Two senators, one a Republican and the other a Democrat, were eating breakfast together. The Republican said to the Democrat, “You guys aren’t religious. You don’t know the Bible. I’ll bet you $20 you can’t even say the Lord’s prayer.” In reply, the Democrat immediately launched out, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep…” Stunned, the Republican Senator blurted out, “I can’t believe you could do it. Here is the $20.” That is an example of folks who are often viewed as being successful in the eyes of the world.
In contrast, Ezra, a godly man whose life is described in the Old Testament illustrates the secret of true and enduring success as defined by God. Ezra, a teacher of God’s word, experienced the “gracious hand of his God” [i.e., true success] in his life [Ezra 7:9] as a result of pursuing 3 godly habits. Ezra 7:10 reads, “For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.” This verse teaches us that Ezra’s heart was set or devoted to practicing 3 habits: (1) Studying God’s word (2) Practicing God’s word and (3) Teaching God’s word. Let’s look at each of these if we too desire to experience success—true success as defined by God
Habit # 1. Just like Ezra, we too must set our hearts to STUDY God’s word diligently. “For Ezra had devoted himself to the study…of the Law of the Lord.”
The first and foremost habit that Ezra set his heart to pursue was to study the word of God [another term to describe the Law of the Lord] for his own soul. Though he was a teacher, he was also a student. We, too like Ezra, must make it a habit to diligently study God’s word for our own souls. That’s the starting point.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for all issues pertaining to life [2 Tim 3:16-17]. If Scripture is the weapon that effectively deals with all forms of temptation [Eph 6:17], then it should be stored in our hearts [Psa 119:11]. Satan will not flee if the Christian has a Bible or many Bibles sitting on the shelf. He will not flee even if one carries the Bible. He will flee only when the Bible is taken in and applied!
A new pastor was asked to teach a boys’ class in the absence of the regular teacher. He decided to see what they knew, so he asked them who knocked down the walls of Jericho. All the boys denied having done it, and the preacher was appalled by their ignorance. At the next deacons’ meeting, he told about the experience. “Not one of them knows who knocked down the walls of Jericho,” he lamented. The group was silent until finally, one seasoned veteran of disputes spoke up. “Preacher, this appears to be bothering you a lot. However, I’ve known all those boys since they were born and they’re good boys. If they said they didn’t know, I believe them. Let’s take some money out of the repair and maintenance fund, fix the walls, and let it go at that.” An apt picture of many professing Christians of our day! No wonder the church is weak today!
If we seek to be strong, we must read our Bibles well. Effective Bible reading involves the application of 3 fundamental principles: (1) Reading the Text [What does it say?] (2) Interpreting the Text [What does it mean?] and (3) Applying the Text [How does this apply to my life?]. When asking the question, “What does it mean?” it is important to keep the original recipients in mind. In other words, “What did it mean to the ones to whom the letter was originally written?” must be the central pursuit. If we don’t get that right, we will come to a wrong interpretation of the text which will then lead to a wrong application of it as well.
The Lord has blessed his Church with many helpful resources such as study Bibles, commentaries, and godly preachers. However, before consulting the resources, we should first pray and ask the Holy Spirit to open our eyes of understanding as we read the Bibles on our own. Only after that should we seek to consult these other resources. In other words, we must be cautious in not allowing the resources to speak to us more than God’s word directly speaking to our souls.
At a minimum, even 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes at night given for a systematic study of God’s word will reap rich benefits. 30 minutes in a 24-hour day can be easily given for the study of God’s word. Additional time for prayer too is a must. We always find time to do what is of interest to us. Should not God’s word and prayer be of primary interest to the believer? So, if we desire true success in our lives, let’s pursue a diligent study of God’s word.
Habit # 2. Just like Ezra, we too must set our hearts to PRACTICE God’s word diligently. “For Ezra had devoted himself to the…observance of the Law of the Lord.”
The second habit that Ezra set his heart to pursue was to put into practice in his own life what he learned from his study of God’s word. Our hearts should pursue the same as well. It is self-deception if we study the Word of God and not practice it ourselves. We are reminded clearly to “not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves” Rather, we are to “do what it says” [Jas 1:22]! Jesus himself said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it” [Lk 11:28]. How easy it is to condemn others who don’t practice God’s word in their lives and still be blind to our own sins as the following illustration shows.
There is a story of a frontier settlement in the West whose people were engaged in the lumbering business. The town wanted a church, so they built one and called a minister. The preacher was well received until one day he happened to see something that was very troubling. He saw many of his church members clawing onto some logs by the riverbank logs that had been floating downstream from another village to be sold by those would collect it downstream. Each log was marked with the owner’s stamp on one end.
To his great distress, the pastor saw his members pulling in the logs and sawing off the end where the telltale stamp appeared and selling it as their logs. The following Sunday he prepared a powerful sermon on the text “Thou shalt not steal” which is the eighth of the ten commandments [Ex 20:15]. At the close of the service, his people lined up and congratulated him: “Wonderful message, mighty fine preaching.”
However, as the preacher watched the river the following week, he saw his members continuing to steal logs. This bothered him a great deal. So he went home and worked on a sermon for the following week. The topic was “Thou shalt not cut off the end of thy neighbor’s logs.” When he got through, the church promptly fired him!
May the Lord protect us from such hypocrisy. May we never take God’s word as applying only to our neighbors instead of our own souls.
Let’s remember God’s word to Joshua in Joshua 1:8, “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” Would you please notice how success [“then you will be prosperous and successful”], comes only as a result of God’s word studied [“meditate on it day and night”], and obeyed [“that you may be careful to do everything written in it”]! Let’s sincerely study God’s word with a desire to apply it in our own lives.
Habit # 3. Just like Ezra, we too must set our hearts to TEACH God’s word diligently. “For Ezra had devoted himself to…teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.”
The third habit that Ezra set his heart to pursue was to teach God’s word to others. Matthew 28:20 commands every Christian to teach others all that is in Scripture. While not everyone is called to official teaching positions in the Church, every Christian can and should teach God’s Word appropriately to others—parents to children, mature Christians to new believers, etc. Each of us can find someone who knows less than us and take efforts to teach them God’s word! If we sincerely pray for opportunities, God will open doors for us!
Ezra studied, practiced and then taught God’s Word to people. As a result, he experienced true success. We too can experience true success by consistently devoting our hearts to pursue these 3 habits. May the Lord help us to do so!