Tuesday, September 17, 2019

God-honoring work

Yesterday, we mentioned that it's important to "roll up our sleeves" and work for the Lord. Today, let's start to look at how we can honor God with our work. Ezra is going to be our example here, as we look at chapter 8 of the book bearing his name.
Ezra stepped out in faith here, both in his organization of the leaders and people who were willing to make this journey, and in his determination to make the trip without an armed escort. Ezra actually had thousands of people who were putting their faith on the line with him, by venturing out into a desert infested with robbers and animals - with no protection. Usually a caravan of this sort would enjoy the protection of an armed guard. It was one thing to ask the king's permission to lead a group of people back to Jerusalem. It was quite another to actually convince volunteers to the difficult task. Once again, a group of people was facing giving up the comfort of what they knew - what was familiar - and making the move to an uncertain future in Israel.

Let's take the chapter a bit out of order, shall we? The first portion is a list of names that made more sense to me once I read the second portion. (Grin) Ezra had no small task in trying to organize a pilgrimage of (what turned out to be) around five thousand people. This included women and children. And they were facing a trek of about nine hundred miles across that desert we mentioned before!
Can we use our imaginations? What would we feel like if we were contemplating a trip of that magnitude. Oh, and forget about riding a camel or donkey or horse -- no campers or RV's, either. Just your feet. A pack on your back, or your goods on a cart pulled by oxen if you were fortunate. Dry. Dusty. Tiring. Dangerous.
This group actually started out on the first day of the first month, back in chapter seven. But they paused for three days at a canal, and took stock of their situation. Ezra was dismayed to realize that there were no Levites present in the group. Why was this a problem?  If we recall from our previous studies, these were they who were descendants of Levi. There were divisions of duties: the high priest, the ordinary priests, and the Levites who cared for the service of the sanctuary.

Ezra's problem was that Levites were needed to free up the priests to do their work. And perhaps that was part of the problem - maybe no Levites had joined the caravan because they not only knew it was a hard trip, but they knew they'd have the "low man on the totem pole" tasks to do. But in spite of the lack of "glamor" in their tasks, these men were essential to the people's worship of God.

What was Ezra to do? He honored God by trusting Him to raise up godly and qualified leaders (and ordinary people, too) for the work. Let's see what happened: he selected nine men (two of whom were called "teachers" and sent them to talk to Iddo, the leader of a nearby group of Levi's descendants. And he briefed them on what to say . . .
 So I summoned Eliezer, Ariel, Shemaiah, Elnathan, Jarib, Elnathan, Nathan, Zechariah and Meshullam, who were leaders, and Joiarib and Elnathan, who were men of learning, 17 and I ordered them to go to Iddo, the leader in Kasiphia. I told them what to say to Iddo and his fellow Levites, the temple servants in Kasiphia, so that they might bring attendants to us for the house of our God. (Ezra 8:16-17)
Now let's see what kind of results these men had; did they have good success? Were they persuasive?
18 Because the gracious hand of our God was on us, they brought us Sherebiah, a capable man, from the descendants of Mahli son of Levi, the son of Israel, and Sherebiah’s sons and brothers, 18 in all; 19 and Hashabiah, together with Jeshaiah from the descendants of Merari, and his brothers and nephews, 20 in all. 20 They also brought 220 of the temple servants—a body that David and the officials had established to assist the Levites. All were registered by name. (v 18-20)
They were blessed by the Lord to bring back thirty-eight men, and over two hundred temple servants were convinced to accompany the returning exiles. These families had very short notice to pack up and go!
It's inspiring to see Ezra's response. He was an humble man, and was grateful for the men who joined the journey "because of the gracious hand of our God upon us."  He obviously recognized that God had put it in the hearts of His people to be willing to serve, even if the tasks were not flashy or glamorous.

Even today, God's work requires workers as well as leaders.  Too many leaders? Not enough workers? Too many workers? All of the parts of the body of Christ are valuable and necessary. If we are believers in Christ, we are part of His body, the church. We have a ministry, whether it's a leadership role or a worker role -- all are important. Every part of the body of Christ is significant!
For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.  (Romans 12:4-6a)
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13)
I expect that we all will easily agree on that one. This next one? You may not agree with me, but I believe (and we've studied it before) that the top level leaders in the Lord's work should be men. (Yeah, I know, hopelessly old-fashioned and all of that.)  Here in Ezra, the list numbers the men and calls them the heads of the households. Ezra knew the structure of society in his day; he knew that if he directed the appeal to the heads of the families, they would bring their family groups with them. Kinda different from what some churches want to do today - they will send the buses out after the kiddos and overlook the husbands and dads who truly need what the church has to offer!
I base my opinion on several familiar verses: I Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1. And also on Ephesians 5, where husbands are to be the heads of their families.
Now, let's get one thing straight.
This does NOT mean that in the church, the deacons or elders lord it over or patronize the women of the congregation. It does NOT mean that women are second class. It does NOT mean that husbands can bark orders to their wives and children.
Instead, men should be servants as Christ set an example for them. They should be self-sacrificing, and utilize the Bible to learn their true roles:
To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief  Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, (I Peter 1:1-5a)
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. (Ephesians 5:25-28)
Leadership that honors God? That means elders who are accountable to the Lord for how they direct the church. That means husbands who will answer to God for the spiritual direction of their families.

When we keep these principles in mind, we can trust God to raise up godly leaders as Ezra did. (And He will bring people for the work, as well.) We will, when we work and honor God, find leaders who are godly in character, and who are also qualified by gifts and by training. Look back at the men that Ezra sent to recruit leaders and workers: they were called "leaders" and "men of learning." One of the men who answered the Lord's call was called a "man of insight." Ezra wasn't threatened by these guys -- he was grateful that the Lord had called out godly, qualified workers.
In the same way, our churches need godly leaders, qualified for the office of pastor or elder or deacon, both by their gifts and their training.  When we read in I Timothy and again in Titus, we read of mainly character traits, except for the one "able to teach," which assumes both a gift for teaching and the training to be effective.  No man will constantly, perfectly match all of those high standards in those verses, but at the same time, we need to make certain that we don't elevate leaders who glaringly, hugely lack any of those qualities.
God will bless work that honors Him. He will raise up godly leaders and workers, too.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Rollin' up our sleeves

Roll up your sleeves and get to work!
It's an old saying, but an apt one.
To get ready to do something intense, or difficult, or demanding.
We roll up our shirt sleeves so that the cuffs don't get dirty as we work.

In the last two weeks, we looked at our lives and studied how God would bless a LIFE.
This time, we will study how God will bless our WORK.

We'll be focusing on the eighth chapter of Ezra, so I hope that you will take some time to prayerfully read it, in preparation for our study.
It's a lengthy chapter . . .
This chapter gives the account of a journey.

The first fourteen verses tell the names of the heads of households that made the journey.
The remainder of the chapter gives the account of their trip.

About five thousand people, including women and children, traveled from Babylon to Jerusalem.
It's interesting to see that the phrase we saw several times in the previous chapter, "the hand of our God," occurs three times in this chapter, too!
Let's pull those out and look at them:
Because the gracious hand of our God was on us, they brought us Sherebiah, a capable man, from the descendants of Mahli son of Levi, the son of Israel, and Sherebiah’s sons and brothers, 18 in all;  (v 18)
I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, “The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.  (v 22)
On the twelfth day of the first month we set out from the Ahava Canal to go to Jerusalem. The hand of our God was on us, and he protected us from enemies and bandits along the way.  (v 31)
Honoring God is the over-arching theme of the chapter. First, as he assembled the people, Ezra realized that they needed priests to go with them - worship is important. He took care of that problem right away so that God would be honored by worship.
Second, God was honored in the faith Ezra showed. He didn't accept an armed escort for the trip because he'd already told the king that God would protect them.
Thirdly, Ezra honored God with his honesty - a strict accounting of the resources they were transporting to Jerusalem.

We will delve into the story much more deeply in the coming days. For now, please read it and reflect on it, and we'll dive in next time!

Friday, September 13, 2019

Friday slowdown

In the morning I will rise up Shed the darkness And bathe in Your light And I recount all Every blessing The words You’ve spoken That bring me new life I am reminded from where You have brought me And where You have placed me for today I won’t forget that Your hand will hold me Your love sustains me through the wait I will wait on You, Lord I will wait on You, Lord Oh the burdens That I’ve carried They are heavy Oh too heavy to hold There’s a river There’s a sunrise There’s a new day And it’s bringing new life Bless the Lord, oh my soul And all that is within me I will rise in His love I’ll shout of what He’s doing I won’t forget All of Your mercy All of Your grace That is poured out on me

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Your turn to speak!

Today, I would like for us to "brainstorm" some questions . . . I appreciate the discussions we've had recently and hope we can have more. I know that many of us are on the go, and so busy that we barely have time to read the study posts, much less brainstorm and leave comments! But I think the Lord can bless us all if we take a few minutes to share our thoughts - something we say may be just what someone else needed to hear!

What are your thoughts on "God's hand of blessing"? Is it selfish to seek His blessing?

What are some ways that we can glorify Him for His blessings and mercy?

Just like in the life of Jacob, what we do for God has nothing to do with our own strengths and capabilities. It has everything to do with our seeking His mercy and His power to do His will!

I hope you will take a moment to think on these questions and leave your thoughts for us.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Me? A teacher? Ezra 7, continued

The result of God's blessings as we study and obey His Word, and as we tell others of what we've learned, should be that we glorify God.  In a previous post, we noted that the incredible letter from King Artaxerxes detailed so much, above and beyond what Ezra could have hoped for, and now we see his response:
Praise be to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, who has put it into the king’s heart to bring honor to the house of the Lord in Jerusalem in this way 28 and who has extended his good favor to me before the king and his advisers and all the king’s powerful officials. Because the hand of the Lord my God was on me, I took courage and gathered leaders from Israel to go up with me. (Ezra 7:27-28)
There's that phrase again . . . the hand of the Lord was upon Ezra.
He didn't take credit for the time that he'd spent in study; he didn't ask for pats on the back because he devoted himself to study of the scriptures. He didn't brag about how brave he was to making his bold request to the king, nor about how eloquently he talked, or how smoothly he persuaded him.
He gave all the credit to God, for His abundant mercy.
This is a ringing affirmation of his faith and his desire to glorify God for that mercy.

You see, any good that pops up in anyone's heart - believer or non-believer (like the heart of a pagan king) - comes from God. And He deserves all of the glory!  Like Ezra, our first instinct should be to raise our voice and thank Him, praising Him for the blessing of serving Him.
When God blesses us, our appropriate response should be to bless God for His abundant mercy - He sees fit to use such imperfect people as we are!
Wait a minute . . . that's important. Let's examine that a little deeper, OK?
When we look at the gospels, we see God using imperfect people, no? I mean, why in the world did Jesus choose the individuals that He did?  Perhaps it was to pinpoint the fact that they would be able to rise above their flaws and their mistakes -- because of His power.
After all, He didn't say, "Follow me" to the popular people. Nor to the rich or the successful. Can you imagine how the Pharisees looked down their noses at the team our Savior pulled together? (Grin)
It didn't matter what towns people were from; it didn't matter what they did to make their living; it didn't matter if people looked up to them or down at them; what mattered was that Jesus was going to use them for the good of His kingdom, and to reach others with the gospel.

Even if you look at the Old Testament, you see that God chose some interesting characters to move His purposes forward -- some of them were in extremely difficult times of their lives, too:
            Abraham -- was very old
            Joseph -- was abused
            Elijah -- was suicidal
            Job -- went bankrupt
            Moses -- had a speech problem
            Gideon -- was paralyzed by fear
            Samson -- was a rogue with ladies
            Rahab -- was a prostitute
            Noah -- was a drunk
            Jeremiah -- was very young
            Jacob -- was a cheat and a deceiver
            David -- was a murderer and adulterer
            Jonah -- ran from God
            Naomi -- was a woman, and also a widow

In the New Testament, the Samaritan woman was a divorcee; Martha was a worrywort; Peter denied Jesus three times; Zaccheus was greedy; the disciples fell asleep during prayer; and Paul persecuted and killed Christians! (Many thanks to Jarrid Wilson for the illustrative list.)

If we ever feel unworthy, we should remember all of the flawed people that God has used to share hope to this world. He knew them. He called them.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)          
No matter what our obstacles are, the same power that made it possible for Jesus to conquer the grave lives within us! Of course we have flaws -- but He is Almighty!
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:23-24)
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone. (Titus 3:5-8)
To finish our lesson for today, let's go back to the list up there and look closely at one of the characters there: Jacob. There are many places in the Bible where God is known as the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and so on. I think it's pretty special that He is pleased also to be known as the God of Jacob. (You can check out Psalm 46 if you have time.)
Jacob was a man with "a ton" of shortcomings. His checkered past included his conniving his brother out of the birthright. Instead of pleading with God, he bargained with Him! Again, I am running long today, but you can check out Genesis 28 if you have the time to open your Bible there.)
After many years of trying to out-maneuver the wily Laban, he returned to the homeland full of fear about what his brother Esau might do to him. The night before Jacob was to meet him, the Lord met him and wrestled with him - Jacob walked with a limp the rest of his life from that encounter.
Before dawn, the angel of God said, "Let me go, for the dawn is breaking."
Here is the answer Jacob gave: "I will not let you go unless you bless me." (Genesis 32)

The Lord did bless Jacob, the deceitful, the conniver, by changing his name to Israel -- meaning one who has wrestled with God and prevailed. The greatness of Jacob had nothing to do with any strengths or abilities he had on his own. The greatness he experienced in the remainder of his life was due to God's hand of blessing resting on Jacob.

I don't know about you, but I'm inspired. I want to join Jacob and pray, "God, I won't let You go until You bless me." I want to make it possible for Him to bless me, by studying and obeying His Word. I want to take those studies and pass along what I learn to others. And I want to give all the glory to Him!

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Prayer requests

Today, I would like to allow us all a chance to leave comments with prayer requests, and to assure others that we are contending for them as prayer warriors . . .
Hear my voice when I call, Lord;    be merciful to me and answer me.
 My heart says of you, “Seek his face!    Your face, Lord, I will seek. (Psalm 27:7-8)
These verses inspired my thoughts recently and I wanted to share them with you.

Perhaps people are over-dramatic sometimes, but we often hear them say, "We are living in perilous times." Perhaps each generation has looked around themselves and said that.  In our world, today, we have turmoil over elections, radical terrorism, and natural disasters like Hurricane Dorian. Volcanoes have recently erupted, earthquakes shake our earth. I believe that the earth is showing the pangs of rebirth; the evidences of the Lord's coming again are getting stronger.
I think that as prayer warriors, we need to ask for and to contend for His presence. The Bible tells us that He is looking throughout the earth for those who are praying and seeking His face:
For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. (II Chronicles 16:9a)
Let's look at our own lives and evaluate our time spent with the Lord each day.
Are our hearts totally His?
Sometimes we are not aware of where we are in our spiritual lives. We are "too busy" to appropriate what is available to us. We've talked recently about putting the blessing of God on our lives as a top priority....if our hearts are not seeking God, we are settling for lesser things. We can tap into His power and His presence, for we are heirs with Christ.
Wait a minute.
Let's say that again, because it is not something we should read quickly, or take for granted.
We can tap into His power and His presence, for we are heirs with Christ.
He wants to take us deeper into His presence, to show His power and salvation to everyone that we come in contact with! He is a God of compassion:
The Lord is gracious and righteous;    our God is full of compassion. (Psalm 116:5)
He is the answer to all of our problems and our pain. He is longing to take the pain and brokenness of the peoples of this world, and show the light of Jesus into their souls:
The people walking in darkness    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness    a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation    and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you    as people rejoice at the harvest, (Isaiah 9:2-3)
It's His presence that can stir hearts and break down barriers. He can bring strident voices to be stilled, and intolerance can turn to understanding.
How can they hear?
God is looking for us to partner with Him. We can speak words of hope and restoration; we can pray for His help and encouragement in the midst of these turbulent times. We can pray as the psalmist did, in the verse posted at the top of this page -- we can seek His face.
We can cultivate His presence in our lives.
We can contend for our neighbors, our country's leaders, and others, in our prayers.
We can repent of any distractions or idols in our own lives, and ask for Him to "set us on fire" for Him.
We can ask for forgiveness of our sins and be a clean vessel, carrying salt and light to our world.

As the gospel spreads, we can pray that His mercy and power would change our country:
 I will cleanse them from all the sin they have committed against me and will forgive all their sins of rebellion against me. Then this city will bring me renown, joy, praise and honor before all nations on earth that hear of all the good things I do for it; and they will be in awe and will tremble at the abundant prosperity and peace I provide for it. (Jeremiah 33:8-9)
Will you join me in prayer today?
Will you seek His face?
Are there prayer requests that we can add today, and all of the prayer warriors who pause here can lift up the requests to Him?
Let's worship Him in prayer, and wait to hear His voice.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Me? A teacher? (Continuing in Ezra 7)

We saw last week that we should strive to study and obey the Word of God. Like Ezra, we need to be "devoted" to that study, and learn more about how to obey our Savior, becoming more like Him in the process.

Something else that we need to learn from the seventh chapter is that study and obedience are the foundation stones for teaching others.
Not everybody is gifted to teach in a public setting.
Some of us have serious reservations (translate that "fears") about getting up in front of a group of people and trying to speak in a coherent manner. (Grin) The idea of trying to tell other people (any other people) anything whilst standing behind a podium makes our knees knock together, just thinking about it.
But whatever the Spirit has taught us when we have studied His Word, and whatever we have learned as we apply His Word to our lives, really ought to be passed along to others whom God places in our circle of influence. If we talk to others and reveal what we know in our head, but then we don't practice it in our lives, we become just like the Pharisees of Jesus' day . . . in a word, we become hypocrites.
That doesn't mean that we need to be perfect, and that we can't pass along what we've learned until we are. No way! That is unattainable; there has only been one perfect Person on this earth! We are striving to be more and more like Him, but perfection? Nope. Ain't gonna happen.
For that reason, our teaching, or our conversations with others, should be seasoned with phrases like, "the Spirit taught me," "it's my understanding from my studies," and things like that.

No, we don't have to be perfect before we teach someone a concept that we learned from God's Word, but we do need to have integrity -- that means admitting our shortcomings, and it also means an honest effort to apply what we've learned to our own lives!

Preachers, pastors, leaders of all kinds (even study blog authors!) must try very hard to avoid this trap. We study the Word so that we can tell everyone else about it; we may find a nugget that talks about how to speak to others, or how to avoid a sin, or some other important concept. Then, we try to tell others about our "nugget," but we must be very careful to apply it to our own lives, too! I saw a quote from Charles Spurgeon who said if a man's life at home was unworthy, he had better go several miles away before he stands up to preach!
In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned,  (Titus 2:7-8a)
Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:9)
In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)
Last time we were reminded by our passage in Ezra that seeking God's blessing should be our top priority. Seek Him before all else.  We've seen that His blessings come to those who study and obey His Word. Today we are reminded that our best teaching for others can come from the examples we set. We can all be teachers, whether in personal or in private settings.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Me? A teacher? (Ezra 7, continued)

We're coming to the "meat" of the study today; we're coming to the point of how each of us is called to be a teacher.
Now, bear with me, OK?
I realize that some people (and Ezra seemed to be one of these) are especially gifted for the role of teaching and explaining God's Word. Not everyone has been given that gift; there are many different gifts that believers can receive, all for different purposes in His kingdom.
But here's the thing: whether we are gifted to teach in a formal way or not, we are required to learn His Word so that we know how He wants us to live . . . and to teach that either by words or by actions.
Every believer wants to live in a manner that pleases our Savior. How do we do that? We must grow in our understanding of the Word.
And . . . God's blessings come to those who study and obey His Word.
this Ezra came up from Babylon. He was a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses, which the Lord, the God of Israel, had given. (Ezra 7:6a)
In some translations, the words above, "well versed," are translated "skilled" in the law of Moses. And scholars say that other meanings for that word are "swift" or "ready." This means that Ezra was quick to understand and to pull together the various parts of God's Word. Skill requires effort and practice, and verse ten tells us it was a conscious, deliberate decision on his part:
For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel. (v 10)
Other translations (again, I feel like this gives us a better flavor of what the verse means) say that Ezra "set his heart" on studying and practicing the Word. Being obedient to it.
It makes no sense whatsoever for us to SAY that we want God's blessing, while we are living in disobedience to His Word. Just reading the Word is not enough. Just filling our heads with Bible facts is not the goal, either, although facts are important. The over-arching purpose is to change our hearts and our lives - making us more like our Savior.
Did you notice how completely Artaxerxes trusted Ezra? What a reputation for integrity the man must have had! The king gave him enormous resources and then said "use it for the temple. And if there's any left over, use it according to the will of your God." Ezra's obedience to the Word was just totally obvious to the king. And so should our obedience to the Word be obvious to those around us.

Studying God's Word will not happen automatically. It won't happen without our making a conscious effort. We will need to discipline ourselves, because it is so easy to let other things crowd out the Word. Of course, we all lead extremely busy lives. We all have the same number of hours to use. Let's make the right decisions on how to spend those hours . . .

I meditate on your precepts    and consider your ways.  I delight in your decrees;    I will not neglect your word. (Psalm 119:15-16)

I think it's incredibly telling that these verses may have been penned by Ezra. Some scholars think that he composed Psalm 119. I don't know if he did, but these verses sure seem to have come from a heart like his: a heart that was devoted to studying the Word, and then obeying it.

Lord, help us to have hearts like Ezra; help us to hunger to study your Word and obey it!

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Me? A teacher? (Ezra 7, continued)

We've been tossing around a phrase, and I wonder if we really understand what we are talking about? I always think it's great to clarify things . . . (Grin)

God's blessing.
What do we mean?
I was impressed by some of the commentaries that I consulted, to be able to say, "His blessing" refers to God's doing far beyond what human effort can produce.
Another phrase comes to mind: above and beyond.
Remember when (and there are two instances of this in the gospels) Jesus was going to feed the 5,000? What did he ask Philip? And why?
When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. (John 6:5-6)
Philip does a quick calculation in his head (or maybe on his fingers and toes) and says:
Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” (v 7)
Philip is saying, it would take about two hundred days' wages! Even if they could have scraped together that much, there probably wasn't a market nearby that could provide that much food!

But Jesus was able to do far beyond what human calculations (and effort) could ever hope. The end result? The people all ate "as much as they wanted" and then they gathered up twelve baskets of leftovers; a full basket for each disciple to carry.

Just as in the New Testament, we see God's hand of blessing in the Old Testament, too. For Ezra, it's when the pagan king said "yes" to everything he requested. Instead of simply telling Ezra, "Sure, you go ahead and travel to Jerusalem. I know it's important to you. Take care, and I will see you when you get back."
The king's letter shows that God moved the king to grant far more than that:
       1. He authorized Ezra to go and teach God's law.
       2. He provided money to buy supplies for temple worship.
       3. He commanded the treasurers to supplement what Ezra needed (generously).
       4. He exempted temple workers from taxation.
       5. He authorized Ezra to set up a judicial system as needed.
You can read all about that in verses 12-26 of the chapter.
I'm betting that this was WAY more than Ezra hoped Artaxerxes would grant to him. Now, the king probably felt the expenses were reasonable, because it would be good policy. Why? Well, he already had trouble with the peeps in Egypt revolting against his rule. If he granted some self-governance to the Jewish people, they might stay contented for quite a while, giving him time to work out the troubles in other regions of his empire.
And another thing: like some kings before him, he was superstitious. He didn't want to incur the wrath of the God of heaven. He probably told himself that God would be nice to him and his sons if he let these people worship God.
Verse twenty-seven tells us that it was God who put it into the king's heart to grant all these things. God used Artaxerxes' political strategies and superstitions to bless the people through Ezra.
Praise be to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, who has put it into the king’s heart to bring honor to the house of the Lord in Jerusalem in this way (v 27)
Yes, it was God's doing. But Ezra still had to go and ask! Just like in Esther's story, it took a great deal of courage to go before a powerful ruler and his princes and ask for a favor. The source of Ezra's courage and strength is revealed in the next verse:
and who has extended his good favor to me before the king and his advisers and all the king’s powerful officials. Because the hand of the Lord my God was on me, I took courage and gathered leaders from Israel to go up with me. (v 28)
God's blessing on our lives today also takes working and striving. We should all ask for God to work "above and beyond" our efforts and abilities. We should seek His blessing -- we'll talk about "how" in our next study.