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Prepare

‘O most merciful Redeemer, friend and brother, may I know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly’ (13th-century prayer of St Richard of Chichester).


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Bible passage: Nehemiah 9:1–21


Nehemiah 9

The Israelites Confess Their Sins
 1 On the twenty-fourth day of the same month, the Israelites gathered together, fasting and wearing sackcloth and having dust on their heads. 2 Those of Israelite descent had separated themselves from all foreigners. They stood in their places and confessed their sins and the wickedness of their fathers. 3 They stood where they were and read from the Book of the Law of the LORD their God for a quarter of the day, and spent another quarter in confession and in worshiping the LORD their God. 4 Standing on the stairs were the Levites—Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani and Kenani—who called with loud voices to the LORD their God. 5 And the Levites—Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah and Pethahiah—said: "Stand up and praise the LORD your God, who is from everlasting to everlasting. "
       "Blessed be your glorious name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise. 6 You alone are the LORD. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you.

 7 "You are the LORD God, who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and named him Abraham. 8 You found his heart faithful to you, and you made a covenant with him to give to his descendants the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Jebusites and Girgashites. You have kept your promise because you are righteous.

 9 "You saw the suffering of our forefathers in Egypt; you heard their cry at the Red Sea. 10 You sent miraculous signs and wonders against Pharaoh, against all his officials and all the people of his land, for you knew how arrogantly the Egyptians treated them. You made a name for yourself, which remains to this day. 11 You divided the sea before them, so that they passed through it on dry ground, but you hurled their pursuers into the depths, like a stone into mighty waters. 12 By day you led them with a pillar of cloud, and by night with a pillar of fire to give them light on the way they were to take.

 13 "You came down on Mount Sinai; you spoke to them from heaven. You gave them regulations and laws that are just and right, and decrees and commands that are good. 14 You made known to them your holy Sabbath and gave them commands, decrees and laws through your servant Moses. 15 In their hunger you gave them bread from heaven and in their thirst you brought them water from the rock; you told them to go in and take possession of the land you had sworn with uplifted hand to give them.

 16 "But they, our forefathers, became arrogant and stiff-necked, and did not obey your commands. 17 They refused to listen and failed to remember the miracles you performed among them. They became stiff-necked and in their rebellion appointed a leader in order to return to their slavery. But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them, 18 even when they cast for themselves an image of a calf and said, 'This is your god, who brought you up out of Egypt,' or when they committed awful blasphemies.

 19 "Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the desert. By day the pillar of cloud did not cease to guide them on their path, nor the pillar of fire by night to shine on the way they were to take. 20 You gave your good Spirit to instruct them. You did not withhold your manna from their mouths, and you gave them water for their thirst. 21 For forty years you sustained them in the desert; they lacked nothing, their clothes did not wear out nor did their feet become swollen.



New International Version (NIV) Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society


Audio Bible passage


The audio version of the passage is taken from the Contemporary English Version (CEV).

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Understanding the rules
When the Bible talks about ‘the Law’, it never just means ‘the rules’. ‘The Law’ encompasses all of the first five books of the Bible, because we cannot understand the rules without also understanding who God is. That’s why the Israelites here set their confession within the retelling of the story of creation, God’s covenant with Abraham, the Exodus, the commandments, the miracles, the people’s rebellions, and God’s abounding love, forgiveness and faithfulness.

Knowing God
In order to live righteous lives before God, we have to know not just his rules, but him. In the book Dirty Glory, about the 24-7 prayer movement, Pete Greig says that often when he is seeking guidance, God responds with relationship: ‘When I say, “Where should I go?” he says, “I love you.” I ask, “What should I do?” and he says, “I’m proud of you.” … Time and time again God ignores my most pressing questions in order to answer the deepest longing of my heart’ (NavPress, 2016, p56).

Walking by his side
The best way to ensure we are walking in God’s ways is to focus on knowing and loving him – we can’t go far wrong when we’re walking by his side.

Jennie Pollock

Respond


Often when we find our will in conflict with God’s it is because deep down we don’t really trust that he is good and faithful. Ask God to reveal his character to you more and more each day.


Deeper Bible study


Today we read the first part of a long prayer of confession. It is led by the Levites in preparation for a covenant renewal service recorded in chapter 10. The prayer seems to be inspired by a third public reading of Scripture (v 3). Close study of verses 5–21 reveals that frequent references from the Hebrew Bible permeate the prayer. In fact, verses 9–11 form ‘almost a pastiche of quotations from the Exodus account’.1

The prayer leaders are combining practices of reading Scripture and praying. They repeatedly incorporate literal phrases from earlier Scriptures. A comparison of verses 9–11 with Exodus 14:10–30 reveals the close dependence of the former on the text of the latter. The prayer goes on to reflect on the wilderness wanderings (vs 13–15) and rebellions (vs 16–18). It specially highlights God’s compassionate refusal to abandon his people in spite of their waywardness (vs 19–21). A reference Bible will demonstrate almost continuous appropriation throughout the prayer of earlier biblical texts. The Israelite congregation is speaking to God by employing his own words.

Praying Scripture today is exceedingly helpful, especially when we feel our prayers have become dull and tedious. There are various possible ways to do this. We can follow the example of Nehemiah 9 and use multiple Scripture texts on a theme. Or we can repeat specific prayers in the Bible, like a psalm or one of Paul’s prayers in his epistles. Alternatively, after reading and meditating on a biblical passage we can return to it, praying our way through the text verse by verse. This helps us to respond to what God is saying to us in the passage. In fact, any part of the Bible can be used to speak to God. Why not combine praying with reading today?

Thank you, Lord, that when I read the Bible you speak to me and I can speak to you.

1 HGM Williamson, World Biblical Commentary: Ezra, Nehemiah, Word Books, 1985

Fergus MacDonald

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The people’s prayer


Today’s reading is the start of a mighty time of prayer and recommitment to God that stretches over the next two chapters. The people promise before God to do all that he requires of them and not to ‘neglect the house of our God’ (10:39).

Verse 3 gives us a helpful framework for ourselves as we come to God in prayer. Why not use this as part of your devotions right now:

1 The people ‘read from the Book of the Law of the Lord’. In essence, this is what you have done as you have read through these verses in Nehemiah 9. For the people, it served as an act of collective remembrance of their history and of what God had done for them, and this is reflected in the prayer that follows.

Spend some time now thinking back through your life in this way. What God has done for us in the past can be a great spur to worship and trusting him for the future.

2 The people ‘confessed their sins’ (v 2, The Message). Take some time now to sit quietly before God. Think through the last few days and ask him to bring to mind both the wrong things that you have done and the good things that you haven’t. Don’t try to dredge stuff up, just allow God to speak into whatever he wants.

3 The people spent time ‘worshipping the Lord their God’. Finish this prayer activity by doing just that, in whatever way you feel led.

Ruth Valerio

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Audio


Praise is rising
Brenton Brown & Paul Baloche
Copyright © 2005 Thankyou Music & Integrity's Hosanna! Music/Sovereign Music UK
Buy this and other great worship songs at www.integritymusic.com



Be the centre
Michael Frye
Copyright© 1999 Vineyard records (UK/Eire)
Buy this and other great worship songs at www.vineyardrecords.co.uk




Comments
  • Ray Skinner | Thursday, 12 September 2019

    When, O when, will we hear the 10 Commandments read regularly in public worship again? In Anglican churches, the two-fold commandment replaces the 10, but 'love God and love your neighbour' can mean anything when not used in context.

  • Ray Skinner | Thursday, 12 September 2019

    From Exodus 20, verses 5 & 6 can be omitted from a public reading (they need a bit of explanation these days) and vv.10b and 11, then read 13-17a - it hardly takes any more time.

  • Ray Skinner | Thursday, 12 September 2019

    '.....But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love....'

  • Adam Julians | Thursday, 12 September 2019

    Jennies comment about having to know not only God's rules but him stood out to me today with the quote about God not answering pressing questions but rather answering deepest longing of the heart. In Christian meditation last night the talk contained the assertion that if you want to save the world you first of all have to save yourself. And the meditative discipline having moments of absence of desire in which this state of being is reached. It has been called entering into the dark night of the soul, a poverty of spirit. As in blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. It seems not unlike what was being practised here with the putting on of sackcloth and wearing dust. I wonder if I and the principle of the Bible college have been a little harsh at times with talking about the church. So much of it is about doing and being seen to be "Christian". Keeping up appearances can be maintained for an hour or two on a Sunday but takes effort and can lead to burnout. What is the compassionate engagement with that? What would it look like to have empathy but not enable narcissism? To have order but not tyranny? Lord, I can't with my understanding be perfect in my ways. Forgive me if I have been quick to judge and slow to understand or if I have been people pleasing and direct me in your way of compassion and truth.

  • Gilvin Crisifeca | Thursday, 12 September 2019

    I too was especially struck by Jennie's comments today ADAM. Also in the passage v3 they stood for half a day in prayer! I sometimes sit down in church after several songs but before the last one!

  • Angela Munday | Thursday, 12 September 2019

    When the fruit of the Spirit breathes life into God’s gift of patience then we can relax and rest in God’s never-ending presence with us. What is happening all around us pales into insignificance as we aline our will with His. God, thankfully has gifted us the Book above all books, His personal instruction manual and guide for living each day in faith and compassionate love. We have the light available to dispel the shadows that humanity try to bury deep within themselves. Thank you Father God that You think of everything. Amen.

  • Roger Hall | Thursday, 12 September 2019

    If only.... this was describing the proceedings of Parliament of the United Kingdom! (And, why not?)

  • Jacky Taylor | Thursday, 12 September 2019

    The Prepare touched me this morning and I was immediately singing the song from Godspell. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P3PjfBQjJT8 This song touched me deeply at the time (early 70s?). I remember singing it (passionately praying it) on Dartmoor. I echo that again today. I too am blessed and challenged by Jennie's comments: 'The best way to ensure we are walking in God’s ways is to focus on knowing and loving him . . ' Praise Him!

  • Ian Gooding | Thursday, 12 September 2019

    Apologies: we accidentally turned this page off while trying to remove some of the unwelcome comments. It's back now, as you can see.

  • Jacky Taylor | Thursday, 12 September 2019

    Ah. Thanks for explaining . I was trying to bookmark and wondered what had happened.

  • Barbara Sabin | Friday, 13 September 2019

    Prayer is the answer and I find as I am getting older that it is most important to me. I am currently using Celtic prayers which give great concentration on God's creation. We have read this week of Sir David Attenburgh and his scientific friends trying to stop the teaching of creation. How can we live and breathe without recognising God's presence? I spend 10 minutes each morning and evening thinking about the world and recognising God's presence within and all around.. I can sit in our lounge and see the sky trees and birds and also look around our home and see trees in the furniture, the wool of sheep in the carpet, the pottery and recognise the potter, everything is of God's hand and it is good.. Then spend time bringing people to mind who have been part of our day and laying them before the Lord.. I hear it in the rushing breeze, the hills that have for ages stood,The echoing sky and roaring seas, All swell the chorus, God is good.Yes, God is good, all nature says, By God’s own hand with speech endued; And man, in louder notes of praise, Should sing for joy that God is good

  • Roger Hall | Friday, 13 September 2019

    Thank you Barbara, you are such a complete person of the Lord. It horrified me to think that prominent people are trying to foster their respective arrogant dismissal of The Lord God, who had breathed life into their nostrils and gave them their freedom to live as they wish!

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