The Frustrating Cycle (And Why I Am Grateful For It)
One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the story of Nehemiah. In it, we find drama, opposition, perseverance, success, and leadership (just to name a few). Most of the time, people focus only on the first several chapters. After all, while the book has thirteen chapters, the “wall” is finished at the end of Chapter Six.
In Chapter Seven, Nehemiah registers all the people. In Chapter Eight, Ezra reads the Law. Then comes Chapter Nine.
The chapter actually starts out pretty good. People gathering to worship, fast, hear the Word, and confess their sins to each other. Then the Levites stand up and remind the people of some of the amazing things God has done for them. They begin with creation itself. Then the covenant with Abraham. God leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. The receiving of the Book of the Law on Mount Sinai. The bread from heaven and water from the rock.
Then the cycle starts:
Nehemiah 9:16-17: “But our ancestors were proud and stubborn, and they paid no attention to your commands. They refused to obey and did not remember the miracles you had done for them. Instead, they became stubborn and appointed a leader to take them back to their slavery in Egypt.”
Verse 19: “But in your great mercy you did not abandon them to die in the wilderness.”
The Levites continue by recounting God’s leading them into the Promised Land, conquering enemies, and blessing them abundantly. However:
Verse 26: “But despite all this, they were disobedient and rebelled against you. They turned their backs on your Law.”
Verse 27: “But in their time of trouble they cried to you and you heard them from heaven.”
Verse 28a: “But as soon as your people were at peace, your people again committed evil in your sight.”
Verse 28b: “Yet whenever your people turned and cried to you again for help, you listened once more from heaven. In your wonderful mercy, you rescued them many times!”
Frustrating. Yet somehow, reading this cycle is more comforting than frustrating.
I see this cycle lived out over and over in my own life. I mess up, God is merciful. I confess, He forgives. He guides and warns, I mess up, He is patient, and on and on. The reason I am comforted and grateful is that this cycle – so succinctly recounted in Nehemiah 9 – provides some reminders.
- Even when my troubles are my fault, God is there to hear my cry. It is certainly comforting that God would hear us in times when we experience persecution. But when I am the cause of the trial? When it’s a result of my own sin? Yes. He’s still there, and He still hears.
- Even in times when I turn my back, God will never abandon me. God is near me. God is with me. God is present. Nothing can change that. Not my sin. Not my stubbornness. Not my pride. Nothing. He. Will. Not. Abandon. Me.
- God’s desire is to warn in advance, not punish after. His Word is trustworthy. So is His Spirit. He wants to lead me in “paths of righteousness.” He is not out to get me. He is for me. He wants to show me the right way before I get off track.
- God’s capacity for love, patience, mercy and forgiveness is way bigger than mine. I often make the mistake of using my capacity as the standard when assuming what God will do. Our culture tells me that I am the center, I am the most important, I am the focus. God says, “Get your eyes off of you, and onto me. I am more loving, more patient, more merciful, and more forgiving than you could ever imagine.”
Four powerful, necessary, beautiful reminders. It’s no wonder that after walking through verse after verse of the up-and-down cycle in Nehemiah 9, the last words of the next verse (9:31) are:
“What a gracious and merciful God you are!”
Question: Which of these reminders are you most grateful for?
Note: All Scripture references taken from the New Living Translation ©2004.