You gave them kingdoms and nations, allotting to them even the remotest frontiers. They took over the country of Sihon king of Heshbon and the country of Og king of Bashan. You made their children as numerous as the stars in the sky, and you brought them into the land that you told their parents to enter and possess. Their children went in and took possession of the land. You subdued before them the Canaanites, who lived in the land; you gave the Canaanites into their hands, along with their kings and the peoples of the land, to deal with them as they pleased. They captured fortified cities and fertile land; they took possession of houses filled with all kinds of good things, wells already dug, vineyards, olive groves and fruit trees in abundance. They ate to the full and were well-nourished; they reveled in your great goodness. – Nehemiah 9:22-25
This is another circling back passage to remember the transition to the Promised Land and where the Israelites took possession of wells they did not dig. Moses himself was not allowed to cross over into the Promised Land.
As I write this I am wondering why Nehemiah felt the need to recount all this history of where the Isarealites had been and ways that God has taken care of them. Was it because he wanted to remind the exiles of where they had been and Who had carried them like a son or daughter?
Perhaps Nehemiah wanted them to appreciate God’s providence and avoid previous pitfalls as they try to chart a new relationship with God. This is not a bad idea for our walk with God. Maybe it would be good to take time when we gather together as Christians to be more intentional about: 1) remembering where we have been; 2) sharing ways God has provided for us; and 3) discussing times that we have messed up. What might this look like in practice?
The first one could be something as simple as remembering some of the great followers of Christ and what made them great followers. I would envision this as a series of short vignettes that could be shared for 5 minutes at some point during a gathering of service. The purpose of these vignettes would not be to paint these great leaders as somehow perfect, but rather fellow flawed followers who accomplished great things despite their flaws. I am thinking of people like Martin Luther, C.S. Lewis, Billy Graham, John Newton, Martin Luther King. Each of these people and many others have amazing life stories that could help us remember where we have been.
The second item, “sharing ways God has provided for us” could include both historical providence and contemporary answers to prayer. Both are powerful reminders of the God who sees us. These need not be elaborate or long. They could even be “pop ups” where someone feels led to stand up an share about a historical or contemporary providence.
The third one can be tricky. There is certainly a value in confessing and discussing when we have messed up as Christians. We tend to dwell on extreme examples of failure like the Salem witch trials, the crusades, and the inquisition. These were all dark days for Christendom to be sure, but there have been others less prominent ones which may be worth discussing. For example, what was the church doing right and what was it doing wrong in the time of slavery in the southern United States?
I think our discussions should focus on what was going on in the hearts and souls of those “messing up”. What actions and habits fostered the state of their heart and souls and most importantly how can we choose habits and actions that will help us avoid the same mistakes, by God’s Amazing Grace.
Prayer: God help us to learn from those who came before us, share ways You provide for us, and boldly discuss when we fail.