia to get things moving. (Ezra 1:1 NLT.)
This was all part of the Lord’s redemptive plan at the time to bring his people back, out of a 70-year Babylonian captivity, and to a place (Jerusalem and the Temple of God) where they could once again experience his presence and sovereignty for their nation, and their lives.
God is in the restoration business. He acted to redeem his people into a right relationship with him over 2500 years ago, and he’s doing it today, too. He never gives up on us.
No matter how far we may have gone astray, or how many things we have put between us and him, he wants us back. And he will stir hearts and use extraordinary means to accomplish his purpose.
At the heart of God’s redemptive plan is what he wants for us:
For I know the plans I have for you. declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11 NLT
And it all begins with the stirring of hearts. The book of Ezra is the story of what happens when God moves hearts. God initiates and people take action. Let’s look at three characteristics of God-stirred hearts on the people of Ezra’s time, and consider what it can mean for us today, too.
Cyrus the king of Persia, upon having his heart stirred by God, wrote and distributed a proclamation in full support of rebuilding the Temple at Jerusalem (Ezra:1-4 NLT). Even though he was a foreign ruler, he played an integral part in fulfilling God’s purpose: “He has appointed me to build him a Temple at Jerusalem.”
After God stirred Cyrus’s heart, Ezra 1:5 tells us he then stirred the hearts of the priests, Levites and the leaders of the people. Moving on their hearts gave them purpose, too. They must have realized things were falling into place to travel to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple of the Lord.
There are so many things we can learn from this:
- God stirs hearts according to his redemptive plan
- God stirs hearts in order to fulfill prophecy
- God stirs both outsiders’ and insiders’ hearts
- When God stirs hearts he gives purpose where once there was uncertainty or despair
Most importantly, however, everything changes when hearts are stirred by God. Hopes are raised, joyfulness follows, confidence and courage take root, and meaningful, eternal things come into sharper focus.
Look around. Do you see something in need of attention? Is there something that could be rebuilt, improved, protected? Has God stirred your heart to do something about it?
This blog got started because God stirred my heart to encourage a habit of daily Bible reading. If you read the Bible on a somewhat regular basis, you’re in the minority. The State of the Bible Report for 2014 found:
- 15% of adults say they read the Bible daily
- Only 53% of all adults say they read the Bible a minimum of three to four times a year
This research, commissioned by the American Bible Society also shows the younger you are (Millennials ages 19-30) the less likely you are to engage in Bible reading. Whereas, Elders (69+) and Boomers (50-68) are more likely to spend time reading the Bible.
In terms of regular Bible reading, America is going in the wrong direction. The 2015 report found only one in seven adults say they read the Bible daily (14%), and only 52% read it a minimum of three to four times a year.
We are the most connected (yet detached and distracted) people, ever. Yet the majority of us are not connecting with God through the living and active Word of God on a regular basis. We check our email, connect on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and many other forms of media and activity. But are we connecting with God?
I wonder how different our lives would be if we checked in with the Bible before checking in with Facebook, email, or any other social media channel?
Seeking God through the Word of God is a great way to have your heart stirred by God for finding, and serving his redemptive purpose. Not just for your life, but for your family, church and community as well.
The stirring of hearts led to wide-spread participation as the exiles’ neighbors, and King Cyrus himself gave them numerous and valuable gifts for the Temple rebuilding project (Ezra 1:6-11 NLT).
When God is in something there is cooperation and help from others. Provisions necessary to complete God’s work comes because people are moved to participate. Participation comes from without, and within.
There were a total of 42,360 people who returned to Judah from exile in Babylon. Many of the family leaders gave voluntary offerings for the rebuilding of the Temple of God – giving as much as they could. In total, Ezra 2:69 NLT tells us 61,000 gold coins, 6,250 pounds of silver, and 100 robes for the priests were offered.
Then, once all the Israelites returned and got settled in their towns, they “assembled in Jerusalem with a unified purpose.” (Ezra 3:1 NLT.) And there were a great many people involved, both from within their community and those from without under King Cyrus’s rule (Ezra 3:7-9). Everyone who had returned from exile participated, along with those from nearby towns who could, and did, provide much needed materials.
About a month ago I posted this question to the Daily Bible Reading group on Coach.me: “What advice would you give someone on how to select a daily Bible reading plan?” I got some very thoughtful and helpful responses. But what I didn’t get were specifics on which book(s) of the Bible to begin with, and what’s the ideal number of days for achieving a realistic goal?
The answer to those questions came sometime later, and from different sources.
Pastor John Sommerville of City Church, Minneapolis gave me the answer to the first question during a Sunday sermon a few weeks later. In applying a lesson to keep from falling away in our walk with Jesus, John suggested we read something from the Bible every day. I perked up. He went on to recommend the books of Mark, James and Psalms as good places to start. I took that as the answer to my first question: which books of the Bible to include in a daily reading plan?
The answer to the second question just popped into my head one morning as I was thinking about developing a reading plan around Mark, James and the Psalms: 40. Yes! Forty, as in 40 verses for 40 days. As you may know, there are plenty of stories in the Bible of forty-something time spans involving the likes of Noah, Moses, David, Solomon, the Israelites and even Jesus. I’m now working on the 40For40 Bible Reading Challenge. It should be completed by early December, 2015. I will announce when it’s available right here on BibleHabit.
Participation – help, cooperation, answers – fuels purpose.
When God stirs our hearts to service, it doesn’t mean we have to go it alone. Have faith that God will supply the help needed (from within and without) to begin and accomplish his purpose.
The third characteristic of a God-stirred heart is power – the power of God to overcome any opposition or obstacle.
Just because we have purpose and participation going for us doesn’t mean it will be smooth sailing. Quite the opposite was true in Ezra’s situation.
Enemies arose to oppose the rebuilding of the Temple of God with multiple approaches and tactics:
- They tried to infiltrate the ranks in order to sabotage the work – Ezra 4:1-3 NLT
- Then they tried to discourage and frighten the people in order to stop the work – Ezra 4:4 NLT
- They bribed agents to work against them and to frustrate their plans – Ezra 4:5 NLT
- They wrote a letter of accusation to the new king of Persia to force the work to shut down – Ezra 4:6-23 NLT
They succeeded. The work stopped and came to a standstill (Ezra 4:24 NLT). But only for a relatively short period of time.
God’s prophets arose to encourage and strengthen the people. So they started to rebuild the Temple of God once again. Opposition arose once again to challenge the commencement of the work. But God’s power was at work, and they were not prevented from building (Ezra 5:5 NLT).
As the continued opposition played out, God’s people finally won out when King Darius searched the records and found the decree authorizing the work. And once again, God moved upon an outsider to get behind his people.
King Darius not only ordered the people be given whatever was needed for the construction to continue, he also made sure they would have whatever was needed for worshiping God once the work was completed (Ezra 6:9-10 NLT). Moreover, he promised protection for God’s people and destruction to anyone who would stand in their way (Ezra 6:11-12 NLT).
“So the Jewish elders continued their work, and they were greatly encouraged by the preaching of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah son of Iddo. The Temple was finally finished, as had been commanded by the God of Israel and decreed by Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes, the kings of Persia.” (Ezra 6:14 NLT.
So the point is: when God stirs your heart for his redemptive purpose, some will pitch in while others may oppose, but don’t quit. Don’t give up because God will never give up on you, or the purpose to which he’s called you.
Expect opposition. View it as a sign that you’re about to accomplish something of significant and eternal value. Then pray and trust in God’s hand to overcome it.
Into the Word
The prophecy of restoring God’s chosen people to the promised land from a 70-year exile: Jeremiah 29:10-14
Nehemiah’s heart was gripped for rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem. His story resembles these same characteristics of a God-stirred heart: purpose, participation and power. Read about this amazing story in the book of Nehemiah.
Pastor John Sommerville’s message, “For or Against” that encouraged daily bible reading: John 6:60-71 NIV. Listen to it here.
Selected verses from Psalm 119 relating to the benefits of God’s words in our lives:
Turn my eyes from worthless things, and give me life through your word. Psalms 119:37 NLT.
Your eternal word, O Lord, stands firm in heaven. Psalms 119:89 NLT.
How sweet your words taste to me; they are sweeter than honey. Psalms 119:103 NLT.
Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path. Psalms 119:105.
You are my refuge and my shield; your word is my source of hope. Psalms 119:114 NLT.
I rise early, before the sun is up; I cry out for help and put my hope in your words. Psalms 119:147 NLT.
I rejoice in your word like one who discovers a great treasure. Psalms 119:162 NLT.