Wednesday, February 3, 2016
These are the memoirs of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah. In late autumn, in the month of Kislev, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes’ reign, I was at the fortress of Susa. Hanani, one of my brothers, came to visit me with some other men who had just arrived from Judah. I asked them about the Jews who had returned there from captivity and about how things were going in Jerusalem. They said to me, “Things are not going well for those who returned to the province of Judah. They are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem has been torn down, and the gates have been destroyed by fire.” 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. “Please remember what you told your servant Moses: ‘If you are unfaithful to me, I will scatter you among the nations. But if you return to me and obey my commands and live by them, then even if you are exiled to the ends of the earth, I will bring you back to the place I have chosen for my name to be honored.’ “The people you rescued by your great power and strong hand are your servants. O Lord, please hear my prayer! Listen to the prayers of those of us who delight in honoring you. Please grant me success today by making the king favorable to me. Put it into his heart to be kind to me.” In those days I was the king’s cup-bearer. Nehemiah 1:1-11(NLT)
In some ways I can identify with Nehemiah hearing the sad news of what was left of Jerusalem. He had been born in captivity, and perhaps never even laid eyes on the holy city. Yet, as a Jew, the news of his homeland’s ruin was almost too much to bear.
I have been privileged to serve nine churches as pastor since 1982; in each the news was somewhat similar to what Nehemiah received, in that they were churches which had fallen on difficult times. The stories are similar and as heartbreaking.
In the case of Nehemiah, the immediate response was prayer – a prayer of contrite confession for the sins of Israel. Nehemiah was driven to God by the desolation of a destroyed heritage.
And, in today’s church, so should we pray…forgive us our sins.
Some members from one of the churches I serve gathered this past Sunday evening with a dozen or so other churches to pray. Where did we start? We began at the same place Nehemiah did…confession of our sins. The pastors were called to the front and prayed with each other for forgiveness of our own sins and restoration of relationships. The rest of the night those 400-500 people lifted up similar prayers that we might experience the days God’s prophet Joel forecasted – the Spirit of God being poured-out.
What were the results? Can we wrap this up with a success story of thousands of lives being touched, people saved, lives restored, God receiving the glory?
We’ll see what prayer was as genuine as Nehemiah’s, as opposed to merely human emotional response of the moment, absent of commitment to changing the priorities of daily life.
Nehemiah’s last comment of his prayer meeting was that he was the king’s cupbearer. Now that’s a strange way to end a prayer, isn’t it? In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, those days I was an accountant, lawyer, surveyor, cashier, college student, retired miner…. But what Nehemiah was doing was connecting his prayer with the way he spent his days; it was lip joining life! What he had prayed was about to enter into everything about his past, present and eternity.
Nehemiah saw God respond, and so will we, when we pray from hearts driven to God.
Are you happy about the state of your church? If not, the confession booth is still open.