I want to talk to you about the adversity that comes through personal failure: the emotional pain, the spiritual pain, the relational pain, the distance from God, the guilt, the shame. When you know what’s right to do, and you don’t do it. When God speaks very clearly and says, “This is something you shouldn’t do,” and you do it anyway.
In many ways, the journey of walking with God is three steps forward, and grace, and then a couple steps backward. And the way it often happens, with you and with me, is, we’re just normal, regular people. And every single day I’m going to have a thought, a motive, at times an action, and I sin.
God speaks to me and says, “Do this, Chip,” and, you know, “No.” And when you sin, or when I sin – and whether it’s an internal motive, or whether it’s something I look at, or something that I say, or an action that I do – the Spirit of God will convict you. And you’ll have this experience; you’ll lose the sense of peace and connection with God. And the whole goal of that connection broken is to let you know, something is wrong.
The Spirit acts as an umpire, an arbitrator in your heart, and so the moment you get that – I’m praying, nine out of ten days – that light goes on inside you, “Oh Lord, I’m sorry.” And you claim that promise, “If we confess our sin He is faithful and just to forgive you your sin, cleanse you from all unrighteousness.” Fellowship is broken. God still loves you. And then, you get back on track.
And that’s how it goes for most of us, hopefully, most of the time. But I’d like you to lean back for just a minute, because I want to talk about how, sometimes, you end up in really bad spots. And if you don’t understand how it happens, you’ll get so used to it, you won’t even understand why you’re going through what you’re going through.
Sometimes personal failures aren’t so small, they’re not so temporary, and we’re not so quick to respond. The Spirit convicts, and we just push it away. We pull away. We drift. We harden our hearts. Those occasional sins begin to become patterns.
Relationships deteriorate. Guilt increases. Denial sets in. You start rationalizing what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it. You blame other people. You find yourself unconsciously staying away from people and places that bring truth into your life.
You begin to live a lie of secrets and lies. Your conscience, like mine, little by little, becomes dull, and things that so clearly violate God’s Word, they don’t register, hardly at all, in your soul. It’s just a tiny, little, dim, uncomfortableness.
And then, intellectually, you rationalize it, and I rationalize it, where we just decide that’s okay, for now. And we actually intellectually think we’re okay with God, and yet we feel that emotional distance from Him. And if the truth were known, our behaviors and actions are going this way, and the truth and God’s will are going that way.
And then, God does something, because He loves you. David calls it the “heavy hand of God” upon his life.
See, when you really love people, you can’t let them go their own way. And so, God brings what I call the “velvet vice” of discipline and love into your life. And He is watching you, and He watches me, go into these times of denial, and these hardening of hearts, and then He’ll bring some financial pressure. Hmm. That didn’t get your attention. Might bring some health issues, might bring a conflict in your marriage, might allow something to happen in the economy. He might give you a biopsy report that really gets your attention – either yours, or someone that you love. He might have one of your kids go through something.
But I will tell you, He will bring pain, and increasing levels of heat and adversity, to get your attention. And then, when He gets your attention, and you start thinking, I wonder if God is trying to speak to me through all these things, then He’ll bring truth into your life.
And depending on how long you let this go, you’ll have one of these, what I call, “vivid reality moments.” And you’ll just see yourself in light of who God is, and His truth, and you’ll feel this sense of shame, and guilt, and, I’ve blown it. And all the denial goes away, and you realize, I have failed God. I have betrayed Christ. I have hurt people.
And then, this just overwhelming sense of, I have ruined this. I have ruined that. I have hurt them. Can God really forgive me? And depending on how long, we can get where we’re feeling like, I don’t think – I don’t think I’m eligible anymore, and I don’t know how to come back to God. For most of us, we try to then work our way, and do some good things, and appease some things, and then the patterns that are engrained, they just keep squeezing us and squeezing us.
One of the greatest men in all of Scripture was David, and he sinned. He was at the wrong place at the wrong time, and in an impulsive moment, he had an affair. And then, to cover his affair and his adultery, he had a man killed.
And in one of the most intimate recollections ever recorded in Scripture, he shares about somewhere between a twelve- to fourteen-month period when he was keeping this under wraps, and he was in the velvet vice of God’s grip. And he shares what it did to his heart, and what it did to his body, and what it did to his emotions.
I read, in Psalm 32, where David is talking about the personal pain that’s come from his failure. And he said, “When I kept silent” – talking about his sin with Bathsheba, talking about murder, talking about the violation of his conscience – “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.” The adversity that God will bring sometimes will be very physical.
“For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me.” God loves you. He won’t leave you alone.
“My strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.” He’s talking about feeling depressed. No energy. “I can’t go on.” He doesn’t like himself.
Then, verse 5, we get a turning point, and it’s the turning point God brought some of you in this room today to break out of this, because He loves you. “Then I acknowledged my sin to You, I did not cover my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgression to the Lord.’” And notice what happened: “And You forgave the guilt of my sin.”
And so, in a moment of time he realizes, “I’m coming clean. I see it. I’m going to own it. I’m going to just get absolutely honest before You. Will You forgive me?” He does.
And then, after that pain, notice, he talks about the path of restoration, and he talks not only about himself, but for you and me. He says, “Therefore let everyone who is godly pray to You while He may be found.” The inference is, there are times He may not be found. There are times where you can go into such denial, and have such patterns, that you won’t hear God’s voice later.
So, some of you, He brought you today to give you one more chance. “Surely when the mighty waters rise they will not reach Him.”
And then, as he begins to experience this release, this sense of forgiveness, he says, “You are my hiding place; You will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.”
He is a king, and he’s going to have to face the people, and he’s going to have to own his stuff. He’s going to have to admit he’s committed adultery. And he’s a leader. And then, he’s going to have to own up to murder. And he has no idea what the consequences of God will be.
And then, we get, in verse 8, God’s response to him. And by the way, it’s His response to you. Because the reason most of us don’t come out of these kinds of times is, down deep, we feel like, You know what? I don’t know how to face it. I don’t know what to do. The consequences are so overwhelming, and I can’t make it alone.
And God says, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way in which you should go; I’ll be with you. I will counsel you with My eye upon you.” “I’ll take you through this. I’ll coach you through this. You can make it. You’re not the first person that’s really blown it.”
But He gives a warning: He says, “Don’t be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by a bit or bridle or they won’t come.” “Don’t make Me keep yanking on your life. It could get worse.” He says, “Because many are the woes of the wicked, but the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the man” – the woman – “that trusts in Him.”
What God brought you into this room, on this day, to grasp, at maybe a level that you never have, is, despite anything you’ve done – secretly, or in your mind, or in your heart, or in your behavior, or what someone may never ever know – He still loves you – His unfailing, steadfast, loyal, forgiving love.
But the issue a lot in my life, in the past, has been, how do you experience that when you know you’ve messed up? How do you get out of projecting, and protecting, and how do you get where you experience what David experienced – new life, a fresh start?
Nehemiah, in this last section, is going to be our model. He is going to show us exactly how to be restored. And he’s going to say, in this passage – chapter 8 – there are three conditions. He’s going to say it’s going to start with a return to God’s Word. Then, he’s going to tell us, we have to respond to that truth. And then, he’s going to say, when you return to His Word, respond to the truth, from the heart, he says, you’re going to have to apply it to your life.
And when you do, you can be clean. And when you do, He’ll walk with you. And when you do, He can take some of the worst times of your life, and turn them around.
The walls are built. The people have decided… It’s a new day. And chapter 8 opens: “When the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled in their towns, all the people assembled as one man in the square before the Water Gate.”
Then, notice who takes the initiative. “They told Ezra” – remember? He’s the priest; he’s the teacher of the Law – “the scribe, ‘Bring out the Book of the Law of Moses,’ which the Lord had commanded for Israel. So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand.” So, children that were old enough to understand as someone would read and explain something what was going on.
“He read it out loud from daybreak until noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, the women, and the others who could understand. And all the people listened intently to the Book of the Law.”
And then, they want you to get this picture: There are about thirty to fifty thousand people, roughly. And they’ve built this large platform, because now the people that the walls are built; the gates are there. There’s some alignment. It’s, “Okay, we need to fulfill God’s mission.” And so, there’s this large platform, and Nehemiah is going to be on it – and I’ll do my best to read the names that are very hard to pronounce, for me, of about thirteen priests. And from dawn until noon, he is going to read out loud the Pentateuch, or the first five books, the Law of Moses.
And so, imagine thirty to fifty thousand people out there. And we pick it up: Ezra opened the book, and all the people could see him because he was standing above them. And he opened it, and the people stood up.
And it was on this wooden platform, “And to his right were Mattithiah and Shema and Anaiah and Uriah and Hilkiah and Maaseiah; and on his left were Pedaiah and Mishael and Malkijah and Hashum and Hashbaddanah and Zechariah and Meshullam. And all the people could see him because he was standing above them, and he opened it and they stood up. And Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and they responded, ‘Amen! Amen!’ as they heard the Word of God being taught. And then they bowed down and they worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground.”
And then, the Levites – So, we have, up here, thirteen on the platform with him. And then – I’m not going to attempt to read the next thirteen names. They’re even harder to pronounce. But the Levites are the people that instruct people. They’re the people that help with the Temple. And if you list them, what you’ll find is, there are thirteen key Levite leaders.
And then, notice what they do: “They instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there. They read from the Book of the Law of God” – here’s the key line – “making it clear” – literally, the Hebrew word means, “to separate.” It means, “to break down.” It has the idea of “translating,” of “giving the understanding, the meaning,” so that the people could understand what was being read.
Follow along. Let’s just look at, so what do they do? First and foremost, they return to the Word.
So, what did they actually do? They took initiative. They took the initiative. They said, “Ezra, you’ve been here.” Historically, he’s been there about fourteen years. And he’s had Bible studies, and he’s been teaching, but the enemies have been bad, and the walls haven’t been rebuilt. The Temple is going kind of slow.
And so, Ezra has been teaching but there has been no momentum; there’s been no traction. There’s been no, “We are the people of God.” And after fourteen years, and things are aligned, they take the initiative, and they say, “Ezra, the Book of the Law, would you read it to us? We want to know God’s plan.” So, he does.
Notice, second, they invested time. I don’t know about you, but when is the last time you spent six straight hours standing up in reverence to hear God’s Word? From dawn until noon.
Third, they listened attentively. I mean, this wasn’t like, “Okay, we’re supposed to do this; couple chapters a day, or a few hours a day, keep the devil away.” This is like, “We want to hear, what is God’s plan? What does He say?” So, that’s what they did.
Now, notice how they did it: They came before God in families – men, women, and those who could understand. These parents understood that it’s not enough to tell your kids what you learned somewhere else.
But when they got old enough to understand what was going on, they wanted them to see Nehemiah. They wanted them to see the people. They wanted them to see God’s Word read, and heard. They wanted to be around when the Levites came – because you get this idea that it was taught publically, and then there must have been some breaks, where the Levites and the priests would go into the crowd and begin to explain it to them: “This is what it means; this is how it goes.”
And so, they read the Word publically. At some point in time, they just wanted to know, what did God say? Then, they explained the word privately. What does it mean?
Can you imagine? They worshipped idols. They turned away from God. The heavy hand of God was upon the nation. It was His discipline. Hebrews 12 says, “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful. Yet those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”
The Proverbs and Hebrews 12 both teach that when we sin, the discipline, the velvet vice of God – He brings consequences into our life to get our attention, to draw us back to Him. And so, the consequences were, seventy years they went into captivity. And then, another hundred years, they’re working their way back.
And so, these are people that don’t – they’ve never heard. And they’re hearing stories about the exodus, and they’re hearing stories from Deuteronomy 6 about, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul, your mind.” “Fathers, teach your children to walk when you rise up and when you lie down.” And they would read Numbers, and they’d read the laws in Leviticus. And for six hours they are hearing things many of them have never heard.
And then in these smaller sub-groups, they’re getting it explained, “This is what it means.” Then, finally, they worship God reverently.
I came across a verse that is in Isaiah 66. It is very, very powerful, and it was written at a time when people were far from God. And God says, “This is the one that I esteem.” This is the one – when God looks over all the earth, when God looks in a room like this, these are the people that He esteems. These are the people that find favor in His eyes: “…those who have a humble and contrite heart, and who tremble at My Word.”
“…Who tremble at My Word.” Who understand, the God that spoke into nothingness, and the galaxies came into existence, is the same God who sent the second Person of the Trinity, His Son, to be the Living Word, and to walk among us, and that He gave us His written Word, and that all Scripture is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, instruction, and righteousness; that the man of God, the woman of God could be adequately equipped to live the kind of life that would enjoy God’s love, and fulfill His mission. And Jesus would say that, “Hey, you’ll never live by physical issues, and physical fulfillment, but by every word that comes out of the mouth of God.”
And so, when these people heard the holiness of God and His Word, they raised their hands. And when they said, “Amen! Amen!” they were saying, “We agree that what has been spoken is true, from the high and holy God.”
And then, it says, “They bowed low,” and they prostrated themselves, and they humbled themselves and were saying, ‘We’re returning our life, our dreams, our values, our children, our family, our money – We’re returning under the authority of Your Word.’” And they worshipped.
I would ask you, as we go to the second condition, what would it look like for you to return to God’s Word? I would encourage you, just go down through the list and say, Am I taking initiative? Am I investing time? Is there a level of attentiveness? For some of you in families, I would ask, Are our families coming before God and His Word corporately? Is my family coming before God’s Word privately, in our home? Am I pursuing the understanding of God’s Word? Am I in some sort of smaller group community, where it’s explained, and I can learn it?
So many of the issues that you face, and I face, are so far away from God’s best for your life. But if you don’t know what His best is – because it’s in His Word – and you neglect it, and you disobey, you receive these consequences. And these consequences – this holy, loving God will bring the velvet vice into your life to get your attention, to bring you to a day like this, to say, “Stop! Turn around. Repent. Listen. Let Me love you. Let Me restore you.”