When we last visited Nehemiah, Ezra had read the Law to the people and they celebrated the Feast of Booths. Now in chapters 9-10, we have the people fasting and confessing their sins. This last Sunday, our pastor preached a really good sermon on this text.
Here are my thoughts on this section:
1. The people of Israel take their sins seriously and put on sackcloth and ashes. Now, we know the history of Israel and that they are likely to turn around and start sinning again. Nonetheless, at this point in time, they are really sorry for their sin. When I pray, do I truly repent? Do I really want to turn away from my sin, or is it just empty words?
2. The people pray and confess the sins of the nation (not just their personal sins). During this confession, though, they are also reminding themselves of God’s faithfulness – how, after every mess-up by Israel, God would bring them back to Himself. When I remember how faithful God has been in the past, I’m motivated to continue to pray. It also gets me through the hard times when I don’t feel God’s presence. I can remember God’s faithfulness in the Bible, but also his faithfulness in my own life.
3. The people then appeal to God for mercy. After they’ve admitted their own sinfulness and reminded God (and themselves) about God’s favor and faithfulness through the generations, then they approach God for mercy. The people admit that they deserved all that they’ve gone through, but they know that God has helped them in the ast so they are confident in asking for His help again.
It’s so easy to get discouraged in prayer. I feel like my headaches will never go away, my kids will never learn to pick up their dishes, and that I will never be able to follow a menu plan. I can look back, though, and see that God loved me enough to send Jesus to pay for my sin. He loves me enough to give me the Holy Spirit who helps me get through each day. And He loves me enough to give me what I need (strength, patience, etc.) to get through each day.
It’s easy to look at this as a formula kind of prayer. Just confess and repent of your sins, remember that God has been faithful in the past, and ask for what we need. 1, 2, 3 – and wave a wand around to make the magic work! But, it doesn’t work that way. Confession and repentance aren’t just words. When we confess our sins and vow to turn away from them with the power of the Holy Spirit, something more happens. The Holy Spirit works in us to make us new creatures. And when we ask for things, we are asking according to God’s will if we are living in the power of the Holy Spirit.
This chapter of Nehemiah isn’t giving us a mathematical way to make sure that God does things our way. Rather, it’s a picture of how we can conform ourselves to God’s will.
What interesting things have you noticed from this section of Nehemiah?