READ: Ezra 9:10-15 (or see the EXTENDED PASSAGE: Ezra 7, 9:1-10:19)
(10-12) “And now, our God, after all this what can we say for ourselves? For we have thrown your commands to the wind, the commands you gave us through your servants the prophets. They told us, ‘The land you’re taking over is a polluted land, polluted with the obscene vulgarities of the people who live there; they’ve filled it with their moral rot from one end to the other. Whatever you do, don’t give your daughters in marriage to their sons nor marry your sons to their daughters. Don’t cultivate their good opinion; don’t make over them and get them to like you so you can make a lot of money and build up a tidy estate to hand down to your children.’
(13-15) “And now this, on top of all we’ve already suffered because of our evil ways and accumulated guilt, even though you, dear God, punished us far less that we deserved and even went ahead and gave us this present escape. Yet here we are, at it again, breaking your commandments by intermarrying with the people who practice all these obscenities! Are you angry to the point of wiping us out completely, without even a few stragglers, with no way out at all? You are the righteous God of Israel. We are, right now, a small band of escapees. Look at us, openly standing here, guilty before you. No one can last long like this.”
THINK: Think about how you relate to this prayer. Have you ever felt similar remorse to what Ezra expresses here? Maybe you feel frustration with the injustices of your community or nation, or maybe you experience guilt on a deep level–not for anything in particular, but just a general sense of not getting it right, ever. What have you done with that feeling? Stuffed it? Allowed it to constantly criticize what you do and say? Have you ever thought of sharing it with God?
PRAY: Ezra’s raw confession of messing up before God indicates that he feels very secure in God’s merciful love; otherwise, being this defenseless before anyone is hard.
Read Ezra’s prayer again, looking for a word, a phrase, or even something about his tone that resonates with you. Take several minutes to mull this over, and listen for what it gives voice to in your heart. Allow yourself to make Ezra’s prayer your own, repeating it and following him in prayer to God. Or perhaps you don’t identify with what he says, yet beyond your words is a pain you want to share with God. Sit with him in this.
LIVE: When you mess up today, remember Ezra, and remember God’s merciful love.
One of the many things I’ve dealt with over the course of the time my husband has been gone is my tendency to catastrophize things. I have a tendency to fall into a pattern of all-or-nothing, black-and-white thinking that can keep me from being creative enough to think outside the box, and come up with alternate solutions to my problems. This all-or-nothing thinking tends to spill over into my daily walk with the Lord as well and, many times, I’ve allowed myself to be driven to a point where I think I can’t do anything right, or that nothing is ever going to go my way. When I get like this, especially right after I’ve sinned, I begin to feel like there’s nothing I can do right and that I’m always going to mess up. That, my friends, is condemnation.
Condemnation does not come from God. Conviction, on the other hand, that feeling – like your conscience – that tells you “You really need to do…..” or “Maybe you should call….” Conviction is that feeling nudging you into obedience because you can’t not do what he’s asking you to do.
I don’t know about you, but one thing I’ve noticed about condemnation: it tends to rear its ugly head right around the time that I am struggling the most. So, right about the time we need God the most, and the grace he wants to give us for the steps we are on at the moment, up pops this little imp of a voice to tell us: “Surely, this time, you’ve gone too far. Surely, NOW, he’s going to write you off. ” Let me share something with you. The plain and simple fact that you feel like you must go to God to ask forgiveness is your proof that Satan is lying. If God was going to write you off this time, why would he bother to let you know that you need to make amends. If he was truly done with you, why wouldn’t he just leave you to your own devices?
Dear Heavenly Father, you know us inside and out, coming and going. You know our rising up and lying down and every hair on our heads. We know that we can never be good enough to merit anything you deign to give us and, far too often, we have snub what kindnesses you have given us because they don’t look the way we’d like them to or expected or hoped they would. Forgive us, Lord, for those times when we’ve bought the lie that we can do anything good for you on our own strength.