Confess your sins with humble honesty
From Nehemiah, we are admonished:
Admit your sins against God’s grace (vs. 16-25)
Admit your sins against God’s people (vs. 26-28)
Admit your sins against God’s word (vs. 29-31)
For months I’d known something was wrong with me. I was filled with longings I could not identify, yearnings I could not express, and an emptiness that seemed to be expanding. I was desperate even though I could not articulate my desperation.
I decided to spend a week at L’Arche, a community for the mentally and physically challenged in Toronto. I don’t know why, really, I just knew I needed to do something. To be honest, I expected to be inspired by Henri Nouwen and touched by the mentally and physically disabled people who lived there. . . .
Within a few days, I became aware that my whole life was consumed with doing rather than being. I knew what it meant to believe in Jesus, I did not know what it meant to be with Jesus. I knew how to talk about Jesus, I did not know how to sit still long enough to let Jesus talk to me. I found it easy to do the work of God, but I had no idea how to let God work in me. I understood soul-saving, but I was clueless about soul-making. I knew how to be busy, but I did not know how to be still. I could talk about God, I just couldn’t listen to God. I felt comfortable with God’s people, but I was uncomfortable alone with God. I was acquainted with the God “out-there,” but I was a complete stranger to the God “in-here.” I could meet God anywhere . . . except in my heart, in my soul, in my being.
I went on our retreat that week despite myself. If there was any way not to go, I would have taken it. An Easter sermon to write, Holy Week to prepare, a book due at the publishers, and I was just gone recently.
So, I brought my laptop and books, and set up shop in my room. I read Mike’s article, then put it aside and spent three hours on the Easter sermon. From the magazine cover, “Does Heaven Exist?” I was going to use the fact of Easter to prove that it does, and that it’s important. I got the first draft done Monday afternoon.
Then I decided to take a break. I walked from the lodge down to the Chattahoochee River, along the nature trail, finally arriving at the waterfall. I sat down on a deck overlooking the waterfall and stream. And in that place of quiet and rest, God spoke to me. God spoke to my soul.
He reminded me of Mike’s story, and showed me that it is mine. He reminded me that my soul is real. As real as these trees, this clear blue sky. I thought about the radio and television waves filling the air, airplanes and satellites high above, and the stars, the moon, even the Hale-Bopp comet, beyond them. Just because I happen not to see them doesn’t make them any less real.
So it is with my soul. It is real, and malnourished. I realized. In all my hustle and hurry for God, I spent far too little time with God. I know him, but I seldom feel him. I talk to him, but I seldom listen to him. I know about him, and somehow I believe that’s enough. But it’s not.
Seek his forgiving grace
More help from Nehemiah:
Admit your need of his grace (vs. 32-35).
Admit your need of his mercy (vs. 36-37).
It only took a few hours of silence before I began to hear my soul speaking. It only took being alone for a short period of time for me to discover that I wasn’t alone. God had been trying to shout over the noisiness of my life, and I couldn’t hear Him. But in the stillness and solitude, His whispers shouted from my soul, “Michael, I am here. I have been calling you. I have been loving you, but you haven’t been listening. Can you hear me, Michael? I love you. I have always loved you. And I have been waiting for you to hear Me say that to you. But you have been so busy trying to prove to yourself that you are loved that you have not heard Me.” I heard Him, and my slumbering soul was filled with the joy of the prodigal son. My soul was awakened by a loving Father who had been looking and waiting for me.
Here’s how it happened for me. Sitting by the waterfall, I read Psalm 139:17 in a translation I had never thought about before: “How precious concerning me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand.” To think that God’s thoughts about me are more numerous than the grains of sand, and precious. That he loves me that much.
Later, sitting on a deck overlooking the Chattahoochee, I began reading one of Henri Nouwen’s books. I was directed to Mark 1: “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place where he prayed.” The result: “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come” (vs. 35, 38). Jesus found God’s word and will from time alone with him.
And to John 5: “Jesus gave them this answer: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does, the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does…By myself I can do nothing…for I seek not to please myself, but him who sent me” (vs. 19-20, 30).