King Artaxerxes of Persia made a decree to send Ezra back to Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile was over (Ezra 7:11–28). “The good hand of his God was upon him, for he had set his heart to study the law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and ordinances in Israel” (7:10).
But Ezra had butterflies about making the trip back without government protection: “I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers . . . since we had told the king, ‘The hand of our God is for good upon all that seek him, and the power of his wrath is against all that forsake him’” (8:22). So Ezra proclaimed a fast among all his troop in order to humble themselves before God and to seek his help (8:21). Therefore “the hand of God was upon them and he delivered them from the hand of the enemy and from ambushes on the way” (8:31).
Ezra sets an example for us. He takes the promise of 2 Chronicles 7:14 and applies it to his situation and trusts God. The promise said, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven . . . ” God makes his forgiving, healing, and protecting work contingent upon our humbling ourselves, turning from sin, and seeking him in prayer. So Ezra and his troops humbled themselves (8:21) and sought God earnestly (8:23) — and God heard.
I conclude that if we want God to work mightily among us this fall, we must humble ourselves and seek his face very earnestly. We must get down on our knees, bow like little children, and cry out for spiritual power. We must get alone in our homes, or in the woods, and pour out our yearnings for God.
But there is something else I learned from Ezra 8:21. (“I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves.”) Note the connection. Fasting is the means to humbling. How is this so? One way to present ourselves before God humbly is to demonstrate to him by fasting that we acknowledge our overwhelming love for physical pleasure. Fasting says to God, I know that I do not deserve my daily bread. My sin only deserves to be punished with starvation. I am sorry for my sins and I acknowledge with my fast how grievous they are. I long for you, O God, vastly more than I long for food. Fill me, O Christ! Fill me with “the bread that comes down from heaven”!
I will be praying all through September that God will put it in the hearts of many of you to join me in regular fasting and prayer for the spiritual awakening and empowering of our church.