Title: ARRANGING OUR PRIORITIES
Text: Nehemiah 10:28-39
Have you ever found yourself frozen in indecision because you had a multiple number of items on your plate and you didn’t know where to start? Putting first things first is critical in getting the right things done first…not just putting out fires because the urgent items were screaming at you. Tyranny of the urgent looms over our head frequently. It can be taxing. It can be tiring. How welcome indeed is the insight (whether from self, others, or the Holy Spirit) that shows clear direction and a plan of attack for all the things that nag for your attention. And how self-defeating is the hindsight realization that you chose the wrong action item to attack first. One of the most valuable disciplines to develop is thinking before we act. Doing things in the order of their importance is some of the hardest work there is to do. That’s probably why so few engage in it. Our study tonight in Nehemiah gives us some much-needed insight in such circumstances.
Nehemiah heard that the wall was still down and the people were in distress, but he didn’t grab a trowel and run for Jerusalem. First he carefully prayed and carefully planned his attack of the problem. When opposition came, he resisted the urge to retaliate, but instead took some time to think over the best way to respond. And when the Israelites gained their independence after generations of captivity, they didn’t rush into selecting leaders…they first spent time regaining spiritual vision through listening to and meditating on God’s Law.
In tonight’s text the Israelites want to establish their priorities…and once again it is preceded with some rich thinking about the greatness of our God, His history of dealing with grace, and how their long record of failures could change to successes. A right decision at this critical junction has the potential of reversing a long history of wrong priorities that came from foolish thinking. Read Text.
1. Verse 29 says the people bound themselves to the document of spiritual renewal with a curse and an oath. How do these two words go together?
Insight: They were binding themselves to the oath, and if they didn’t keep it, then the consequences of the curse were rightly due them. This emphasized the binding nature of the oath. Eccl. 5:2-5
2. When our country’s Declaration of Independence was signed, it did not grant us immediate freedom; we had to fight for it. In the same way, Israel’s good intentions with this document didn’t establish their independence…their intentions needed to be solidified through obedience. What have you found that works for you to keep a promise you have made? (Remembering a past event when I was young: “I thought you were a man of your word.”)
3. Verse 28 reveals there are some whom were not invited to sign this agreement, and some who were invited. What insights do you see in this?
Insight: This is a good pattern to follow…they physically removed themselves from pagan influences and false philosophies of foreigners, and they invited those who were old enough to understand the contents and what they were committing themselves to. When making priorities at critical crossroads, this two-fold step will save you from decisions that could result in heartache.
Insight: This wise move is a reversal of the “herding instinct” – going along with the herd without stopping to think whether following the crowd is the wise thing to do.
4. By banishing all foreigners from their presence during this big event must have sent a message to their neighbors. What message would that be?
Insight: What better way to send out the message that they were changing their ways to bring forth a new nation via a spiritual renewal. They were signing their rebirth certificate.
5. When the whole world is raising their hands with the wrong answers about life, how can we send out a message of truth and warning, yet not turn them off so that they don’t listen?
6. One more look at verse 29 shows what they were committing themselves to…keeping and observing all God’s commandments. How is this action connected to their own life, liberty and pursuit of happiness?
Insight: It is in our obedience to God that we experience His breath of life, freedom from the sins that enslave us, and His blessing of the desires of our heart. Titus 2:11-14
7. The commitment to walk in God’s ways resulted to changes in three different areas. The first is revealed in 10:30. What is it?
Insight: They vowed to keep their homes swept clean of corrupt influences. Their own past taught them that defeat came many times because of intermarriage with pagans. The exchange of sons and daughters brought an exchange of religions that diluted the fidelity of their faith in Jehovah. This painful experience is no less critical for our own sons and daughters. Jud. 3:5-8; 2 Cor. 6:14
8. In verse 31 Israel extended their obedience from homes into their society and the marketplace. They restored their distinctiveness. 10:31 How do you see the slow erosion of forsaking worship for other activities affecting the moral fiber of Christian homes?
Insight: Selective vision that closes a blind eye to a little thing here, a little thing there, has scaled the cataract over our heart that we serve a jealous God that misses us greatly when we are absent from His house in corporate worship. All too clearly He sees the heart eroding to the influences of the world and His bride is no longer embracing Him alone…but rather Him plus another…and that is adultery from His view point. Isa. 58:13
9. In verses 32-39 the house of God is mentioned 9 times; it can be summed up to the words, “We will not neglect the house of our God.” We live in a day when super churches are built more for the glory of man than for the glory of God, and millions of dollars spent on taking care of the sheep when the amount spent on the lost, hurting, homeless, and neglected needs of our neighbors is pathetic in comparison. How might God use us to turn the tide in this area of neglect in our own day?
Insight: We need to remember that we are the temple of God, not the edifice. You can’t conveniently park Him in the pew and leave His witnessing presence. Carry Him with you to the lost and hurting…give Him away generously…what He has to offer can meet their greatest need.
Reflect a moment on what we have just studied. Our own lives can be living documents of obedience to our Lord.
- Serious thought precedes any significant change. We don’t dare waste time dabbling in shallow thinking and careless priorities without diminishing what we will be and do in the future.
- Written plans confirm right priorities. I don’t know if you have a habit of writing down your priorities on paper, but it is a great exercise that helps me disentangle them from the urgent and the unimportant. If we carry them all around in our mental chest of ideas, like a child’s toy box, the real valuable ones can get lost in the bottom while the cheap ones with the loudest musical tunes sit on top. The real priorities can get lost from becoming a life-changing catalyst.
- Loss of distinction and conformity to the world go hand in hand. If you didn’t attend church or a Bible study, would anyone know that you are a Christian? Every neighbor, every worker in the cubical next to us, and every person standing in the line at Starbuck’s is looking at our lives to see the distinctiveness in our speech and character. They want to know if we are any different from the rest of the world.
The pressure to conform to the rest of the world is ever as strong today as it was then. Do you need specific prayer in any area of such pressure? How can we come alongside and help you to walk faithfully with our Lord? Rom. 12:2