When I was in junior high or high school, there was a 4-part a cappella men’s arrangement of the old spiritual, “Ride the Chariot”, which I enjoyed singing with other guys. My voice was too low for the melody line, but there’s an inspiring part in that song where a tenor would sing, “Are you ready my brother?” / “Are you ready for the journey?” / “Do you want to see your Jesus?”. After each of these lines, the rest of us would sing back, “Oh, Yes!” (Then, the lines would repeat for “my sister”, even though, for me, it was just guys singing in this particular arrangement.)
For those of us who have walked with Jesus Christ long enough to get to know him, I think that we would all agree that we are ready for the journey (and that walking with Jesus is indeed a journey, not a one-time event!). We didn’t start fully prepared for what was ahead of it, but we had enough faith in Jesus to set out on it. We didn’t know what we would need along the way, but God had prepared what we needed.
As we move from Ezra’s approval (from King Artaxerxes) to travel to Jerusalem, to his arrival in that city, let’s take a quick overview of Ezra 8.
In verses 1-14, we find a lot of names and numbers, including the heads of families that left with Ezra on this trip.. (When teaching on this passage in Sunday School, I didn’t try to read the names myself, nor did I ask any of the students to do so, either. Having said that, the fact that Bible apps can now read passages for us out loud is a nice benefit.)
In verses 15-20, the group of travelers gets to a sort of “staging area”, and Ezra looks around and finds a shortage of Levites. Remember that Ezra was a priest, so he was from the tribe of Levi. However, in the worship of God (as prescribed in the law delivered by Moses) there were roles for people from the tribe of Levi who were not priests. So, Ezra sends word to this guy named Iddo, asking for some support. And, a number of additional people are sent over.
Next, while still in this “staging area” preparing for the trip to Jerusalem, Ezra calls for a fast, to ask God for a good trip.
There, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions. I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, “The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.” So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer.
Ezra 8:21-23 NIV
(I find it insightful that Ezra was a little embarrassed to ask the king for a military escort, since Ezra had already said that God would take care of those who seek Him.)
Do you pray before going on a long trip? Our family often does. In fact, as I write this article, I remember having done so for a day trip that several members of our family made yesterday to a nearby city, and God answered our prayer with a great day together.
I think that Ezra’s habits here are good ones for all of us, though. If someone were to ask you or me, “Are you ready for the journey?”, I hope that we would say “Oh, Yes!” However, to ensure that we are ready for the next leg of our journey – whether that’s having a conversation with a friend, getting through the day, starting a new ministry or job, or making a big decision – I think that it’s important to ensure that we are aligned with God’s will.
In this case, the Israelites didn’t just pray to God. They fasted, as well. Fasting (going without food, or sometimes other things, in order to focus on praying to God) isn’t necessarily common any more, but if you need to make sure you’re ready for what appears to be a particularly important part of your journey, I think that it’s worth considering. Just take a break from something that usually consumes part of your life, and spend that time in prayer with God (both speaking and listening).
As we can learn in the upcoming passages from the book of Ezra, God answered their prayers. As long as your prayer includes a sincere “Your will be done” (like a couple of Jesus’ most famous prayers), I’m confident that God will answer you, as well.
From Sunday School lesson prepared for January 22, 2023
- The Lookout, January 22, 2023, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press NIV Commentary – Ezra-Nehemiah, by Keith Schoville. © 2001 College Press Publishing Co.