by Wayne Barber
All of us that are believers want to be useable to God. It is clear from Scripture that we are only the conduits through whom God does His work. Paul learned this lesson as he stated in Romans 15:17: "For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me." Is there a common denominator that must be true of all our lives before we can be the vessels through which God does His works? I believe it is the word "surrender" and it is true all through Scripture.
There was a man named Ezra that was used of God in a powerful way during a very dark time for the nation of Judah. We know from the Old Testament that after Israel went sour and was taken into captivity by the Assyrians, Judah remained for many more years before it went the way of her big sister. In 605 BC Nebuchadnezzar came in and began his seige of Jerusalem. He first took Daniel and the young men into captivity to Babylon, then later he took Ezekiel and the ten thousand, and then later he came and destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple. God had warned them through Jeremiah and other prophets but they would not listen.
After 70 years, God in His mercy and grace allowed them to return to Jerusalem. Jerubbabel brought the first group back to rebuild the Temple, recounted in Ezra 1-6. Between Ezra 6 and Ezra 7 there appears to be a time gap-perhaps about 58 years. Then Ezra brought the second group back into the land. This is recorded in chapter 7 and following. Several years later Nehemiah led the third group back to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
Ezra was a light to all around him.His life radiated what we all would like for ours to reflect. At a time when the nation had been humbled by failure, he stood out among men and pointed the way back to God by his very life. It is on verse 10 of chapter 7 that I would like to focus: "For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the Lord, and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel."
Verse 6 shows that God's hand was upon him: "This Ezra went up from Babylon, and he was a scribe skilled in the law of Moses, which the Lord God of Israel had given; and the king granted him all he requested because the hand of the Lord his God was upon him." As a scribe, he knew the Law, and as a priest he would offer sacrifices for the people. Not only was God's hand upon him, but he was aware that his strength was solely from the Lord. He says in verse 28: "Thus I was strengthened according to the hand of the Lord my God upon me."
What was it that set Ezra apart from others and caused God's hand to be upon him? Well, we learn much from 7:10: "For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the Lord, and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel." First we see the purpose of Ezra's heart: he had set his heart to study the law of the Lord. The phrase "set his heart" is an interesting one. It is very similar to Daniel, who "purposed in his heart." It is like setting the course of something that determines its direction-an airplane's autopilot, for example. Ezra was determined to know God's law but it was more than that. What set Ezra above others was that he not only set his heart to know God's Word, but he also wanted to live out what he knew. The Septuagint translates the word "set his heart" with the word dídomi , to give; hence "to give over to someone his heart." Ezra gave his heart.
To me it has the idea of "permitting his heart." When you truly give something over to someone or something, then with it goes the permission to use whatever is given. The idea that comes to me is that Ezra permitted his heart to be persuaded by what he knew God's Word said.
How many of us have given permission to our hearts to be persuaded by what we know in God's Word? We know so much truth that we are not yet living out in our lives. Years ago my wife and I came out of a conference that had been rich in biblical truth. She looked at me and with great sincerity told me that she wasn't sure she wanted to go to any more conferences until she was living out the truth she already knew. God has brought that back to my mind many times since she said those profound words. Oh, how much truth we know but are not willing to live!
(to be continued)