Sunday, January 10, 2010

"You", "They" and "We" in Worship and Confession

Been reading through Nehemiah as part of our current sermon series on the book. I hit chapter 9 yesterday and was struck by the prayer of confession and worship spoken by the priests and Levites before the people, after their marathon session of reading God's word to the people. And an incredible prayer it is. The thing that struck me is the repeated use of "You", as the Levites refer over and over and over again to the mighty works of their faithful God. Starting in verse 6 and continuing through the end of the chapter, they recite back to the Lord an historical account of His faithfulness to His people. You alone are God, You are the creator, You sovereignly chose Abram and made a covenant with him. You delivered Your people from bondage in Egypt and brought them out. You were faithful to sustain them even when they were rebellious, on repeated occasions. You sent prophets to warn them of Your impending judgments, and You graciously restored them again and again when they repented. The prayer refers to what "You" have done at least 45 times. The central focus and the hero of this prayer of worship and confession is clear: it is You, the Lord God of Israel.

Also noteworthy in this long public prayer is the use of the term "they." As the Levites recount the many sins and apostasies of the people of Israel against their God, over and over the term "they" is invoked. They were unfaithful, they were rebellious, they would not listen to God's prophets or heed His warnings. They were arrogant and stubborn and acted wickedly. The prayer is one not just of worship in ascribing glory to God for all His power and faithfulness, but also one of corporate confession of all the sins of the people of God to Him. In fact, God's faithfulness and compassion towards His people is portrayed even more starkly against this backdrop of rebellion and sin. God's glory shines more bright in contrast to the sin of His people.

But there's one further term used by the Levites that takes this prayer of worship and confession even deeper. That word is "we." The Levites make it clear that the "they" is not a distant indictment of their forefathers, but rather an identification of their own sin and guilt and rebellion with that of their ancestors. They state in v. 33 that "You are just in all that has come upon us; For You have dealt faithfully, but we have acted wickedly." The confession here is personal, not abstract. And it's tied up within an attitude of worship and repentance. In fact, the whole prayer is a lead in to a covenant that the people are making back to God, to turn from their rebeliion and serve Him as He deserves and has prescribed.

Seems to me this is a pattern to consider in our worship and confession. First focus must be on "You", God alone, as we declare His worth and faithfulness and mercy. Then an identification with "they", as we corporately confess our unfaithfulness to Him in the past, and His repeated gracious response to our rebellion. And finally "we", as we acknowledge our personal participation in that rebellion and sin with our own acts against God, and as we desire to turn from them and serve Him fullly and rightly.

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