Monday: Feasting Turns to Fasting
Text: On the twenty-fourth day of the same month, the Israelites gathered together, fasting and wearing sackcloth and putting dust on their heads. (Neh. 1:1)
Teach: Fasting isn’t an easy topic to address with people, primarily because we don’t like to go without. But fasting also presupposes the awareness of need or sin, something isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. Here in Nehemiah, the people had been listening to and convicted by God’s plan and purpose as lined out in the Law.
Take: Jesus speaks about fasting in the Sermon on the Mount: 16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you (Matthew 6:16-18). Did you catch the implication? He isn’t commanding fast, he’s not even suggesting it, he’s assuming we will.
Task: Can you think of time when you don’t have or know of a spiritual need? Me either. Pray with me today and ask that God would enlighten us on when and how we should fast.
Text: 9 Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.
Teach: The people heard the Word, the Law specifically. The job of the Law is to convict, and by convicting to bring confession and repentance. Too often, however, when the Holy Spirit brings conviction and people feel remorse and regret, they get stuck and never move on. Ezra, Nehemiah, and the other leaders realized this and encouraged the people to move beyond regret to celebration.
Take: One of the enemy’s most cunning deceptions is to move in at the moment of conviction and attempt to deceive the penitent person into believing that whatever their sin is, it is far too great to be forgiven. As a result, there is much sadness. The Word is very clear on this: If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong (1 John 1:9, NLT).
Task: Does the enemy seek to steel your joy? Does he cause you to dwell in regret? David understood that and asked God to restore the joy of his salvation (see Psalm 51). I had a pastor who often told the congregation, “God has sent your sin into the sea of forgetfulness and posted a no fishing sign.” God wants you to move on into joy.