Scripture: Nehemiah 8: 17 And all the assembly of those who had returned (to Jerusalem) from the captivity (in Babylon) made booths and lived in them; for from the days of Jeshua son of Nun to that day the people of Israel had not done so. And there was very great rejoicing. 18 And day by day, from the first day to the last day, he read from the book of the law of God. They kept the festival seven days; and on the eighth day there was a solemn assembly, according to the ordinance.
Observation: The Festival of Booths was a period of seven days when the people lived in temporary shelters (something like a tent) instead of their homes. The point was for the people to remember how their ancestors lived during their escape from Egypt and 40 years in the wilderness. This was one of many spiritual practices and disciplines that had been lost to history, but were reclaimed under the leadership of Ezra the prophet and Nehemiah the governor. And at the end of v.17 we read “And there was very great rejoicing.”
On its face, living in temporary shelters for seven days doesn’t sound all that fun or exciting. Yet despite the obvious inconvenience of this, the people experienced “very great rejoicing” – not just rejoicing, not just great rejoicing, but very great rejoicing. Something was coming alive in the people that they had long forgotten, or never known in the first place. The disciplines allowed the people to reconnect with their identity as children of God and the blessings therein.
Application: I don’t know about you, but the term “spiritual disciplines” doesn’t sound very appealing to me. Sounds like something I have to do because God put me in “time out” or something. Yet I’ve found the reality quite different. The practices of reading scripture, reflecting, tithing, praying, and now keeping the Sabbath (still very much a work in progress for me) aren’t a drag, but are quite life-giving. I once thought I was too busy with “real life” to be able to do these things consistently, but now I know I was wrong. These practices aren’t a burden, but a gift. And when I give to God time I don’t think I have, God has a way of making the remaining time far more fruitful than before.
If you’ve been thinking about embracing a particular spiritual practice I want to strongly encourage you to give it a shot. Can it be hard at first to be consistent? Yes. At first. But if you stay with it I have no doubt you will experience what we read in our passage for today – not just rejoicing, not just great rejoicing, but very great rejoicing.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, give us grace to embrace the ancient spiritual disciplines of your people. And in so doing, bring us back to life on the inside. Amen.