Today's Lectionary Text
The words of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah. In the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, while I was in Susa the capital, one of my brothers, Hanani, came with certain men from Judah; and I asked them about the Jews that survived, those who had escaped the captivity, and about Jerusalem. They replied, “The survivors there in the province who escaped captivity are in great trouble and shame; the wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been destroyed by fire.”
When I heard these words I sat down and wept, and mourned for days, fasting and praying before the God of heaven. I said, “O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments; let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Both I and my family have sinned. We have offended you deeply, failing to keep the commandments, the statutes, and the ordinances that you commanded your servant Moses. Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, ‘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 under the farthest skies, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place at which I have chosen to establish my name.’ They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great power and your strong hand. O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man!”
At the time, I was cupbearer to the king.
One of my favorite prayers is by the Trappist monk Thomas Merton. It starts out with startling honesty: “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.” Then it crescendos with a convicting “and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.” It is enough to stop me in my tracks and leave me paralyzed in my work.
When I am being really honest with myself, I have to admit how difficult it is to know God’s will. With so many outside voices pulling me this direction or that, with the ever-present siren song of my ego promising that human accolades and power and money are all I need, the voice of God is easily drown out.
So like Nehemiah, when I believe that God is calling me to a project or action or task, the best first step is to stop and pray. Part of Nehemiah’s prayer (and my prayer) is humility in knowing my own human failures, frailty, and sinfulness. I cannot hope to know or follow God’s will without emptying myself and asking for direction and power in prayer.
After I have prayed, I step out in faith believing that I am following God’s dreams for my life and our world and all of creation. Being human, I probably mess it up a hundred times a day. But I also find solace in the part of Merton’s prayer that reads, “But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.”
Rev. Chris Jorgensen
Hanscom Park UMC
Prayer for Reflection
Gracious and merciful God, help us make time today for prayer and repentance,
so that we may be filled with the desire, wisdom, and courage to do your will.
May it be so. Amen.
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