When you look at the life of Nehemiah, you look at one of the greatest leaders in history… period. In the previous post, we pointed to two keys to his successful leadership. First, he deeply cared about the same things that God cares about. And, second, he was a man of prayer.
We all benefit from the example of powerful praying demonstrated by Nehemiah in Chapter 1:5-11. V. 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… Nehemiah begins his prayer with adoration, or praise. In other words, he is basing the request he is later going to make on the character of God. You are a great and awesome God… you are above all and you are more powerful than all! You are a loving God, You are a promise-keeping God! He acknowledges WHO God is.
When we bring our burdens and needs to God, when we begin with adoration and praise, what is it that begins to happen? The greater God becomes in our hearts and minds, what happens to our problems? The smaller our problems become! Here in Tulsa, if you’ve caught the national news recently, the needs of our city are big, but our God is much, much bigger!
Nehemiah begins with adoration, then moves to confession. Vv. 6-7; 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.
Confession, as we all know, is simply agreeing with God about sin. Once again, remember why the city of Jerusalem is in the condition it is in- why it was destroyed. It was the result of years and years of sin… of turning away from God, of disobedience and following after false gods and the refusal of the people to repent. So, notice something very powerful that is part of Nehemiah’s confession. Did you catch how many times he uses the word "I" or "we?" He says "I confess… myself… my father’s house … we have acted wickedly … we have not obeyed." But Nehemiah wasn’t even born when Jerusalem was destroyed! He was born in Babylon. It wasn’t his fault they went into captivity. Yet, he is including himself in those national sins. He says "I’ve been a part of the problem".
In the Bible we find examples of both personal confession- confessing personal sins- and, also, of corporate confession of sin. Nehemiah is doing both. Corporate confession is when an individual(s) confesses for the sins of many people, even for an entire people group (Israelites). And they confess not just for present sins but for sins many years in the past as well!
This corporate aspect of confession is very strange to us as Americans because we are so individualistic. Our society teaches that you are responsible for you, yourself, and no one else. But, that is not the case. It’s very difficult to explain- something mystical about it- but God honors the sense of spiritual responsibility that we assume for the wrong or evil things that a previous generation may have done- even long before we were even born- when we confess that sin to Him.
It’s a mark of courageous leadership. Nehemiah essentially says, “The buck stops here, I’m not kicking the can down the road any longer! God, forgive our past, forgive us, forgive me. WE have sinned against you!”
For Christians here in Tulsa, I believe this principle is integral to the healing of our city- that is, when we are willing to assume corporate responsibility for sins of generations past as well as the present. As it has been said, “We ARE our brother’s keeper!” We must take a very honest look at our hearts right now. And, we must take an honest look back as well.