Remember road maps? We used to unfold a huge map, pinpoint our destination, & follow the snarl of roads & turns until we got there. Then came the hard part: refolding the map!
Now most of us rely on GPS. Just type in the desired destination, & the GPS or phone app leads us right to where we want to go. The app will even give verbal instructions, reminding us when & what direction to turn – or when to make a U-turn to get back on course. Life is so much easier now. Or is it?
Our phones can go dead, or we can drive into an area of bad cell service. And even like the old-school maps, the GPS may not be updated with new or changing roads. We can still get lost.
Thankfully, God gave us a different kind of road map for life – one that never fails. This map, the Bible, gives us his directions on how to live & is our fuel for spiritual renewal. The Israelites knew this in the days of Nehemiah, & it is a truth that holds true even to today.
< Nehemiah 8:1-3 >
God sent Nehemiah to Jerusalem to help his people restore their city from the outside in. Through the work & ministry of both Nehemiah & Ezra the priest, the Israelites not only rebuilt the walls & the city, but their lives as well.
In Nehemiah 8, the Jewish people gathered to celebrate all that had happened. Actually, this was more than a celebration; it was a time of rededication. The gathering occurred in the 7th month of the year, which is significant because the Jews celebrated 3 events during that month: the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, & the Feast of Booths. Every 7 years during the Feast of Booths, God’s Word was to be read before his people.
The Jews of Nehemiah’s time had recaptured the significance of their festivals & realized the importance of the Instruction scroll – the Torah – from Moses. They were hungry to hear what God had to say, which meant:
They were dedicated to listening to the Word of God. The people listened to Ezra & others read & explain the Word of God from early in the morning until midday. In other words, they listened to the Word of God for 6 hours!
They were attentive to the Word of God. To be attentive means to concentrate, be observant, & be focused. The people’s hearts & minds were not fixed on simply listening to the words, but on retaining the truth from the law being read & explained to them.
Since God’s Word really is the fuel for sustained restoration in our lives, we must give it the priority it deserves. Let’s be people who have such a hunger for God that our lives overflow with dedication & attentiveness to his Word.
< Nehemiah 8:4-6 >
As the Jews gathered to hear Ezra read, they showed great honor & respect for the Scriptures. As he opened it, all the people stood up. Ezra didn’t have to ask the people to stand; it was probably a customary act of honor, even submission. We see the same thing today when a bride walks down the aisle at her wedding – the congregation stands in honor. When the President of the US enters a room, the people stand in honor. When we say the Pledge of Allegiance, we stand in honor of our flag. We stand as a way of expressing the worth of a person or event.
When the people of God stood to receive the Word of God, they were publicly displaying their belief that what was happening – hearing the Word of God – was important.
When Ezra opened the book, he was moved to praise God, & all the people responded with worship: All the people answered, ‘Amen! Amen!’ while raising their hands. This was a declaration of worship & submission to the authority of Scripture. What a wonderful picture of God’s people responding to God’s Word! The Israelites were deeply moved as they heard & understood the words of the law.
Responding to God’s Word is one of the greatest pathways to spiritual renewal. As we renew our walk with God & experience personal revival, God’s Word is the fuel that sustains us & keeps us spiritually moving forward. I’m not talking about a quick, momentary response to God’s Word that fades after a while. We need a consistent lifestyle of sensitivity before God. His Word holds us accountable.
To return to my opening metaphor, the Bible is the map that keeps us on the path of renewal & revival. When we stray, it holds us accountable & shows us the way back.
< Nehemiah 8:7-8 >
The men mentioned in verse 7 were Levites, & their task that day was to help the people understand the law. So, in verse 8, the Levites did 2 things to carry out this task:
Reading & translating. The people had been in captivity in a foreign land & culture for decades. There was a culture gap, & many of the people may have even lost their ability to read, speak, & understand Hebrew. It’s quite possible these Levites were translating the Scriptures into the language & vernacular of the people.
Giving the meaning. The Levites were actively pursuing clarity & understanding. Clarity is important in all communication, but especially so when we are reading & studying the Bible.
In bringing God’s Word to the people, the Levites surely offered practical application, as well. “Now here is what to do with this truth.” When we read the Bible for our own personal growth, we need to continually ask ourselves what we must do as a result. We must learn to apply the Word. In addition, as you apply specific passages of God’s Word to your own life, tell others about it. You can only teach what you know, so focus on your own study & application of God’s Word as you help others to follow him.
Learning the Word of God is like eating an elephant. It’s a huge task, but you only have to take one bite at a time. Start eating & enjoy a lifetime of feasting upon God’s Word! As you do, your walk with Christ will be a consistent witness pointing directly to him.
How can you make sure the Scriptures have their rightful place in your life? Consider the following concrete steps:
Read up. Make a habit of reading the Bible every day. A devotional book or phone app can help you get started, but give God uninterrupted time to speak through his Word.
Listen up. Make yourself more attentive to God’s Word by taking notes. Begin a journal to write down what you hear God saying to you.
Then, step up. Lead a small group or Bible study. Teach children or students here at church, or open up your home to a small group study. The greatest way to learn the Scriptures is to teach them to someone else!
We have plenty of tools to give us direction on a physical level. But God’s Word is the only thing that can give us the proper spiritual direction we need in life. It truly is our only foundation & fuel to sustain a renewed walk with Christ.
So, you have a decision to make: you can leave worship this morning & continue doing what you have always done, & you will not feel one inch closer to God. OR you can apply these steps & begin to allow God’s Word to guide your life, which will bring you closer & closer to God. It is your decision to make.