by: Mt. Calvary Admin
"Now, therefore, our God ... let not the hardship seem little to you that has come upon us, our kings, our princes, our prophets, our fathers, and all your people ... " (Neh. 9:32, ESV)
"That's not my fault." How many times have you heard those words in your life? It starts from an early age, when a child breaks something important or valuable. "I didn't mean to do it; it just happened." When your student comes home from school with a grade that is lower than expected, she might say, "The teacher doesn't like me." At our workplaces, there's a challenge facing another department but not ours, we might think, "I'm glad that's not my problem." It's even found in the first sin, when God confronts Adam about eating the fruit of the Tree: "The woman you gave to be with me, she gave me the fruit of the tree and I ate" Responsibility is something that is usually forced on others; rarely is it taken up willingly.
That's what's so amazing about the quote above from Nehemiah 9. The previous verses of this section are an overview of the history of Israel: God saves them, the people rebel, God allows punishment upon them, the people repent, God saves them. Rinse. Repeat. That's the summary of Israel’s history from the death of Joshua to this time of Nehemiah.
From Nehemiah 9:6-31 the pronouns are all third-person plural: they, them, theirs. But in Nehemiah 9:32 the pronouns change to first-person plural: we, us, ours. Why is that? What happens in verse 32? The people of Jerusalem at this time are taking ownership for the past mistakes of their forefathers. The people of Nehemiah's time even admit their short-comings: "Our kings, our princes, our priests, and our fathers have not kept your law or paid attention to your commandments and your warnings that you gave them" (Neh. 9:33). They take ownership of their failings and pledge to do better. The word we use for this in the Church is: Repentance.
Repentance, then, is not just contrition or sorrow over our mistakes and failures, it's also a desire to do better. As John the Baptist encouraged, "Bear fruit in keeping with repentance." (Mt. 3:8). The best fruit of repentance is ownership, taking responsibility not just for causing a bad situation but also taking responsibility to make a bad situation better.
In the months to come, Mt. Calvary is going to have a lot of work to do as we restart and rebuild ministries; most of what we used to do has been at a dead stop for at least 9 months. It's going to be very easy to talk about our congregation in third-person plural terms: "they" and "them." "What are they doing for me?" "Why aren't they doing it this way?" Instead, I pray that you'll take some ownership in some area and use first-person singular pronouns for these challenges: "I am going to help get this ministry off the ground." "I'm going to help where I can." "Even though this doesn't benefit me, it's still important that I lend a hand." These are the works of repentance.
Pastor Tom Vanderbilt