A Reason To Praise [Nehemiah 9]
Have you ever wondered how to praise while suffering? Honestly, you are not alone in our feeling this curiosity. Transparent Christians can speak to this struggle — better yet, the word of God speaks to it as well. In Nehemiah 9, Ezra leads the people in the most extended prayer recorded in The Bible. The prayer occurs among a people group committed to expressing their feelings of shame and grief. The Israelites had refrained from eating, and they were wearing burlap and placing ashes on their heads to symbolize their inner sense of desolation. Ezra led the people in the prayer to remind them that there is always a reason to praise. He expounded and taught them that one could quite literally look at the glory of God’s creation and find a reason to praise. Ezra led the people to find God in their stories and, in return, humble themselves before Him, in love, and with trust.
As we read these words, like the Israelites, we too can hear them recalling a place of slavery. Like these former exiles, we have experienced many of the same things and can identify with their appreciation of God’s grace since we have seen this unmerited grace in God’s dealings with us.
One of the ways we praise our way through a spiritual drought is to remembrance. In this passage from Nehemiah, Ezra led the people to recall a God who:
Who chose the people
Who changed their names
Who established a covenant
Who fulfilled a promise
Who saw the affliction
Who heard their cry
Who performed awesome signs
Who made himself a name
He split the sea
He guided them
He came to them and spoke
He forgave and showed mercy and grace
He did not abandon
He imparted The Holy Spirit
[vs. 5] “May you be blessed, O Lord our God, from age to age. May your glorious name be blessed; may it be lifted up above all blessing and praise. You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, along with all their multitude of stars, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You impart life to them all, and the multitudes of heaven worship you.
“You are the Lord God who chose Abram and brought him forth from Ur of the Chaldeans. You changed his name to Abraham. When you perceived that his heart was faithful toward you, you established a covenant with him to give his descendants the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, and the Girgashites. You have fulfilled your promise, for you are righteous.
“You saw the affliction of our ancestors in Egypt, and you heard their cry at the Red Sea. You performed awesome signs against Pharaoh, against his servants, and against all the people of his land, for you knew that the Egyptians had acted presumptuously against them. You made for yourself a name that is celebrated to this day. You split the sea before them, and they crossed through the sea on dry ground. But you threw their pursuers into the depths, like a stone into surging waters. You guided them with a pillar of cloud by day and with a pillar of fire by night to illumine for them the path they were to travel.
“You came down on Mount Sinai and spoke with them from heaven. You provided them with just judgments, true laws, and good statutes and commandments. You made known to them your holy Sabbath; you issued commandments, rules, and laws to them through Moses, your servant. You provided bread from heaven for them in their time of hunger, and you brought forth water from the rock for them in their time of thirst. You told them to enter to possess the land you had sworn to give them.
“But they — our ancestors — behaved presumptuously; they rebelled and did not obey your commandments. They refused to obey and did not recall the miracles you performed among them. Instead, they rebelled and appointed a leader to return to their bondage in Egypt. But you are a God of forgiveness, merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and unfailing in your loyal love. You did not abandon them, even when they made a cast image of a calf for themselves and said, ‘This is your God who brought you up from Egypt,’ or when they committed atrocious blasphemies.
“Due to your great compassion, you did not abandon them in the wilderness. The pillar of cloud did not stop guiding them in the path by day, nor did the pillar of fire stop illuminating for them by night the path on which they should travel. You imparted your good Spirit to instruct them. You did not withhold your manna from their mouths; you provided water for their thirst. For forty years, you sustained them. Even in the wilderness, they never lacked anything. Their clothes did not wear out, and their feet did not swell…
The rest of the passage from Nehemiah (and others in the Bible) speaks of how the people rebelled, but God never wavered in his pursuit and love for his people — providing us a concrete road map to utilize when praise gets lost in our sufferings.
Friends, on this Sunday, we too have a reason to praise. It may be buried in the chaos of shame or regret, but through The Holy Spirit, our dormant spirits resurrect. And as He lifts our weary heads, we see our God, who is full of grace, the one who has gifted us with ways to recall His goodness.
So keep a firm grip on the faith. The suffering won’t last forever. It won’t be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ — eternal and glorious plans they are! — will have you put together and on your feet for good. He gets the last word; yes, he does. [1 Peter 5:10]
As you enter this day, here is a playlist designed to help us awaken to the wonder of God’s promises: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/1Kmd6tNkXFfP2S8yVA4I3v?si=5a54b942a9144b03
In every season, there is a reason to praise!