January 8, 2020

Nehemiah 1:5-7

5 Then I said:

“Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. 7 We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.

On Monday we started the story of Nehemiah – how he received terrible news of his hometown and people. And how he was driven to pray and fast for days. In these verses we see what sort of prayers he was praying. Just a quick reminder that for Nehemiah, the destruction of Jerusalem was interpreted as a sign of God’s displeasure. And that influences the prayers he prays.  

He begins his prayer by acknowledging the truth of who God is. Great and awesome. He keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments. Why does Nehemiah start his prayer this way, do you think? Is it simple flattery? Buttering up the divine in order to get what he wants? I don’t think that would be effective, first off. But something else is going on here. Remembering the true nature of God is a way of recalibrating and reorienting our perspective in prayer. It’s no secret that we tend towards self-centeredness. And that self-centeredness clouds our vision. Have you ever been in an argument and fought like crazy to prove your point, only to realize later, after your temper has cooled, that you weren’t seeing the situation clearly? We can bring that same tendency into our prayers. Recalling the nature of God is a way to begin to see our lives, problems, and successes from a different perspective.  

Once Nehemiah has recalled who God is, he begins to confess. The Israelites have sinned. They have acted wickedly towards God. They have disobeyed the commands, decrees and laws given to Moses. Confession is also a recalibration. Unconfessed sin clouds our vision with fear, shame, anger, and all sorts of other things. Confession is a way to wipe the slate clean and start fresh. Because I John 1:9 promises that if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us of our unrighteousness.  How would you like to be able to begin today feeling cleansed and righteous?

Let’s follow Nehemiah’s lead today and take a moment to first remember who God is. What attribute of God first springs to your mind? Do you see God as loving? Just? Holy? How can that attribute alter your perspective on what you have to do today? How does a holy God impact they way you treat your co-workers? How does a God of justice change the way you treat your partner or spouse?

Does that bring to mind a sin you should confess? If not, take a moment and ask God to bring something to mind. Confess your sin, and the reasons for your sin. Finally, walk into today in the confidence that you are forgiven.

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