August 29

Ezra 7:9-10 (NIV) 9He had begun his journey from Babylon on the first day of the first month, and he arrived in Jerusalem on the first day of the fifth month, for the gracious hand of his God was on him. 10For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the LORD, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.

Three times in Ezra chapter 7 we have the expression, "the gracious hand of his God was on him". He did certain things because of God's hand upon him. He had favor with the king and was given whatever he asked for because the gracious hand of God was upon him. He was on his way with more exiles and finances and sacrifices to assist in the rebuilding of Jerusalem and to offer the sacrifices the king had sent. Ezra must have made some kind of impression on the king, but I think he would say that this came about because the gracious hand of his God was upon him.

Of course, God has no physical hand, so what does this mean? When a few generations pass, the apostles would lay their hands on others so that they would be healed or filled with the Holy Spirit or sent out into a ministry calling. Their hands represent God's hand to bring God's children to the fullness of His call upon their lives. The picture of God's gracious hand upon us should give us a rush of joy and encouragement. Surely every born again child of God has the hand of the Lord upon them in some degree. What can bring that out in a greater display like that which we see in the life of Ezra?

In the above verses, we have the reason why. He devoted himself to studying, obeying, and teaching the Word of God. It's a simple, clear and powerful answer clearly seen in the passage. It is available to every reader. It is the call upon every reader, for whatever your calling is, you need to study and observe and, in some manner, teach the Word of God. There are only a few things that Scripture encourages us to be devoted to. One is the study and obedience to the Word. The others are to be devoted to seeking the LORD (Jeremiah 30:21), to doing what is good (Titus 3:8,14) and prayer (Colossians 4:2). It is impossible to do one without doing them all.

Consider: Would you like the gracious hand of God upon your life? Devote yourself to study, obey, and teach His Word.

August 29

1 Corinthians 9:24-25, 27 (NIV) 24Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.

27... I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

The Apostle Paul gave up whatever rights he needed to give up to connect with the people he was trying to win and teach. To him, the most important thing was not his personal desires or advancement but the spiritual growth of those he was ministering to.

In this passage, he compares his attitude toward ministry to a Greek athlete. An athlete doesn't do what is comfortable or take the easy route. He has a goal and denies himself to reach it. He puts boundaries on his desires and freedom so that he can reach that goal. He pushes himself to the very limits of his ability and endurance. Then when he is in the race, he gives it all he has to win. He ignores his body's demands and goes all out to win, and all he gets is a little momentary glory and a crown of leaves that soon decay. Paul is doing it for an eternal crown and encourages us to do the same.

Paul wrote that he made his body his slave. He did not give in to its demands. He knew that if he did give in, he would not obtain the prize he was after. When the Greeks broke the training rules they were disqualified. Paul did not want that to happen to him in the spiritual sense. He worked late into the night to support himself when he thought the church might be offended if he asked for the support he deserved. What an example he set for us!

Is your body your slave or your master? Are you running for a temporal crown or an eternal one? Are you running to take first place or just jogging along comfortably? When we look at the ministry of the Apostle Paul, we can see he really lived what he wrote. He was out to take first place. What is your pace?

Consider: How would your life change if you went all out for your Savior?