“I am too ashamed and disgraced, my God, to lift up my face to you, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens…
Observation – What does it say?
After discovering that the people of Israel had disobeyed God by intermarrying with the neighboring people groups who practice things detestable to God, Ezra was appalled. In awe, distraught and frustrated, Ezra fell to his knees and spread his hands out to God and prayed about it. What stood out to me was his language as he prayed. Rather than praying with words like “their sin” and “your people” and “those people,” he took personal ownership although he didn’t sin personally in this area.
Understanding – What does it mean?
When a parent confronts their children about cookies missing from the cookie jar all the children naturally start pointing at each other, even the ones with chocolate on their faces and crumbs on their shirts. No one wants to take the blame or the punishment. Imagine though, that all the children had taken a cookie except one. And that one who didn’t reach in the cookie jar with everyone else comes to his dad. Rather than pointing the finger at his siblings and pointing out his own good behavior, he says, “Dad! I’m so sorry that we have been dishonest and taken the cookies without asking! Please forgive us!”
That is the same thing Ezra is doing here. He’s identifying himself with his siblings and standing in the gap to intercede on their behalf. Likewise, followers of Jesus should identify themselves with the rest of the church and intercede on their behalf.
Our western culture is very individualistic. It’s about my happiness and my personal goals and my interests. You have your beliefs and do what you want and I'll have mine and do what I want. And this attitude bleeds into the church. It’s easy to worry just about me and my relationship with God, to pray from an individual point of view, and to view the sins and disobedience of other believers as though it has no effect upon us. Maybe we'll pray for them, but not as one of them. It is true that there is a personal aspect of my faith - my salvation isn’t dependent upon what anyone else believes about God, no one else can have a relationship with God for me, and I cannot expect anyone else to be held responsible before God for my personal decisions. Given that, there is also a corporate lens through which we are called to see ourselves. Ezra prayed from this stance, taking the shame of his fellow Israelites upon himself and prayed phrases like, “our sins” and “our guilt.” When Jesus taught his followers how to pray, it was from this corporate perspective: “Our Father,” “Give us,” “Forgive us,” etc. The apostle Paul had the same perspective, pointing out that “all of you together are the temple of God” (1 Cor. 3:16 NLT) and uses the analogy of the church being the body of Christ. We are all connected, part of the same body, the same family of God, and are together the bride of Christ. It's from that position that we are to see ourselves and to pray.
When praying for the church, pray from a corporate perspecitve with words like "us" and "we" instead of "them" and "they."
God, help us to not only accept the truth that we are part of the body of Christ but may it become the lens through which we see ourselves and each other. Unite us and use us like you used Ezra to interceded on behalf of each other as believers. Amen.
photo credit: www.sodahead.com