A Heart Prepared

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This blog is supposed to be from the perspective of a teen, so I’ll start with something that almost every teen in America these days deals with a lot more than they want to – standardized testing. (Pause for loud, exaggerated groans.) Teenagers today have heard the terms TCAP, ACT, and SAT seemingly every day for years. It has gotten to the point that the idea of testing seems almost drilled into our heads. While these tests are not the only indicator for academic achievement, it is nevertheless true that they bear a great deal of importance for a student’s academic future. I know personally, I have used my ACT score on many, many college and scholarship applications already. As much as we hate them, every teenager who wants to do well in life has a desire to do well on these exams.

So, how do we do well? Every teacher will tell you the same thing: preparation. In addition to drilling THAT idea into your head, they will also help you to pursue it. They give out ACT and SAT practice sheets by the dozen. They send you to reliable study websites that may help you understand certain concepts in a different light. They may even set up one or more practice tests for you to take and learn from. There is an important lesson to be learned from the pros and cons of these practices. Just as the test itself is not the only indicator of academic skill, studying and preparing is not the only indicator of test performance. However, without preparing yourself for what is coming, you are not doing yourself any favors. It is almost always the case that the more effort you put into preparation, the more successful you will be.

In the Book of Ezra, the people of Israel are finally returning from captivity. The Book is actually more properly split into two segments; chapters 1-6 detail the first return under Zerubbabel, while chapters 7-10 discuss the second return under Ezra. By the time of this second return, the people who had previously been delivered, some of whom may still have remembered their first salvation from Persian rule, have already fallen away again. Placed back into their homeland, they have quickly become complacent and lost the fervor of their commitment to God almost as quickly as they had regained it. In facing the stubbornness and laziness of all of Israel, Ezra finds a difficult challenge to overcome. Look, though, at what the Bible says about this man’s character in Ezra 7:10: “For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel.” (NKJV)

By the end of the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah (for the two were written at nearly the same time and concern many of the same events), Israel is restored to faithfulness. A covenant is reinstated, and the leaders of the people have pledged to remain faithful in light of God’s history of faithfulness to Israel. After sin and rebellion, war and captivity, a time of devotion and peace begin again. How powerful is it, then, that all of this revival and renewal in the hearts of Israel and in the nation as a whole began with one man’s preparedness?

In our lives today, we are faced with an even more daunting task than that of Ezra. Paul says it this way in Ephesians 6:12: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Peter said in one of his own writings not to think trials or tribulations strange (1 Peter 4:12). In short, this life is not going to be easy for those who are looking forward to the next. However, just like a physical test, the spiritual tests that are set before us are made so much easier through being prepared. Once again, it is true that preparedness is not the only indicator of future success, in part because you can never be prepared for everything. Peter also wrote, though, that God has given us everything we need for both life and godliness in Christ (2 Peter 1:3). Preparedness may not guarantee success, but it is definitely a key component. In Christ, we can be prepared for the trials that await us, if only we choose to focus and be dedicated in our hearts and minds. When our challenges are overcome, the age of peace that awaits us will be the greatest success we can know through Him.

“If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” – Colossians 3:1-2