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Jan. 25, 2017: "Trinity prays the Lord's Prayer like they really mean it!"
A few years ago, I received a message from an older gentleman who had visited Trinity over the summer and wished to meet with me. He asked if he could see me relatively quickly because, he explained, “I might not be around too much longer!” So we scheduled a time and he arrived, clutching a copy of the Lord’s Prayer that he had personalized very faithfully. At the end of the meeting he looked me straight in the eye and said, “I am 85 years of age and I look at the world around us and it feels like hope is slipping away—almost extinguished. The Church needs to rise up. In a dark world, the Church needs to be a place of light, hope and healing. The Lord wants to bring revival to the Northeast, to this community, and the Lord wants to start right here with Trinity! Get Trinity ready. Get everything in place because the Lord wants to bring restoration.”
I didn’t think he was crazy. After all, it is not as if the Lord has told us that He is not willing to do this. Second Chronicles 7:4 states: “If my [God’s] people who are called by my name, humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” So the question is: how is this going to happen?
The book of Nehemiah gives us some remarkable insights on how God desires to accomplish all of this from within us. Nehemiah records the story of the restoration of hope—a time when God faithfully brought His people back from destruction and exile. By way of background, the Babylonians, under King Nebuchadnezzar, had destroyed the walls and temple in Jerusalem in 586 B.C. and the Jewish people had been sent into exile in Babylon.
Like large doors, great life-changing events can swing on very small hinges. It all begins with our weeping with God.
1. Weep and know the heart of God: In about mid-November / early December (the Hebrew month of Chislev), one of Nehemiah’s brothers visited the palace from Judah. Nehemiah asked for news of Jerusalem and learned that those who survived and who returned to rebuild were in great trouble and shame; that the walls of Jerusalem remained broken down and the city gates had been destroyed by fire. We are told, “As soon as I [Nehemiah] heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days…” (Nehemiah 1:4).
To the Jews, more than the despoiling of a city by conquerors, this was the desecration of the place where, at this point in the history of salvation, heaven touched earth; the place God had chosen as a dwelling for His name; the appointed place where those who sought Him would experience the reality of His presence in love and mercy. “The Holy City” lay in a smoldering pile of rubble. God was dishonored and hope was all but extinguished.
This story of restoration began with Nehemiah’s weeping. Nehemiah made space to share in the pain of his people as if it were his own pain, and in so doing he met the heart of God. If we are to be faithful to God in His work of restoration, let’s not deny the reality of people’s pain. Let’s not rush off with some immediate pre-prepared, “off the shelf” plan. Our tears are never wasted, because when stand with God and weep for our neighbor, our community and our world, we will know the heart of God for our neighbor, our community and our world. And then we will know what He wants us to do next.
2. Repent and know the call of God: Nehemiah prayed to God, “We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses.” (Nehemiah 1:7). Notice how Nehemiah used the pronoun “we” and not “they.” He deliberately identified himself with the sins of previous generations and acknowledged his own collusion in Jerusalem’s desecration. Our heartfelt confession will always be the pathway to receiving mercy ourselves and discerning God’s call in our lives—which otherwise we will not hear. How can His mercy flow from our lives if we have not first received it? Paul exhorted us, “I urge you…in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God…Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is…” (Romans 12: 1-2).
3. Remember and know the hope of God: Nehemiah’s prayer continued, “Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses saying, ‘If you are unfaithful I will scatter you among the peoples, but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen to make my name dwell there.’ (Nehemiah 1: 8-9). The promise was that if the people of Israel disobeyed, they would go into a foreign land and, yes, that had come to pass. But the second part of that promise was that God was always willing to restore them. Nehemiah now reconnects the plight of his people with this foundational truth. He draws upon the word of God and reminds the people of the unchanging, steadfast love of God. His prayer is soaked in this truth. Nehemiah remembers that when the covenant was broken, it was not God who moved away from the people but they who moved away from Him. And no matter how far they had wandered, God would always make a way home for them.
God’s love will always be bigger than all of our sins. The foundation of the covenant has always been God’s unfailing love. Hope is restored when God’s people remember His steadfast love. And from this foundation, all things become possible, and bold and “dangerous” prayers are spoken. This is why we can pray as Nehemiah did, “Lord, give success to your servant today.” The book of Nehemiah records God’s faithfulness to those prayers.
My 85-year-old friend ended our meeting by saying, “Trinity prays the Lord’s Prayer like you mean it!” We DO mean it! We pray like that because we believe the Lord is alive and present! But we don’t pray just for ourselves. We also pray for a hurting world that is in need of real restoration and hope.