THINK: Have you ever felt as if God had forgotten you? Did you almost give up hope? If you stuck with it and stayed faithful to God-even if you didn't - you found that God never abandoned you. Through times like these, God is able to inspire renewed hope and purpose. After seventy years of captivity, God's people had the opportunity to start over. Through a miraculous series of events, He brought them back to their homeland to reconstruct and restore what had been lost and destroyed in the Babylonian invasion. As ground was being broken in Jerusalem, God was working in the hearts of the Israelites - rebuilding their hope for the future and renewing their passion for Him.
RESPOND: Who was Ezra? (See the Introduction to Ezra, p. 579 in the FBSE.) What prophets foretold these events? (See 1:1 first note and 1:2 note.) Though the Babylonians took Judah into captivity, what empire now ruled the land (1:1-2)? Why does God sometimes use people who don't follow Him to fulfill His purposes? (See 1:1 second note.) Who was the first governor of the returning exiles? (See 1:8 note.) What stages of the Israelite's return from captivity are described in Ezra, and when did they occur? (See 2:1 note and map of the Return from Exile, p. 584 in the FBSE.) What do you think it means that the Israelites "assembled as one man"? Why is unity and teamwork with other Christians important as you follow God's plans? What's the purpose of the altar, and what did it represent? (See 3:2 note.) What was the people's highest priority after they returned to their homeland? (See 3:8 note.) Why did the people praise God after the temple foundations were laid? (See 3:11 note.) How can it help people to celebrate at certain stages of a project? Why were people's responses to the finished temple so varied? (See 3:12 note.)
PRAY: Give God thanks for the hope, healing and restoration He provides through difficult and devastating times and for accomplishing His purposes regardless of circumstances. Pray for unified purpose in your church or youth group.
ACT: Do something to celebrate a recent success, accomplishment or milestone-for you personally, someone you know, your family or a group you're part of. Go out for dinner or a special activity. This can provide inspiration for continued success. If you're not already part of a ministry, mission or significant cause, then find a way to join with others who are doing something to honor God and help people.
THINK: Don't be surprised. When you don't go along with the world's ways, you're going to get grief. People will be suspicious, judgmental and even resentful toward you. As a result, you'll face pressures and difficulties. But God's Word warns that "in this world you will have trouble," so "do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you" (1 John 3:13). When you come up against obstacles and opposition, God isn't wringing His hands, wondering what to do next. Knowing what you would encounter, God prepared in advance a way for you to fulfill His purposes despite problems and pain. If you trust God and faithfully press on, you'll accomplish what He wants you to do.
RESPOND: Why did Judah's enemies volunteer to help build the temple, and what did they claim to have in common with the people of Judah? (See 4:2 note.) How do we know they weren't sincere? What can you do when you're unsure of the motives behind someone's offer to help? What is the basis for true Christian unity? (See 4:2 note, subpoint 3.) How did Zerubbabel and Jeshua respond to the deceptive offer, and why? (See 4:3 note.) How do people often respond to Christians who refuse to compromise their faith? How and why do people often misjudge or misrepresent the character and intentions of God's followers (4:12ff)? What tactics did the Jews' opponent use to stop them from rebuilding? (See 4:22 and 4:23 notes.) Why do many people consider Christians to be subversive and dangerous? Why were the Jews able to continue working in the face of opposition? (See 5:1, 5:2 and 5:5 notes.) How had God prepared in advance for the Jews' efforts to prevail (6:6-12)? How can this encourage you regarding the difficulties you face? How can celebrating spiritual victories help you resist future frustration? What methods does God use to change attitudes in those who may be skeptical or opposed to His people at first (6:22)?
PRAY: Pray for discernment regarding where to look for help when you need it. Ask God not to let you get pulled into other people's problems through misguided motives or intentions. Pray for perseverance in the face of opposition. Pray for people who have mistreated or misjudged you.
ACT: Offer sincere help to someone in need of assistance. Demonstrate practical acts of kindness to people who have misjudged, mistreated or misrepresented you. If there is any project or endeavor that you've stopped simply because of resistance or opposition, start it up again with God's help and keep going until He tells you to stop.