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Devotional by Ray Stedman – A God Of Purpose – A daily devotion for December 28

Topic:A God Of Purpose

Then Job replied to the LORD: I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted.
Job 42:1-2


The greatest theme in this book of Job is that it reveals to us the character of God Himself. God often appears to us as a cold, impersonal Being, distant from us, uncaring, even ruthless and vindictive, demanding many things from us–a powerful Being but without compassion. I am sure if you conducted a poll you would find that to be the most common view of God in the world today. The average people on the street, if they think of God at all, think of Him as being a rather cold and distant Being who is powerful and just, hard and demanding, an angry God. This God is commonly called the Old Testament God, as though God were two kinds of beings, one in the Old Testament and one in the New.

But what the book of Job shows is that behind that appearance (and even Job saw Him that way for a while), God is always exactly what He is, not ruthless and cold, but actually deeply aware of our problems. He is concerned about us, carefully controlling everything that touches us, limiting the power of Satan and allowing certain expressions, according to His knowledge of how much we can bear. He is patient, forgiving, and ultimately responsible for all that happens.

In the beginning of this book, the reader’s attention is focused on three beings: God, Satan, and Job. By the end of the book, Satan has completely disappeared. All you have left is God standing before Job, saying to him, All right, Job, I’m responsible. Any questions? When Job begins to see what God is working out in His vast, cosmic purposes and what He is making possible by means of Job’s sufferings, he has no questions to ask whatsoever. The final view of God in this book is of a Being of incredible wisdom who puts things together far beyond human dreams and imaginations, who is working out incredible plans of infinite delight and joy that He will give to us if we wait for His purposes to be fully resolved.

The Lord mentions a time when all the sons of God shouted for joy (Job 38:7 RSV) at the creation of the world, but other Scriptures tell us about a future time when the sons of God will be revealed (Romans 8:19), when all creation will shout in a greater glory than was ever hailed at the first creation in the new creation that God has brought into being by means of the sufferings, the trials, and the tribulations of this present scene. That is why Scripture speaks in numerous passages about our light and momentary troubles that are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all (2 Corinthians 4:17). When that day breaks, the one thing for which we will be infinitely thankful, the one thing above all others that will thrill us and cheer us and cause us to glory, is the fact that out of all the created universe, we were chosen to be the ones who bore the name of God in the hour of danger and affliction, problem and trial. There is no higher honor than that.

Our Father, I do count it indeed a mighty privilege to bear reproach for Your name’s sake. I know that the day is coming when that will be my chief joy.

Life Application
Pain is often God’s megaphone to re-focus our attention on our gracious Lord. Are we so caught up in worldly minutia that we miss seeing the vast plan of God’s love?

Devotions by Ray Stedman for August 29 – The True Sabbath Rest

Topic:The True Sabbath Rest
READ THE SCRIPTURE: NEHEMIAH 13:15-22

In those days I saw men in Judah treading winepresses on the Sabbath and bringing in grain and loading it on donkeys, together with wine, grapes, figs and all other kinds of loads. And they were bringing all this into Jerusalem on the Sabbath, Therefore I warned them against selling food on that day.
Nehemiah 13:15

Ray Stedman

Nehemiah was concerned by this disregard for the Law. He is trying to correct the difficulties that had caused problems for Israel in the past. So he orders the gates to be closed at sunset on Friday. He requires the Levites to cleanse themselves and to guard the gates so that no one violates the Sabbath.

Should we also keep the Sabbath by refraining from work and travel? As we have seen throughout this book, these regulations imposed upon Israel were what the New Testament calls shadows, pictures of something even more important that God wants observed. You observe the Sabbath when you fulfill what the Sabbath portrays.

At the heart of the Sabbath is the word rest. The Sabbath is intended for people, that they may learn to rest. The Sabbath is God’s stress management program! It is how to prevent burnout—how to recover from too much pressure and catch up with yourself. It is how to gather yourself together and become able to handle the work you must do.

There are two reasons given in the Scripture for the Sabbath. The first one is found in Exodus 20:11. There we are told that because God finished creation in six days and then rested on the seventh day, He asked His people to rest after six days of labor. Why did God rest? He accomplished His objective. People too must recognize a limit to their work. There is a need to stop, to allow the body, mind, and spirit to recognize their limitations.

The second reason the Sabbath was given is often ignored. God said to Israel, Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day (Deuteronomy 5:15). They were to rest in order to reflect on God’s ability to work beyond the labors they had already completed.

So there are two aspects of the Sabbath—creation and redemption. There is a rest of cessation; a ceasing from our own works. But then there is the rest of rejoicing in the mighty delivering power of God.

Father, in the midst of the hustle and bustle of my life, teach me that I need to enter into the rest of creation and redemption, always remembering that Your work comes before my work.

Life Application
Are we at rest because of the work God has done and is doing in us? Are we relying on our own strength rather than understanding His power as the source?

Devotions by Ray Stedman for August 28 – Are You Faithful?

Topic:Are You Faithful?
READ THE SCRIPTURE: NEHEMIAH 13:10-14

I put Shelemiah the priest, Zadok the scribe, and a Levite named Pedaiah in charge of the storerooms and made Hanan son of Zaccur, the son of Mattaniah, their assistant, because these men were considered trustworthy.
Nehemiah 13:13a

Ray Stedman

Notice how representative this group is that he chooses. There is a priest, a scribe, a Levite, and a layman. All four represent various aspects of the life of Israel and share one great quality. He tells us, these men were considered trustworthy (Nehemiah 13:13b). They were faithful men. I have discovered that today faithfulness is a quality not highly esteemed, although we often pay lip service to it. It is disheartening to me at times to see how few people take seriously the responsibility to carry through faithfully what they have undertaken.

Faithfulness is the quality that God admires. Paul says in 1 Corinthians of those who minister in the church: Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful (1 Corinthians 4:2). That is the primary thing God looks for: the ability to hang in with an assignment until you are through; the willingness to fulfill responsibility year after year, not needing to be praised or thanked or publicly encouraged in order to do so; to work unto the Lord; to show up on time and to not leave until the work is done.

I have learned through the years to look for four qualities in leaders, whether they are men or women. I look first for a searching mind: a person who is mentally alert, who has curiosity about life, who wants to learn all the time. Such a person is always reading, always listening, always thinking about what he or she hears, and trying to reason out what is behind it.

Second, I look for a humble heart–someone whose ego is not on the line all the time, who must be praised and honored and encouraged in order to get him to do anything at all; who gets disgruntled and turned off if she does not get recognized. I look for someone who understands that service is a privilege; that power is not conferred upon a person by an office but by serving people.

Third, I look for an evident gift: God’s people are gifted people. There is not one of the members of the body of Christ who has not been equipped by the Holy Spirit with a special ability to do something. When Christians know what it is, they always enjoy doing it. It is not a burden any more than wings are a burden to a bird. It is a delight to them. I look for people who have the gift for what we are asking them to do because they will stay with it and enjoy it to the end.

And then, fourth, undergirding all the others and making them possible, is a faithful spirit–someone who will not quit; someone who sees her work as a ministry of service to the Lord Himself; who has undertaken it out of gratitude in his own life and heart, and no matter how tough it gets, will not quit.

God looks for these kind of people to change the age in which they live. That is what we are called to do today. We are all included in this calling, not just the obvious, visible leaders. What is required are faithful men and women who are willing to carry this through to the end.

Father, I ask that You would develop in me a spirit of faithfulness. Help me to stick with the responsibilities You give to the end.

Life Application
In a culture where unfaithfulness is rampant, are we thoughtfully alert, humbly motivated, and faithfully committed to be counter-cultural?

Devotions by Ray Stedman for August 24 – Real Heroes And Real Life

Topic:Real Heroes And Real Life
READ THE SCRIPTURE: NEHEMIAH 12:1-26

These were the priests and Levites who returned with Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and with Jeshua
Nehemiah 12:1a

Ray Stedman

This takes us back to the heroes of the past. Zerubbabel led the first return from Babylonian captivity to Jerusalem in 538 BC, almost one hundred years earlier than Nehemiah’s day. Nehemiah is looking back at these men who led that procession. Zerubbabel was a priest, and Jeshua was a Levite. They led a company of Israelites back to the city of Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. Verse 7 says that they were the leaders of the priests and their associates in the days of Jeshua.

Verses 22-26 give the chronological time when the records that we have just looked at were recorded. The passage does not sound very interesting, but we are told that for the first group, the family heads of the Levites… were recorded in the reign of Darius the Persian. That meant that there was a time when their names were kept as temple records, but they were not actually recorded permanently until the days of Darius the Second. This would put that record somewhere between 423 and 404 BC, somewhat later than Nehemiah. Evidently some later hand added this so that we might know when it was written.

Then there is another mention in verse 23 of the book of the annals, meaning the annals of the kings of Judah. One of them is especially mentioned in the reference to David, the man of God. What a remarkable influence David had! F. B. Meyer says, How long the influence of David has lingered over the world, like the afterglow of a sunset. Yet David had a terrible record of evil in his life. He fell into adultery with Bathsheba and was involved in the murder of her husband. Because his heart was set on God, however, and he took advantage of God’s provision for forgiveness, David is known to history as the man after God’s own heart.

The passage teaches us that we must not forget past heroes, the men and women of fame and glory whom God has used in former days. I have been reading again the writings of some of my early spiritual heroes. I would urge you, on the basis of a passage like this, to read biography! It will bless you. It will challenge you and strengthen you to see how God has used men and women of the past to stand against the temptations and pressures of the world and accomplish much for His glory.

This passage also teaches us that the deeds of God are part of the record of history. That is one of the great advantages of Christianity over all the other religions of the world. Most of them are religious philosophies or simply the musings of men meditating upon various aspects of life. Many of them are a record of visions and dreams of dubious origin. But when you come to the record of the Bible, it is based upon facts. It is not legend, myth, or fiction. It is not a record of philosophies or the inventions of humans. It is made up of historic facts. God grounds these great events in the history of the world itself.

Lord thank You for the lessons I can learn from those who have served You in the past and for the very real facts of history, which teach me so much about You.

Life Application
Studying and remembering God-made history can be far more fruitful than dwelling on man-made philosophy. What lessons are we learning from the Bible each day?

Devotions by Ray Stedman for August 23 – Any Volunteers?

Topic:Any Volunteers?
READ THE SCRIPTURE: NEHEMIAH 11

Now the leaders of the people settled in Jerusalem, and the rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of every ten to live in Jerusalem, the holy city, while the remaining nine were to stay in their own towns. The people commended all the men who volunteered to live in Jerusalem.
Nehemiah 11:1-2

Ray Stedman

The great principle to remember in reading the Old Testament is that what happens to Israel on a physical level pictures what is happening to us on the spiritual level. God too is a builder. The New Testament tells us that He is building a city with inhabitants called the New Jerusalem. It is not like the old one, made of bricks and mortar, but a new city built of spiritual stones–living stones, according to the New Testament (1 Peter 2:5). It is intended to be inhabited by redeemed people. If you draw that parallel, you will begin to see some of the teaching of this passage in Nehemiah.

Chapter 11 is the account of Nehemiah’s efforts to repopulate Jerusalem. Although the city wall had been rebuilt at this point, Nehemiah discovered that he had a problem. He had a fine, well-defended city–but without people! His solution was to draft families to move there, for a capital must be inhabited since it is the heart of the nation. As the governor, he simply issued an edict: One out of every ten people living in the suburbs must move to Jerusalem. He went through the towns and numbered the people, counting them off by tens, and then they threw a die with ten numbers on it. The man who had the same number that came up on the die was expected to move his family into Jerusalem.

If you read this carefully, it is apparent that when a man was chosen to move into Jerusalem, he was permitted to decline if he wanted to. That is because God wanted volunteers for this. So a man could be chosen but could decide against moving. Then the lot would be cast again and another name chosen. Sooner or later someone would be found who consented freely to go. According to the account, those who chose to go were commended by the people. They honored them because they volunteered to do what God called them to do.

The same principle applies in the church today. According to the New Testament, we are all called into the ministry–all of us! The ministry belongs to the saints! The minute you become a Christian, you are moved into God’s new Jerusalem. You are asked to take up labor there, to do work according to the spiritual gift God has given you. But you must also volunteer to do it. God does not force His people to do what they are asked to do. He gave us all spiritual gifts, but He does not force us to use them. Yet if you want to be respected or honored and commended at last by the Lord Himself and by all His people, then the wise thing is to volunteer to perform the realm of ministry He has opened up for you.

Lord I want to be a part of what You are building. Thank You for the gifts and talents You have given me. Show me how best to put them to use.

Life Application
God calls and equips His people to serve voluntarily. Will we miss the grandeur of His calling to minister both in the Church and the world, by default?

Devotions by Ray Stedman for August 19 -Time After Time

Topic:Time After Time
READ THE SCRIPTURE: NEHEMIAH 9:16-37

But as soon as they were at rest, they again did what was evil in your sight. Then you abandoned them to the hand of their enemies so that they ruled over them. And when they cried out to you again, you heard from heaven, and in your compassion you delivered them time after time.
Nehemiah 9:28

Ray Stedman

What a marvelous picture of the patience of God! He lets us taste the results of our evil. He gets our attention sometimes by letting disaster strike. But it is only in order that we might hear what He is saying and be delivered. He warns us in order to keep us free.

One evening the president of the Gay People’s Union of a university was invited to come and speak to a church’s group of young people on what the Bible says about homosexuality. The group gave him the opportunity to defend the position that the Bible endorses homosexuality as an alternate lifestyle. Although this man was the president of his university’s debating club, he struggled as he tried to present his case. He went all through the Bible trying to prove his cause, but he floundered and could not get anything together.

The group leader made an agreement with him that when he finished, one of the church’s pastors would speak on the same subject. The pastor graciously opened the Scriptures and pointed out that when God forbids something it is not because He wants to limit us or narrow our lives. It is because He is protecting us from something that we cannot handle, something so devastating it will ruin us. He demonstrated from the Word how homosexuality destroys human beings and turns them into something God never intended them to be. Eventually those embracing a homosexual lifestyle would be locked into pain, hurt, misery, loneliness, and death.

Out of that episode came opportunity for members of this church to reach out to those who were struggling with homosexual tendencies. A great number of these people were delivered by the mercy and grace of God. That is what this passage describes–the tough love of God, who will not let ruin overtake us without adequate warning.

The closing paragraph, beginning with verse 32, connects the history of earlier generations with the present generation. Here we find a change of pronouns from they and them to we and our as the Israelites begin to look at their own generation.

This is where we find ourselves today. Our cities are torn with violence and strife of such intensity that people hardly dare to go outside their homes. The only recovery is to do as these people did–confess our wrongdoing to God and praise Him for His compassionate mercy.

Notice how specific the Israelites are. You have acted faithfully, but we did wrong. There is no if in true confession. You say, Lord, I did it. I walked in my own willful way. Then God hears, forgives, and restores.

Lord, thank You for Your promise that as I confess my sin, You are faithful and righteous to forgive and restore.

Life Application
How do we respond to God’s tough love in others’ lives as well as our own? Are we able to recognize and be thankful for the tough love of God?

Devotions by Ray Stedman for August 13 -The Power And Peril Of A Witness

Topic:The Power And Peril Of A Witness
READ THE SCRIPTURE: NEHEMIAH 6:15-19

So the wall was completed… When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God.
Nehemiah 6:15-16

Ray Stedman

Even their enemies had to admit that God was at work in His people’s lives. He was what accounted for their amazing success. This entire project was finished in just fifty-two days! Nehemiah had left Persia in April, and it took him several months to journey to Jerusalem. Yet on October 2 in the year 445 BC, the wall was completed. They finished the work in fifty-two days because they put their minds and shoulders to the task and looked to God for wisdom and power to achieve. When our enemies heard about this, they lost their self-confidence and they realized that they were battling against God himself, says Nehemiah. What a beautiful picture of the power of Christian witness in a community! Even their enemies must agree that God is at work among them.

But the enemies are still not through. Notice how they continue their tactics of opposition. Tobiah had intermarried with the Israelites. Taking advantage of that relationship, he was seeking to undermine Nehemiah’s influence by nothing more than mere gossip.

The devil never quits. He is never going to give up while we are still alive. Even those Christians who have lived over seventy years will tell you the battle is just as intense, sometimes more so, than it ever was. Christians cannot expect the battle to end until the Lord calls them to glory, because that is the nature of life.

God has wonderful blessings and much encouragement and joy for us along the way, but we must never cease battling against the world, the flesh, and the devil until we get home. Do not expect your retirement days to be without difficulty or struggle. That is what the world seeks, and that is a confused and distorted view of life. But it is not ours. The enemies will never quit. If they cannot undermine us with fear and flattery, they will try gossip and false rumors. This is what Nehemiah demonstrates for us.

Teach me, Father to be grateful for victories won, but never to become complacent as if the battle were over.

Life Application
In our present circumstance, can we expect opposition from the world, our old habits, and the devil to cease? How does faith in Jesus enable victory?

Devotions by Ray Stedman for August 11 -A Great Work

Topic:A Great Work
READ THE SCRIPTURE: NEHEMIAH 6:1-9

I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?
Nehemiah 6:3b

Ray Stedman

These erstwhile enemies suddenly become Nehemiah’s friends and invite him to a conference down on the plain of Ono. It is located down on the seacoast near the Gaza strip. But Nehemiah senses danger: they were scheming to harm me he says (Nehemiah 6:2). Some commentators suggest that they were trying to trick him into leaving Jerusalem, where he had armed support, to come to a conference where they could set upon him and perhaps kill him. Nehemiah evidently senses this. He firmly declines, saying, I am carrying on a great project, and I cannot go down.

That is a great answer. Note the reasons he gives. On the surface it seems a surly response to their invitation to meet together. It sounds brusque and blunt. But Nehemiah sees through their scheme and refuses to go along, even though they pressure him four different times.

You too may experience continuing pressure to change your mind and go along with something that is wrong. Many have fallen after a proper refusal simply because they gave in to repeated pressure. But Nehemiah persists in his refusal. Here is his reason: I am doing a great work, he says. I have a great calling. God has committed a tremendous project to me, and if I leave, it will be threatened.

One of the most helpful things that we can do to resist temptation is to remember that God has called us to a great task. This is true of every believer in Christ. I do not care how young or how old you are in the Lord, you are called to a tremendous work today. That task is to model a different lifestyle so that those who are being ruined by wrongful practices will see something that offers them hope and deliverance. If they see in you peace in the midst of confusion, an invisible support that keeps you steady and firm under pressure, they will learn that there is another way to live than the destructive way they have chosen. That is the great work that God has called us to. We ought never to give allegiance to anything less.

I read years ago of a missionary in China, a capable young man who did a great job as a linguist and diplomat in his work for the Lord. His abilities were so outstanding that one of the American companies in China tried to hire him. They offered him an attractive job with a salary to match, but he turned them down. He told them that God had sent him to China as a missionary and that was what he was going to do. He thought that would end the matter, but instead they came back with a better offer and an increase in salary. He turned that down too, but again they came back, doubling the salary that had originally been proposed. Finally he said, It’s not your salary that is too little. It’s the job that’s too small!

This is what Nehemiah is saying here. He has a great work, and he is not going to forsake it for anything less. He is confronted with an offer that seems to promise peace and support and yet is filled with danger, which he successfully avoids by refusing to leave his calling.

Father, You have given me a great work to do. Help me to see through the seeming golden opportunities that come my way to divert me from that which You have called me to do.

Life Application
Do we place supreme value on God’s work in us and through us? How do we react under repeated opposition or the pressure of uncertainty?

Devotions by Ray Stedman for August 10 -Internal Strife

Topic:Internal Strife
READ THE SCRIPTURE: NEHEMIAH 5

Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their Jewish brothers.
Nehemiah 5:1

Ray Stedman

In chapter 5, the Unseen Enemy tries yet another approach. Nehemiah has successfully handled the threatened attack from without, but now he runs into a problem from within his own ranks. You may experience that too in your struggle to recover some area of your life. You may run into family problems, pressures, and problems with those who work with you, perhaps even from other brothers and sisters in the Lord. In this case it was a clash between the workers and the officials, the laborers and the overseers who were working on this project.

To a great degree these were justified complaints. Nehemiah deals with them earnestly and forthrightly. He could not change the conditions, but he reveals the real problem–usury. Usury is charging interest for money that has been loaned–a common practice in our day. The Jews were allowed to do this with other races, but Moses said that when Jews lent money to other Jews, they were not to charge any interest. Nehemiah is upset by this usury and demands that they stop. This was more than a demand to end the practice of usury. He was insisting on restitution as well. They must give back their unjust gains. Their reaction was surprising. They were stricken by conscience because they knew from the Scriptures that what they were doing was wrong.

Believers ought to be very careful about taking advantage of others, especially other Christians, and getting rich at their expense. Scripture condemns this practice as uncaring and heedless of the poor testimony it presents to others.

Nehemiah is encouraged by their promise that they will not do this. He has first uncovered the real cause. He shows that it is simple greed that is the problem. He confronts the overseers with it, rebuking them and showing them it is wrong. There is a place and time for forthright, blunt confrontation in our relationships with others. Sometimes we need to point out to people that what they are doing is wrong and help them to see what needs to be done. That is what Nehemiah does.

Father, strengthen us to act like Nehemiah of old and be willing to confront the greed in our own lives. Help us to be men and women who visibly live according to what we profess.

Life Application
Are we honestly confronting greed in all areas of our lives? Are we able to honestly, even bluntly, confront those we are in relationship with to help them?