Through our study of Nehemiah we are talking about what it means to live an unwasted life—to know our lives matter. In this teaching we focus our attention on an essential element of living out our purpose that is too often overlooked.
Before reading the passage, here is some background to where we are in the story. Nehemiah is leading the Jewish people to re-establish the city of Jerusalem, which had been destroyed many years ago. In chapter 6, the wall around the city that they were building for protection was completed. Then, in chapter 7, Nehemiah begins inviting the Jews to move back into the city. At this point, we might expect them to just get back to ordinary life, but that’s not what happens.
Read Nehemiah 8.
The first thing the people do when the city is up and running is to ask Ezra the priest to teach the Bible. They knew that the people of God need the Word of God to discover the purpose of God.
Question: How have you sought purpose in life? What would you identify as your primary purpose? How has the idea of what your purpose is changed during your life?
Only God’s Word helps us keep God’s purpose for us in our lives first. Sometimes we think that if we get just get the right job, or find the right cause to fight for, or take the right major in college we’ll fulfill our purpose, but that’s not true. When Jesus was asked what the most important commandment in the Bible is, He said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” (Luke 10.27). Our primary purpose isn’t accomplished by the work we do, but by the worship we give. We were fundamentally created to be worshippers of God, people who delight in what is simply best and most beautiful in the universe—God. The greatest job in the world will make us feel empty if it isn’t ultimately about worship. Conversely, the worst job in the world can make us feel totally alive if we use it as a platform for worship. Worshiping God is our primary purpose in life.
In John 15 Jesus is talking with His disciples about what it means to live an unwasted life. Three times He tells His friends that He wants them to live fruitful lives. Three times He tells them that He wants to help them live unwasted lives. Then he explains how.
The reason Jesus said people who keep His Father’s commands will live fruitful, unwasted lives is because people who honor God’s Word are people God can bless. Certainly, some people achieve success apart from honoring God’s Word. But, it is impossible to have the supernatural hand of God on our lives apart from being people who honor God’s word. Without the hand of God we will never live in the fruitfulness God created us for.
That’s why, once Israel is back in Jerusalem and everything is rebuilt, they begin by listening to God’s Word. They realize that the words of God are the building blocks of an unwasted life.
Question: How have you experienced the blessing of God by honoring His word? Have you made His word the foundation of your life? If so, what does that look like? If not, what has gotten in your way?
Three Steps in which the Word of God can Prepare Us for Purpose
1. Read the Word
The first thing the people do is read the Word of God. They didn’t each have a Bible to read from, so they gathered together and listened to Ezra read it.
2. Interpret the Word
Next, Ezra interprets the Word. He helps explain what it means and brings principles out from the text that they can understand.
3. Apply the Word
After hearing what God’s Word said and what it meant, the people took action. They heard what was written, saw that they were not following the instructions, and immediately did what was outlined in the scripture.
If we want to live unwasted lives, we can follow this same process. The first thing we do is read the Bible. Even if we don’t know what we’re reading, it is an essential starting place. There are all kinds of Bible reading plans we can follow (see engedichurch.com/bible for ideas). But to really make it a habit, it is important that we find a regular time and place where we read.
Question: What is your Bible reading habit like? Is there a particular plan you’ve found useful? Do you have a specific place and time where you take time in the word? If not, think of a place and a time that could work and commit to doing that for the next week.
The second part of the process is to interpret what the Bible says. Take the time to ask questions about what we’re reading, and seek out answers in commentaries from other Christians and even through prayer. Sometimes it’s just stepping back from the details of the story we’re reading to ask what it is showing us about God’s character. It takes work, but what we get out of it depends on what we put in.
The third step is to apply what God has said. We need to ask what the passage means for us personally. What does God want to deliver us from? What do we need to invite Him into?
As we go through the read–interpret–apply cycle again and again, God’s Word will prepare us for purpose. The fruits we receive from this discipline is exciting.
In Nehemiah 8.6, just after the Word of God had been read, “Ezra praised the LORD, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, ‘Amen! Amen!’ Then they bowed down and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.” The Word leads to enjoyment of God.
Sometimes we read the Bible with our primary focus on what we’re supposed to do differently. But really its first purpose is to help us encounter and enjoy God. In the Word we encounter God’s compassion, love, grace, holiness and glory which leads us to worship. Our first purpose in life is to enjoy God in all of His grandeur.
Question: When do you find it easiest to enjoy God? How can you approach His Word differently in order to enjoy Him instead of making it all about how you need to improve?
In verse 9, the response of the people turns to weeping. They were weeping because God’s Word was helping them see how far their lives were from God’s expectations. The Word leads to awareness of brokenness. When we are prompted to confession, our first reaction may be to get discouraged. The truth is, God is preparing us for something great when He starts showing us broken things in our lives that need to get fixed. His Word teaches us how to live a life that He can bless.
Finally, verses 10–12 show us how the Word leads to an experience of restoration. Since the people spent time in God’s Word, they realized that they were broken, but that God wanted to take them out of those broken places. Our God wants to help us live a life He can bless, and part of that process is restoration.
Question: How have you experienced God’s restoration in your life? Spend some time praying for others in your life who need to experience His restoration.
We have an even better perspective on God’s desires for us than the Jewish people in Nehemiah did. We know that God wanted our restoration so much that He sent His only Son to die on our behalf and conquer death.
The words of God are the building blocks of an unwasted life. They help us keep God’s purpose for us in our lives first.