God drove his people into exile because they had closed their ears to the cries of the poor and oppressed. The people were disgraced, and disaster befell their city. Nehemiah’s heart was broken when he heard the news and he begged God to restore the people:
“Please remember what you told your servant Moses: ‘If you sin, I will scatter you among the nations. But if you return to me and obey my commands, even if you are exiled to the ends of the earth, I will bring you back to the place I have chosen for my name to be honored.'” (Nehemiah 1:8-9 NLT’96)
But before Nehemiah asked “the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant of unfailing love” (v.5) to keep that promise of restoring his people and their city, Nehemiah confessed that the people — and even his own family — “have sinned terribly by not obeying the commands, laws, and regulations that you gave us through your servant Moses.” (v.7)
A generation of American Christians has been crying out for revival, for the Spirit of God to move among his people and bring the country to metanoeo. We are distressed that so many churches are in membership decline. We are worried about the chaos enveloping our society. A few of us are desperately praying for the Almighty to move in great power.
God will honor our prayer, as he honored Nehemiah’s, when we come to a point of heartbroken confession that we — even our own families — have sinned terribly, on at least these two counts:
— We are better Americans than we are Christians. We grew churches more concerned about membership than discipleship, and we drank deeply of a culture that values self-fulfillment over self-sacrifice. We have tried to serve two masters and failed to love the one who died to save us.
— We have not obeyed the Lord’s command to care for the poor. Politicians set out to expand their power by making the poor dependent on the government. One segment of Christianity abandoned the gospel of individual new birth for a false gospel of communal rebirth by government program. And because pursuing the American Dream requires our complete devotion, we turned our backs on the poor and oppressed.
The fall’s new TV shows should be enough to break a believer’s heart for this broken, confused nation. Even a glance at the evening news should provide a clue about the rage that simmers among our neglected neighbors.
Are you concerned about the decline of our churches? Do you want to see God move in power to keep this country out of the abyss? Then let us confess we have sinned terribly and return to obedience. Let us learn what it means to do justice and begin to love our neighbors the way we love ourselves.