“Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’ They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man” (Nehemiah 1:8–11).
The prayer of Nehemiah comes during a difficult time in Israel’s history when the city walls of Jerusalem need to be rebuilt. Nehemiah’s prayer is often talked about in terms of the mission he was about to boldly embrace, but it also provides an incredible model for how we should approach God in prayer. Nehemiah’s prayer begins with praise, and while it is ultimately a request for God’s blessing and favor, much of the prayer is actually about repentance. I wonder if we can talk about God’s purpose without first talking about confession and repentance from sin. I think the word confession has taken on some shame-filled, negative connotations in religious circles. Considering the character of God, it should be seen as life changing and freedom giving. Nehemiah is essentially laying down his baggage through confession and repentance that could slow him down from accomplishing God’s purpose! The prayer reminds me of the apostle Paul, who says to the early church, “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1). Confession and repentance should not be associated with shame, but freedom. Nehemiah’s confession and repentance are preparing him to step into God’s purpose with a mind that’s free of anything that would hinder his abilities!
In the way a marathon runner must leave behind the gym bag, keys, cell phone, and heavy warm-up gear before the big race begins, we should lay aside all that weighs our spirits down before we can fully run in the calling God has for our lives. I love to run on a regular basis (San Diego—my hometown—is a great spot to do it), and I consider myself in good running shape, but if you could’ve seen me at Disneyland last year with my kids, you wouldn’t think so. I was carrying my three-year-old on my shoulder, pushing two of our kids in a double stroller, and watching our fourth stand on a wheeled apparatus attached to the stroller. After walking only a few yards up an inclined blacktop path, I looked like a huffing, puffing, sweating mess! I moved a lot slower than when I step out the door to go for a run by myself!
The reality is that we are all called into service in the same way that Nehemiah was in his time. We may not be raising literal walls around a city, but God has a purpose for each of us that can challenge us in similar ways. Prayer is the tool that brings that purpose into focus. It empowers and emboldens us to accomplish God’s will. Confession and repentance are what prepare our spirits for that mission. We hand over to God all the things that can slow us down and prevent us from doing His work. I am learning that whenever I go to lead worship, my prayers of confession and repentance can free me to step into the joy of God’s movement in song. If I truly want to fulfill God’s purpose for me, I need to come each day and set down my baggage, my doubts, my fears, and my mistakes at His feet and allow Him to prepare me to run the race, to build the wall, to love my neighbor with a free and willing heart.
An excerpt from “On Our Knees” by Phil Wickham