Today’s Reading: Nehemiah 8-13, Psalm 107 & 135
The book of Nehemiah always brings my thoughts back to a book written by Bill Hybels, Just Walk Across the Room. In this book, he speaks of how important it is for us to take time to think through our story and be prepared to tell it as it fits into God’s greater story. What is your before and what is your after? What journey has God brought you on and how does that affect the way you live your life today?
Over and over again in the Old Testament, a prophet would gather the people of Israel together and review their story once more. This was often at a time of confession and repentance – a time of re-entering a covenant with God. Nehemiah retells the story of God’s people in a beautiful way in chapter nine. Retelling the story reminded them of how wonderful and full of grace God is. It reminded them of where pride and stubborn hearts had led them in previous years – how God had forgiven them time and time again, providing for them and blessing them abundantly.
“May your glorious name be praised! May it be exalted above all blessing and praise!
You alone are the Lord. You made the skies and the heavens and all the stars. You made the earth and the seas and everything in them. You preserve them all, and the angels of heaven worship you.
You are the Lord God, who chose Abram and brought him from Ur of the Chaldeans and renamed him Abraham. When he had proved himself faithful, you made a covenant with him…And you have done what you promised, for you are always true to your word.
“You saw the misery of our ancestors in Egypt and you heard their cries from beside the Red Sea. You displayed miraculous signs and wonders against Pharoah…You have a glorious reputation that has never been forgotten. You divided the sea for your people so they could walk through on dry land!…You led our ancestors by a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night so that they could find their way.
“You came down at Mount Sinai and spoke to them from heaven. You gave them regulations and instructions…And you commanded them, through Moses your servant, to obey all your commands, decrees and instructions.
“You gave them bread from heaven when they were hungry and water from the rock when they were thirsty. You commanded them to go and take possession of the land you had sworn to give them.
“But our ancestors were proud and stubborn, and they paid no attention to your commands…But you are a God of forgiveness, gracious and merciful, slow to become angry, and rich in unfailing love. You did not abandon them, even when they made an idol shaped like a calf…In your great mercy, you did not abandon them to die in the wilderness…You made their descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and brought them into the land you had promised their ancestors.
“They went in and took possession of the land. You subdued whole nations before them…Our ancestors captured fortified cities and fertile land. They took over houses full of good things, with cisterns already dug and vineyards and olive groves and fruit trees in abundance. So they ate until they were full and grew fat and enjoyed themselves in all your blessings.
“But DESPITE ALL THIS, they were disobedient and rebelled against the Lord…But in their time of trouble they cried out to you, and you heard them from heaven. In your great mercy, you sent them liberators who rescued them from their enemies…
“You warned them to return to your Law, but they became proud and obstinate and disobeyed your commands…In your love, you were patient with them for many years…What a gracious and merciful God you are!… (Nehemiah 9:5-31).
Then God’s people said, “In view of all this, we are making a solemn promise and putting it in writing…” (9:38) They were recognizing that they deserved all of the punishment they had received and yet God had forgiven them over and over again. They were once more making a covenant with God – a covenant full of written promises to obey the Law of God and God’s commands.
If we were to write out our stories today, what would they say? My story would include several of the same elements of the prayer told in Nehemiah: praise to God, recognition of His generosity and blessings, confession of my own tendency to be prideful and stubborn, stories of God’s forgiveness and grace, testimony of God’s provision and second chances, and promises to put God first in my life. I never want to forget what God has done for me. I want to learn from my past mistakes in order to not repeat my errors, but instead grow stronger in my walk.
What has God commanded me to do? Have I done it? I want to be reminded of God’s instructions to me over the years. I want to look back at old prayer requests and see how God has answered those prayers. May God’s faithfulness always be a reminder and a stimulant to the growth of my own faith. May time in His presence stimulate my spiritual growth much more than the caffeine in my morning coffee.
Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest: God is saying to His people, “You are not in love with Me now, but I remember a time when you were.” He says, “I remember…the love of your betrothal…” (Jeremiah 2:2). Am I as filled to overflowing with love for Jesus as I was in the beginning, when I went out of my way to prove my devotion to Him? Is that where I am now, or have I chosen man’s wisdom over true love for Him?…
In view of all this, I am making a solemn promise and putting it in writing…