Summary: Are we prepared for the journey that awaits us?
In his book, Gentle Thunder, Max Lucado tells the story of Sir John Franklin. It was 1845 in England. In 1845, America was at the beginning of what was called “Manifest Destiny.” That was the idea that we were destined to explore and inhabit and eventually annex the west. While we were concerned with exploring our own continent, Britain was busy exploring uncharted areas of the world. And one of those uncharted areas was called the Northwest Passage. The Northwest Passage is a sea lane that goes around the Canadian Arctic to the Pacific Ocean. And that was Sir John Franklin’s mission. His mission was supposed to be the turning point in Arctic exploration. And it was. But not because of its success—because of its failure. Sir John Franklin’s two ships never returned home. Every single one of his crew members died. Because of Franklin’s failure, all future Arctic explorers learned one lesson. They learned that you need to prepare for the journey. See, the reason that Franklin’s journey failed was because of his complete and total lack of preparation. The Arctic exploration journey was supposed to last 2-3 years. He only carried a 12 day supply of coal for his engines. He forgot to take fuel, but he did remember to take stuff to make the crew happy and comfortable. He took a library for relaxation, an organ for entertainment, fine china place settings, cut-glass wine goblets, and the finest sterling silver silverware. While all of the sailors had their dress uniforms, most of them didn’t even have winter clothes or coats. They were more prepared for tea with the queen than they were for sailing in the Arctic. Of course, as they sailed north, the sea froze solid around the ship. When it did, all the men either froze to death or starved to death. Why did their mission fail? Was it because they didn’t know where they were going? No, they knew the conditions they were heading into. Was it because they were stupid or completely inept? No, Sir John Franklin and the 138 men who boarded those ships were known as some of Britain’s finest sailors—and at the time, Britain had one of the finest navies in the world. So, why did their mission fail? Because they weren’t prepared. Even though they were fine sailors. Even though they knew the conditions they were heading into. They failed to prepare. The question is, why? I don’t know—history doesn’t tell us. But maybe that’s the question we need to ask ourselves. This church is filled with fine Christian people. Many of us have been Christians for a long time. We have experience. We have eyes. We have brains. And with that experience and those eyes and those brains that God has given us, we can see the conditions we’re heading into. Not only that, we can see from the prophesies in Scripture the conditions we’re heading into. According to Romans 1, we know that when a nation stops recognizing and being thankful to God, certain things happen. They begin to worship created things instead of the creator. Created things like the economy and the military and the schools and the government. And when that happens then complete social collapse is not far away. Social collapse that is marked by things like rampant sexual promiscuity. Things like widespread and publicly accepted disobedience of children to parents. Things like publicly accepted homosexuality. The Bible has told us about the Arctic wasteland we’re headed into. Are we prepared? Or are we polishing our silver and tuning up our organ? I want us to begin to prepare tonight. This is the time and place where, in His sovereignty, God has placed us. And He’s placed us here for a reason. And that reason is the journey that He’s called us to travel. I want us to start preparing for that journey tonight. And we’re going to use Ezra as an example. Ezra and this second remnant was getting ready to take a journey. They were heading on a four month journey from Babylon to Jerusalem. They knew much of what awaited them. They knew it wasn’t pretty. The temple had been built, but it was in the middle of a city of rubble. They knew the wasteland that was ahead of them. So they knew they must prepare. First, they knew they must prepare spiritually. Look at verses 21-23:
To prepare for the journey that awaits us, we must first prepare spiritually. Think about it. In most things in life, this goes completely contrary to our natural instincts. Most of the time when we see a task in front of us, the first thing we want to do is take care of the task. By nature, I’m a fixer. Guys, let me give you a little insight. Being a fixer isn’t necessarily the best thing in your marriage. It took me a while to learn, and I still mess it up sometimes. But whenever Miranda comes to me with what I see as a problem, it doesn’t necessarily mean that she wants me to fix it. Sometimes she’s not looking for a solution. Sometimes she’s looking for understanding. She’s looking for a sympathetic ear. So, if she’s only looking for a sympathetic ear and I start rattling off a list of things to fix the problem, it doesn’t accomplish anything. She’s frustrated because I’m not understanding enough. And I’m frustrated because nothing’s getting fixed. Well, just like understanding and listening and being a sympathetic ear are the first thing needed in our marital journey, spiritual preparation is the first thing needed in this journey called life that God has for us. If I don’t show Miranda that I understand and sympathize with her, we’ll never be able to successfully get to the business of fixing the problem. By the same token, if we don’t prepare spiritually for our journey, we’re not going to get anything done. We’ll never get off the starting point. We’ll just comfortably cruise along while the world around us turns into an Arctic wasteland. So what are the spiritual disciplines we need to practice? If we’ve been in church for more than five minutes, we can answer that question. We need to go to church, read our Bibles, and pray. Of course we left out one—we need to fast. Periodic fasting with our praying goes hand in hand. And that’s what Ezra called these people to. He called them to prepare for the journey that was ahead of them by fasting. Scripture is clear that God honors the humble prayers of His people. That’s where Ezra was. As soon as he had gathered up all the people who were going with him to Jerusalem, what was the first thing he did with them? He proclaimed a fast. How much sense does that make? Here they were getting ready to take about a 1000 mile journey and he called them to go without food. You’d think he’d have them load up on food so they’d have plenty of energy for the journey. But those things weren’t on his mind. What was on his mind was humility. Notice in verse 21, he tells the reasons for proclaiming a fast. “That we might afflict ourselves.” “Afflict” carries the meaning of intentionally bringing affliction for the sole purpose of causing humility. Isn’t that what fasting does? It makes you realize how utterly not in control you really are. How totally dependent you are on the provisions of God. So they prayed and fasted. They prayed and fasted first for direction—to seek from God the right way for them. And they prayed for their substance. They fasted and prayed that God would tell them where He wanted them to go and that He would provide for them along the way. But their fasting wasn’t just ritual. Their prayers weren’t just out of habit or obligation. They actually believed that God would answer them. Have you ever seen the movie, “Facing the Giants”? It’s a really good Christian movie, but one part sticks out in my mind. The town has been in a drought for a long time. Of course, many people said that they were praying that God would bring the rains. But one character—when he prayed for rain, guess what he did? He began to carry an umbrella. He was so convinced that God would answer his prayers for rain, the he knew he needed an umbrella. That’s the kind of prayer life Ezra had. Verse 22 says that he was embarrassed to take the king up on his offer to provide military protection for their journey. He knew that they were on the journey God wanted them on. They had fasted and prayed for God’s direction and His provision. Now, he was going to carry his umbrella. And what happened? It rained. Well, not literally, but God provided their direction and their provision. Verse 23 says that He answered their prayers and fasting. They were spiritually prepared for the journey. Are we as a church? Are you as an individual? Have you been praying for God’s direction—both for you as an individual and for this church? Have you been praying for God’s provision? We know the Arctic wasteland that is awaiting us on our journey. All you have to do is look around and you can see that. Drugs, crime, poverty, abuse, ignorance, hopelessness, laziness, despair, complacency. In a word—sin. Romans 1 is being lived out all around us and Jesus has called us to be salt and light in the midst of it. Are we praying for His direction in how He wants us to do that? Are we praying for His provision to allow us to do that? And have you got your umbrella ready? We pray: “God fill these pews.” Have you thought about what we’ll need when He does? If you have, then we should be ashamed to not prepare. Why? Because the hand of our God is upon us. And if we believe that, then we’ll act like it. But there I go being a fixer—first thing’s first. First, we must prepare spiritually by praying and fasting and seeking the Lord’s direction and provision. Then, we can prepare materially. Look at verses 24-30: