August 12, Sunday

Devotional Thoughts for Today

“The Power of Words”

Jeremiah 28:12-17

Sometime after the prophet Hananiah had broken the yoke-bars from off the neck of Jeremiah the prophet, the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: 13 “Go, tell Hananiah, ‘Thus says the Lord: You have broken wooden bars, but you have made in their place bars of iron. 14 For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have put upon the neck of all these nations an iron yoke to serve Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and they shall serve him, for I have given to him even the beasts of the field.’” 15 And Jeremiah the prophet said to the prophet Hananiah, “Listen, Hananiah, the Lord has not sent you, and you have made this people trust in a lie. 16 Therefore thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, I will remove you from the face of the earth. This year you shall die, because you have uttered rebellion against the Lord.’” 17 In that same year, in the seventh month, the prophet Hananiah died.

James 3:1: Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.

There’s an old John Mayer song in which the chorus says, “My stupid mouth has gotten me in trouble.” When I was in high school, I used to think how true that was, because I would often regret something I had said frivolously. I wonder if Hananiah would have thought that to himself—“My stupid mouth has gotten me in trouble.” Unfortunately, because he spoke foolishly, and there were consequences—he died.

In the book of James, the apostle warns about taking lightly the role of a teacher. Teachers have a platform to speak and their words have power. Hananiah, though not a teacher per se, was a prophet who spoke to people, and thus taught people. But his message was false and he was judged for that. James says that teachers will be judged with greater strictness, because their words have power to lift up others or tear them down. That is a scary warning.

Words have power and the extent to which we have a platform to speak to others, our words have greater power. This is why we all need to be careful with our words. James says that words have the power to bless and also the power to curse (see James 3:9). Each time we speak, we should ask ourselves, Will these words bless or curse those who are listening? Will they build up or tear down? Especially for those in some position of power—whether as a leader, a teacher, or even a parent—ask yourself this: How will my words be received by those under me? Will they instruct and edify, or will they confuse and bring fear?

Though James says that not everyone should be teachers, a teacher is a noble calling. Teachers are necessary to build up others, especially within the church. This is why we should pray for our leaders, pastors, and teachers. We need to pray for God to use the words of those God has called to continue to build up His church. May God use our words and the words of our leaders to bring glory to Jesus and to bring blessing to others!

Prayer: Lord, may the words of our mouths be pleasing to You. So often we speak frivolously and flippantly without realizing how our words may affect others. May we be careful with our words, knowing that our words have the power to both bless and curse. May we see to use our words always to be a blessing to others, all for your glory. Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Esther 1

August 11, Saturday

The AMI QT Devotionals for August 5-11 are provided by Doug Tritton. Doug, a graduate of University of Pennsylvania, is currently serving as a staff at Symphony Church (Boston), while pursuing a M.Div. at Gordon Conwell Seminary.  He is married to Cindy and they are proud parents of Audrey.

 

Devotional Thoughts for Today

“Prophesy!”

Jeremiah 28:5-9

Then the prophet Jeremiah spoke to Hananiah the prophet in the presence of the priests and all the people who were standing in the house of the Lord, 6 and the prophet Jeremiah said, “Amen! May the Lord do so; may the Lord make the words that you have prophesied come true, and bring back to this place from Babylon the vessels of the house of the Lord, and all the exiles. 7 Yet hear now this word that I speak in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people. 8 The prophets who preceded you and me from ancient times prophesied war, famine, and pestilence against many countries and great kingdoms. 9 As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes to pass, then it will be known that the Lord has truly sent the prophet.”

Prophesying is a dangerous task. Throughout the Bible, and especially in the Old Testament, we read of people prophesying the word of God and paying dearly for it. Old Testament prophets like Jeremiah often were rejected by the people and faced constant threats and abuse. Proclaiming God’s truth is dangerous, because sometimes the truth is not easy to hear. And when people do not like the message of God, they turn their anger toward to one speaking His words. Prophesying truly is a dangerous task.

Yet, though dangerous, prophesying is a crucial task. Throughout history, God has chosen to speak through His chosen people. He didn’t need to use humans, obviously—God has used literal bushes to send his message through. Yet most of the time He has chosen to speak through people. And now, those who believe in Jesus and are filled with the Spirit are all called to prophesy. When the Spirit first fell on the early church, the Apostle Peter preached to Jerusalem by quoting Joel, “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy” (Acts 2:17). Not many prophesied before Christ, but through the Spirit, all believers can serve as messengers of God. We are all called to this dangerous task. Though we should be careful about preaching painful messages like Jeremiah, we should be listening to the voice of God and be willing to boldly speak the words He gives us.

Unfortunately, in our passage, Hananiah was a false prophet. He avoided the danger of prophecy by prophesying a message of peace, a message that was not from God. But Jeremiah confronted him, by declaring that Hananiah was not sent by God. By sharing only what the people of Israel wanted to hear, Hananiah exposed himself as a fraud.

For us, let’s be a people who are bold to prophesy God’s truth. But how? It starts with God. We can only speak the words of God if we actually share a relationship with Him. We can’t expect to prophesy if we are not actually meeting with God and talking with Him regularly. Prophesy requires intimacy, and from a place of intimacy God speaks to us, that we may turn and proclaim His words. Hananiah likely did not have much of a relationship with God, which was why he spoke lies. But as we draw near to God, He will speak to us. So, let’s draw near to God, and let’s seek to be a people who share His words. Prophesy is dangerous, but it is crucial to the faith of God’s people, and it’s a task that builds Jesus’ church.

Prayer: Lord, help us to be bold enough to speak Your words. We do not want to listen to messages of only comfort and peace, but we want to be challenged; we want to grow. Help us to hear You speaking over us, and give us boldness to share what we hear from You. May You use us to build up your church through prophecy. Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Nehemiah 12-13

August 10, Friday

The AMI QT Devotionals for August 5-11 are provided by Doug Tritton. Doug, a graduate of University of Pennsylvania, is currently serving as a staff at Symphony Church (Boston), while pursuing a M.Div. at Gordon Conwell Seminary.  He is married to Cindy and they are proud parents of Audrey.

 

Devotional Thoughts for Today

“All That Glitters”

Jeremiah 28:1-4

In that same year, at the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah king of Judah, in the fifth month of the fourth year, Hananiah the son of Azzur, the prophet from Gibeon, spoke to me in the house of the Lord, in the presence of the priests and all the people, saying, 2 “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. 3 Within two years I will bring back to this place all the vessels of the Lord’s house, which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took away from this place and carried to Babylon. 4 I will also bring back to this place Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and all the exiles from Judah who went to Babylon, declares the Lord, for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.”

There is a proverbial saying that goes like this: “All that glitters is not gold”—meaning, the appearance of something does not necessarily tell you about its true nature. For example, imagine looking at a shiny new Porsche; it could look beautiful from the outside, but this does not tell you anything about the quality of its engine. It may not even work! A shiny Porsche that has a broken engine is useless!

When I was in college, someone approached me and invited me to come to a Bible study, promising that there would be ice cream there. As a young Christian, I thought to myself, “Ice cream and the Bible, sounds good!” However, before going, someone from my church cautioned me that this group was actually a cult—this group would often invite people to their Bible studies but then pressure people to keep coming back and make it very difficult to ever get away. All that glitters is not gold.

The practice of discernment is very important in the Christian life. Previously, we talked about the yoke of lies and being able to sift through all these voices and ideas we constantly hear which requires discernment. The difficult thing about discernment is that we need to look deeper than appearances. Hananiah’s prophecy, in today’s passage, sounded good on the outside, and it was something the Israelites wanted to believe! Yet, it was wrong, it was not from God. Discernment requires one to go deeper than the appearance of the message.

But how can we see beneath mere appearances? How can we actually discern between all the voices that we hear – voices on TV, the internet, our podcasts, or even in our own minds? Well, unfortunately, we really cannot do this on our own, because we are easily swayed by our wants and preferences. But spiritual discernment requires the Spirit—the Spirit of God. When King Solomon was on the throne, he asked God for wisdom—specifically, he asked that he may be able to “discern between good and evil” (1 Kings 3:9).  And God answered this prayer for Solomon. This is a prayer that God answers.  So today, let’s ask God for the ability to discern, so that we may be a people who look beyond appearances and see things as God does.

Prayer: Lord, teach us to be a people who look beyond appearances. We know that You are a person who does that. You do not judge by appearances, but You look at the heart. May we not be swayed by things that seem good on the outside, for we know there are many wolves in sheep’s clothing around us. We need Your help. We need Your Spirit, so, Lord, send Your Spirit upon us that we may have discernment.  Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Nehemiah 11


Lunch Break Study 

Read Matthew 7:15-20: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

Questions to Consider

  1. How do we recognize false prophets, the ravenous wolves in sheep’s clothing?
  2. What happens to trees that bear bad fruit?
  3. How should we be careful about our own words?

Notes

  1. Jesus teaches us that we can recognize them by looking at their fruit. Things we hear should not simply “sound good.” If these ideas and messages don’t bear fruit, if they don’t bring transformation, if they don’t lead us closer to Jesus, then that is bad fruit. Discernment requires caution and care.
  2. The trees that bear bad fruit are cut down and thrown into the fire. This means that they do not last. Ideas that sound good and may go viral for a time, getting million shares in a day, may just fizzle and fade. Trees that bear good fruit last, they do not simply go viral; they stick and they bring transformation. They bring the kingdom in a greater way.
  3. Though the warning in this passage is about false prophets around us, we need to be careful lest we become a false prophet. Sometimes it can be easier to not offend anyone by being pleasant sounding, but God calls us to speak the truth—even if that means we won’t be popular or comfortable. Discernment is not just external; it should also be internal—with our own words.

Evening Reflection

Take time this evening to ask God for discernment. Reflect on this verse: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5). Our God gives wisdom and discernment to us freely. As mentioned earlier, it’s a prayer He answers.

August 9, Thursday

The AMI QT Devotionals for August 5-11 are provided by Doug Tritton. Doug, a graduate of University of Pennsylvania, is currently serving as a staff at Symphony Church (Boston), while pursuing a M.Div. at Gordon Conwell Seminary.  He is married to Cindy and they are proud parents of Audrey.

 

Devotional Thoughts for Today

“Yoked Part 4 – His Yoke is Easy and Light”

Jeremiah 27:19-22

“For thus says the Lord of hosts concerning the pillars, the sea, the stands, and the rest of the vessels that are left in this city, 20 which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon did not take away, when he took into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and all the nobles of Judah and Jerusalem— 21 thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, concerning the vessels that are left in the house of the Lord, in the house of the king of Judah, and in Jerusalem: 22 They shall be carried to Babylon and remain there until the day when I visit them, declares the Lord. Then I will bring them back and restore them to this place.” 

Matthew 11:28-30

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

None of us is a fan of adversity. For me, I absolutely hate having conversations with Comcast’s customer service. Or try airlines—I remember getting into a very lengthy conversation with airline personnel after a flight cancelation. It’s painful to deal with a company that really seems to wish the worst on you, and I’m sure I’m not alone in dealing with them. Then again, my taste of adversity can’t hold a candle to that which God’s people once faced.

In our passage in Jeremiah, God tells the Israelites to allow Babylon to carry them into exile. What a command—Babylon was an enemy, yet God was allowing the Israelites to be conquered by them! Israel faced its greatest struggle since Egypt, yet ultimately it was what was best for them. Though there would be adversity, God promised peace. He said He would restore His people. They would not be in exile forever –their struggle was only a temporary, though necessary, step.

The yoke of the Lord is of great comfort to His children, as we have talked about the past few days; but it does not mean we will never experience adversity. Throughout the Gospels, we read of Jesus telling His disciples that they would face persecution, they would face opposition. This is the cost of discipleship to Jesus. But this adversity is only temporary. God will come, and He will restore His people for eternity. This is the hope we have. Other yokes may promise temporary peace or ease, but they only result in eternal pain. The yoke of the Lord, while sometimes challenging in our life, will lead to eternal peace and eternal joy.

Jesus told His disciples that there would be trouble in this world, but He also told them to come to Him for rest. He gives us a yoke that is easy to bear–in the sense that we need not worry. It’s light because we do not need to be in control. We can trust Jesus, even in the midst of all occasions of adversity. So as we wrap up this topic of being yoked, let’s continue to come to Jesus and be yoked to Him. Though there will be adversity, we know His yoke is easy and His burden is light. He is the one in control, so let us come to Him!

Prayer: Lord, thank You for offering Your yoke to us, a burden that is easy and light. Help us to continually choose to come to You, knowing that You are the one in control. Help us to continue to release control of our futures, to let go of control of our lives, and to trust You. We come to You, Jesus! May we be forever yoked to You!  Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Nehemiah 10


Lunch Break Study 

Read Matthew 16:24-26: Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”

Questions to Consider

  1. How do we “come after” Jesus?
  2. What happens when we, by ourselves, try to save our lives?
  3. In what ways is Jesus calling you to follow Him today? Is there something you need to deny?

Notes

  1. Jesus says that to come after Him, we need to first deny ourselves. This means we choose to find our value in Him; we let go of our attempts to create an identity for ourselves in the things of this world. We instead find our identity in Him. Then, we take up our cross—meaning, we accept that there will be adversity in our walk with Jesus.
  2. If we try to save our lives, we will lose them. Death is chasing after us all. As Ecclesiastes teaches us, it’s vanity to chase after the various pleasures of this passing life. Yet, when we let go of this life, recognizing there is a better hope to dwell upon, we instead find a life that is eternal. This is a life spent with Jesus.
  3. Take some time to reflect on this question. Perhaps there is something we are holding onto tightly, unwilling to surrender to Jesus. Ask for Jesus’ help to continually surrender and follow Him.

Evening Reflection

Jesus says to us, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” We are burdened and tired because we continue to try to be in control. Tonight, come to Jesus and ask for His rest, a rest that is deeper than anything this world could give, a rest that refreshes our souls. Enjoy this rest tonight!

August 8, Wednesday

The AMI QT Devotionals for August 5-11 are provided by Doug Tritton. Doug, a graduate of University of Pennsylvania, is currently serving as a staff at Symphony Church (Boston), while pursuing a M.Div. at Gordon Conwell Seminary.  He is married to Cindy and they are proud parents of Audrey.

 

Devotional Thoughts for Today

“Yoked Part 3 – The Yoke of Lies”

Jeremiah 27:9-11

“So do not listen to your prophets, your diviners, your dreamers, your fortune-tellers, or your sorcerers, who are saying to you, ‘You shall not serve the king of Babylon.’ 10 For it is a lie that they are prophesying to you, with the result that you will be removed far from your land, and I will drive you out, and you will perish. 11 But any nation that will bring its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon and serve him, I will leave on its own land, to work it and dwell there, declares the Lord.”

When I graduated from college, I bought my first car. The dealership offered a warranty plan—and they assured me it was worth it—where I was guaranteed my money back on the warranty if no issues ever arose with the car after five years. In my naïveté, I bought the warranty; and five years later, having had no issues, I brought all my paperwork back to the dealership, and they said they’d be sending a check in 6-8 weeks. Eight weeks went by and no check. When I returned to the dealership, they said there must have been an issue, reassuring me a check was on its way.  Time went by, still no check. I kept going back and kept being given false promises, so I eventually gave up. Sadly, I was duped by a lie.

Though that is a more extreme example, we are often led astray by various lies the world throws our way: promises of happiness with certain products, promises of success with certain programs, or promises of comfort with certain vacations. Lies surround us, telling us we need to be influenced by this or that. These lies want to yoke us to something and thus influence us.

This was what was happening to the people in Jeremiah’s day. False prophets were going around selling a message of peace and comfort, a message of false hope. But the Lord saw through the lies of these prophets and told Jeremiah to warn the people about these lies. Only the Lord knew that truth, for His yoke is best. The other yokes were all lies.

Many of these lies in the world are external, but there are also internal lies we hear from our thoughts or even from the enemy. These lies tell us we are not good enough, we need to work harder or to get this or that job, we need to have the best Facebook pictures or Instagram posts, or we are incomplete without this or that person in our lives. These lies trap us and give us false promises, resulting in anxiety and hopelessness.

Just as the Lord said to the people in Jeremiah, He says to us as well: “Don’t listen to those lies!” Let’s listen to the Lord, for He knows best, as we talked about yesterday. It’s His yoke we need and nothing else, for He is our Good Shepherd.

Prayer: Lord, help me to discern the lies that I hear in the world and in my mind. Help me to hear Your voice, since You are my Shepherd who calls me by name. May I hear You and follow You, while ignoring all other voices and lies. Amen.

Bible Reading for Today: Nehemiah 9


Lunch Break Study 

Read John 10:1-5: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”

Questions to Consider

  1. Who are the thieves and robbers?
  2. How do the sheep know to follow the Shepherd?
  3. Are you able to hear the voice of the Shepherd?

Notes

  1. They are those who do not enter the sheepfold by the door. These false prophets use lies to get ahead, and they try to take advantage of the sheep for their own purposes. They are not true shepherds. These are the yokes of lies we need to avoid.
  2. They know His voice! This is a great promise for us. We have a God who speaks to us personally, who guides us in His ways. He searches our hearts, leads us away from grievous ways, leads us toward what we need, and restores our souls. He cares for us. This Shepherd is Jesus and He can be trusted, for He knows us and we know His voice.
  3. Hearing God’s voice is an important part of the Christian life. The Bible is full of promises, like in this passage about us being able to hear God’s voice. Today, try listening for His voice. He is faithful and He speaks to us!

Evening Reflection

Tonight, as you go to sleep, take time to quiet your soul. Our minds are often filled with lots of voices – the voices of bosses, friends, and family. Take time to surrender those voices and listen for God’s voice above it all.

August 7, Tuesday

The AMI QT Devotionals for August 5-11 are provided by Doug Tritton. Doug, a graduate of University of Pennsylvania, is currently serving as a staff at Symphony Church (Boston), while pursuing a M.Div. at Gordon Conwell Seminary.  He is married to Cindy and they are proud parents of Audrey.

Devotional Thoughts for Today

“Yoked Part 2 – The Yoke of the Lord”

Jeremiah 27:3-5

Send word to the king of Edom, the king of Moab, the king of the sons of Ammon, the king of Tyre, and the king of Sidon by the hand of the envoys who have come to Jerusalem to Zedekiah king of Judah. 4 Give them this charge for their masters: ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: This is what you shall say to your masters: 5 “It is I who by my great power and my outstretched arm have made the earth, with the men and animals that are on the earth, and I give it to whomever it seems right to me.”

Influence fades very quickly. When Fitbits first became popular, I bought one thinking it would revolutionize my exercise habits. My friends and I all competed with each for the most steps and we all were walking more—it seemed the influence of our Fitbits and of each other was helping to keep us all healthier. Yet, after a few weeks, that influence waned and I wore it less and less. Right now, my Fitbit is collecting dust in some drawer in my house, and the Fitbits of many of my friends are suffering a similar fate.

Though this might be a silly example, we can see this in the broader world, too. YouTube stars become famous for a few weeks, only to fade once again into obscurity; movie stars who once were on the A-list are suddenly not getting any more parts; politicians who seemed like the next big thing make a few stumbles and suddenly are forgotten. Influence fades very quickly.

In our passage for today, the nations of Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre, and Sidon were kingdoms that probably felt secure. Their kings likely could not imagine losing their influence over their countries. However, God was appointing a time when their influence would fade and be replaced by the Babylonians; and ultimately, we know that Babylon would eventually fade away as well. Yet through the turning tides of influence, God was always the one in control—His influence never fades.

This is why we should desire to yoke ourselves to Him. If we yoke ourselves to the things of this world, we will get motion sickness—that is, we will be pulled this way and that, only to realize we need something new to yoke ourselves to. But our passage tells us that the Lord is the one who created the earth and everything in it. He’s the one in control and thus is the only true constant in this world. When we yoke ourselves to God, we will be steady. His influence never fades. May we continue to remove all yokes that are not God and truly yoke ourselves to Him!

Prayer: Lord, Your yoke never fails! Help me to follow You rather than anything else. I am tired of chasing the various forces of influence that surround me, influences that fade away. Help me to follow Your influence alone, because Your influence will never fade. I need Your help to do this, Lord! Amen. 

Bible Reading for Today: Nehemiah 8


Lunch Break Study

Read Psalm 23:1-3: The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. 3 He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Questions to Consider

  1. What does it mean to have the Lord as our Shepherd?
  2. Where does the Lord our Shepherd take us?
  3. How does the Lord restore our souls?

Notes

  1. A shepherd guides his sheep. His desire is to protect his sheep and bring them to the things they need—such as food, water, and shelter. If the Lord is our Shepherd, this means we are letting Him lead us and influence us. It means we are trusting that He knows what is best for us.
  2. He takes us to green pastures and still waters! For real sheep, this meant food, water, and comfort. For us, this means God takes care of us. He takes us to what is best for us. Sometimes we are scared to let Him lead and influence us. We worry that He may send us to places where we do not want to go, but God knows what is best, like a shepherd over his sheep. And when He leads us, we will find comfort! So often we are stressed and anxious about our futures – we feel like we need to be in control. But God as our Shepherd brings us comfort, a comfort that removes all stress and anxiety and brings true peace!
  3. When we find God’s peace and His comfort, our souls will be restored. We will find refreshment over our lives—a refreshment that frees us from the worries and stresses of this world. So much of the stress we experience is due to our need for control. The irony is that the only way to find true peace, to have souls truly restored, is to surrender our control to God—the only One who is truly in control.

Evening Reflection

Ask God to be your yoke. However, His yoke cannot compete against other yokes. As we did yesterday, continue to surrender every influence that is not God and allow His influence to cover over you. Invite God to be the Shepherd of your life.

August 6, Monday

The AMI QT Devotionals for August 5-11 are provided by Doug Tritton. Doug, a graduate of University of Pennsylvania, is currently serving as a staff at Symphony Church (Boston), while pursuing a M.Div. at Gordon Conwell Seminary.  He is married to Cindy and they are proud parents of Audrey.

 

Devotional Thoughts for Today

“Yoked Part 1 – We’re All Yoked”

Jeremiah 27:1-2

In the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah[a] the son of Josiah, king of Judah, this word came to Jeremiah from the Lord. 2 Thus the Lord said to me: “Make yourself straps and yoke-bars, and put them on your neck.”

A major pillar of modern and post-modern society is the concept of “freethought”. This viewpoint contends that an individual’s thinking should be free from authority and tradition. A person should be free to make their own choices, to determine their own futures, and to form their opinions. This value is quite evident in many movies and TV shows, in which main characters are applauded for unshackling themselves from convention and authority (think: Frozen, or really any other recent Disney movies).

However, in this world where freethought is the highest ideal, we are being blasted on all sides to yoke ourselves to something. Advertisements implore us to yoke ourselves to certain values and thus buy certain products. TV shows subconsciously yoke us to certain patterns of thought and ideas of morality. Marvel yokes us to their fictional universe, making us feel incomplete if we miss any movie they produce. TED videos persuade us to yoke ourselves to certain ideas. These different forces lead us, mold us, and influence our decisions.

The reality is that we are all yoked to something. If you’ve been wondering all along what a “yoke” is, it’s a tool used to control beasts of burden like oxen. Oxen or horses are yoked together to pull some sort of load. A yoked animal is an animal that is being influenced and led by a driver. We are all influenced and being led by something. Freeing ourselves from all yokes, while considered the highest ideal in our society, is an impossibility. Thus, rather than trying to rid ourselves of all yokes, we need to be careful to yoke ourselves to that which is best.

Jeremiah was warning the Israelites to yoke themselves to God’s plan, which surprisingly meant being yoked to Babylon. Yet, God knew what was best for the Israelites, while the Israelites were constantly being yoked to ideas or plans that they thought best. We will continue to talk about this idea of being yoked over the next few days, but for today, let’s take a careful look at our lives and ask ourselves, “To whom or to what are we yoked? Who or what is influencing us?” Invite God to search your heart as you answer this question for yourself.

Prayer: Lord, open our hearts to see the yokes that have been placed over us. Sometimes we are unaware of how we are being influenced by the ideas and values that surround us, whether co-workers or TV characters or advertisements or anything else. Help us to see these yokes so that, in removing them, we can instead take on the yoke that is best.

Bible Reading for Today: Nehemiah 7


Lunch Break Study 

Read Psalm 139:23-24: Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! 24 And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!

Questions to Consider

  1. What is the author of this psalm asking God to do for him?
  2. What do you think it means for God to lead us “in the way everlasting”?
  3. Invite God to show you any “grievous way” inside of you.

Notes

  1. The author is asking God to search his heart, to know his thoughts. This can be a dangerous prayer! God can see straight through us, even seeing things in us that we do not realize. Yet, this is a prayer that will help us to see the things that influence us away from God.
  2. For God to lead us in the way everlasting means for God to lead us His way. Our own ways and the ways of the world are temporary since they lead to death, but God’s way is everlasting. Asking God to lead us in His way is similar to the prayer in Psalm 23, inviting God to be our shepherd – a shepherd who lovingly leads us.
  3. A grievous way is a way that leads away from God. As mentioned earlier, this could be a yoke influencing us away from God and His plan. Continue to invite God to point out these grievous ways in our hearts.

Evening Reflection

As we continue to talk about yokes this week, ask God to prepare your heart to truly be yoked to Him. Our God desires us to be yoked to Him and to Him alone. Consciously invite God to remove all yokes that are apart from Him so that we can be ready to truly yoke ourselves to Him.