Keeping up our end of the deal
“When I heard this, I sat down and wept. In fact, for days I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven. Then I said, “O LORD, God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant of unfailing love, with those who love him and obey his commands, listen to my prayer! Look down, and see me praying night and day for your people Israel. I confess that we have sinned against you. Yes, even my own family and I have sinned! We have sinned terribly by not obeying the commands, decrees, and regulations that you gave us through your servant Moses.” — Nehemiah 1:4-7
What Nehemiah hears just before the front end of this text is that the walls and gates that should be fortifying Jerusalem are in great disrepair. What is heartbreaking to this prophet is these walls and gates that should keep this city protected are in shambles.
What I hope strikes you with these verses is how adamant Nehemiah is on two counts: one, that our God of heaven will uphold his covenant of unfailing love, and two, how sinful Nehemiah, his family and the people of Israel are.
It’s tough to hear these words to God spoken eloquently or poetically. Instead, Nehemiah is pretty raw and amazingly real. He is holding God to task as much as he is also holding humanity to task.
“God,” he’s saying, “do what you’re supposed to do. Help us!”
“And God,” he’s saying in this same breath, “we are SO screwed up. We have failed SO miserably.”
I’m quoting statistics during the sermon this Sunday on the church’s great attendance decline. Make the connection with me on the church’s acknowledgement of its sinfulness and its slow decline in numbers. When is the last time any congregation really did the sloppy, slobbering prayer Nehemiah is doing here?
Do you hear how broken Nehemiah is here? Do you hear a passionate plea from a prophet and his people who face the bitter truth of their waywardness?
Realize there is no comfort or control in Nehemiah’s prayer. There’s just raw honesty.
Nehemiah looks at Jerusalem’s busted walls like I look at the busted places in churches today. Rather than perpetuate this broken space, let’s just be real with what hurts both church and non-church people alike: our own sinfulness and self-reliance.
What makes our church awesome is we are given space to confess our sins within worship. “Hey, God,” we can (and should) say, “I’m like Nehemiah—I have not obeyed your commands, decrees, and regulations. But listen to my prayer which asks what Nehemiah asks, and that is for you to keep your covenant and your unfailing love with us, your people, and with me, your child. Rescue me. Restore me. Reawaken me.”
And add what Nehemiah would add himself. “And God? Please continue to keep your end of the deal. I’ll do the same. I’ll look to you. I’ll listen to you. I’ll love you.”