“Please let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open, that You may hear the prayer of Your servant which I pray before You now, day and night, for the children of Israel Your servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel which we have sinned against You. Both my father’s house and I have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against You, and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses.” Nehemiah 1:6-7
I’ve been trying to remember a time when I might have prayed a prayer of confession like Nehemiah prayed and I can’t remember when I’ve done so.
It’s true that as a Pastor, when I’ve prayed in a public setting, I’ve led congregations in corporate prayers of confession. But I can’t remember a single time when I’ve been alone in my personal prayers, like Nehemiah appears to have been, and prayed a corporate prayer on behalf of myself and the people of God.
Most frequently my prayers of confession are only for myself. Many times these private confessions are specific in nature, naming the sin or sins that I’m repenting of. At other times my personal confessions are more general in nature. These are times when I’m impressed by God’s holiness and simultaneously made aware of the enormity of the sinfulness that separates me from God. At these times no specific failing comes to mind, there’s simply a general sense of the depth my own unworthiness and this is the subject of my confession.
Nehemiah’s private prayer of confession is both general, as it focuses on Israel’s sinful condition, and corporate, he prays for the sins of the whole nation.
Scripture gives serval examples of intercessory prayers of confession. Job would sacrifice and pray for the sins of his children, Psalms and Jeremiah contain other examples, Ezekiel was shown a people praying for the sins of God’s people, and the apostle John counsels us to pray for our brothers and sisters when we see them sinning. But I fear that most of us, when we enter into our private prayers, become so narrowly focused that we don’t think beyond the condition of ourselves and our own households.
Friends, our situation is not so dissimilar to that of Nehemiah. In many ways the spiritual condition of our local congregations and the larger church, like Jerusalem, is ruinous. As a result our witness has little or no effect upon our communities, the gospel message we’ve been given is unproclaimed, God’s children are left to perish in their sins, and Christ’s precious name and his sacrifice for us is dishonored.
Like Nehemiah we should weep, and fast, and pray, and confess not just our own sins but also intercede on behalf of God’s church by confessing the sins of the people. We don’t yet understand or appreciate the gift God gave us when he gave us the ability to come to him in prayer. We haven’t yet discovered all the doors that can be opened if we will just bring ourselves to him and pour out our confessions and petitions before him.
We’re told that some blessings only come to us when we pray. Who knows, it may be that the prayer of confession you begin to pray on behalf of God’s church this morning is the push required to open the doors of revival through which God will lead his church as we do the final work before he returns.