Written by Dave Urbanski
In today’s passage, we find the Jews desiring to start over with the Lord. To turn over a new leaf. To begin a new chapter, get clean, put their wanderings behind them, and move forward with God.
What they were after is what we all need today: Spiritual renewal.
But what does that mean? And how and when do we do it — and why?
A helpful way to look at the process of spiritual renewal is through four components: Confession, Separation, the Word, and Worship. You might say they represent the “how” of spiritual renewal.
Let’s take a quick look at them:
- Confession: Everybody does wrong. All the time. We can’t help it. It’s part of our sin nature. But while the world often says we’re doing OK as long as we keep more tokens in the “good ledger” than the “bad ledger,” Christianity is far different. The way of Jesus starts with admitting and taking responsibility for our sins, our mistakes, our transgressions — so we can be forgiven and have the slate wiped clean. Which sets us up for spiritual renewal.
- Separation: We were created for community, but there are times when we need to pull ourselves away from the world — a world that often corrupts and stains us — so we can effectively refocus on God. In the Nehemiah 9 passage, the Jews fasted and donned sackcloth and put ashes on their heads. Why? They were ways of physically reminding themselves that sometimes with comfort comes complacency. When we get hungry due to fasting, it’s an opportunity to remind ourselves why we’re fasting and to harness God’s power over our fleshly desires. Same thing with sackcloth — itchy, uncomfortable clothing — as well as covering their heads with dust. Who doesn’t want to get rid of all that stuff and get clean?
- The Word. In the third verse of Nehemiah 9, the Jews spent a notable part of the day — about three hours it turns out — reading from the Law. While confession and separation are about removing things that don’t belong in our lives, the Word is about filling ourselves up. It’s another strategic step in spiritual renewal. (Do you have a method in place for getting into the Bible daily? If not, why not try John Piper’s Solid Joys app? Or something similar you enjoy? It’s so easy with today’s technology to get connected to God’s Word in an instant. Why not give it try today?)
- And for our fourth element, we have … Worship. Nehemiah 9 also says the Jews spent time in worship during the time they spent in confession. Here’s an encouragement: We can confess our sins while we’re worshiping God. One needn’t follow the other or go in a particular order. Confession can give way to worship when we feel the joy of God’s forgiveness; worshiping God can remind us of his love, which can lead to confession when we’ve fallen short.
Now, you might be asking yourself, “When do we exercise the process of spiritual renewal? Once a year? Once a month? Weekly Daily?” How about this for an answer: Continually! It’s more than a task on a time sheet; it’s a lifestyle. We should strive to be in a constant state of mindfulness regarding God’s desire to renew us — continually. Do you have a quiet time at night? Great! But why wait until bedtime to ask God to forgive you for this or that? Or to pray for others? Not that we shouldn’t have such a time set aside — but we also can adopt a continual attitude of spiritual renewal throughout the day. (Sort of like living as if God really is by our side always — as he is!)
Finally, it will help us if we also ask why: Why do we need spiritual renewal? Answering this question will assist us during those times when we’re on auto pilot and forget why we’re doing it in the first place.
Simply put, the reason we need spiritual renewal is because it clarifies our purpose, our mission, our identity in Christ. Like food and drink in preparation for a race, it gives us the energy we need to live as believers in this world.
So, come partake. Taste and see that the Lord is good. You need not call ahead for a reservation; you always have a place at his table of spiritual renewal. Plus, his gathering place is never closed, and your money’s no good there.