I’ve never really been one to get excited about a new calendar year. A new school year, perhaps yes, but not a new calendar year. New Year’s Day always just meant my Christmas break was about to end, the fun part of winter was over, and I was just going to have to go back to school again. But this year was different for some reason.
A lot of really great things happened in 2015, such as graduating high school, spending a lot of time with friends, and starting my first semester of college. But when I looked back over 2015 as a whole, it seemed like every good experience was overshadowed by some sort of sadness, frustration, or fear. Safe to say it wasn’t my best year. So even though I had never been one to get excited about the coming of a brand new year, I found myself really looking forward to 2016 and all that would come.
January began by going back to school a week early in order to participate in formal recruitment. Lots of prayers were said that week as I navigated through the stressful week of getting to know hundreds of sorority girls and hoping I would find the best place for me. Not only did I ask God to lead me to the right group of girls where I would fit in and feel loved, but I asked him to lead me to the place where I would experience the most spiritual growth. I didn’t want to just join a sorority for the social aspect, but for the spiritual aspect as well. I wanted 2016 to be marked by new friends, laughter, and adventure, and by significant spiritual maturation as well. God really answered these prayers by leading me to the right sorority for me, and by giving me a powerful message to kick off this new semester.
The day after Bid Day, I went to church with my new sorority sisters, and the sermon could not have been more spot on. The preacher talked about the story of Nehemiah.
Nehemiah was a trusted advisor to the king of Persia, as well as a cupbearer (the cupbearer was in charge of tasting the drink before giving it to the king in order to make sure it was not poisoned). Nehemiah 1:1-2:5 (ESV) says:
1 The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah.
Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the citadel, 2 that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem. 3 And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.”
4 As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. 5 And I said, “O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. 7 We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. 8 Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples,9 but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’ 10 They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand.11 O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”
Now I was cupbearer to the king.
Nehemiah Sent to Judah
2 In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence.2 And the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of the heart.” Then I was very much afraid. 3 I said to the king, “Let the king live forever! Why should not my face be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ graves, lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” 4 Then the king said to me, “What are you requesting?” So I prayed to the God of heaven. 5 And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ graves, that I may rebuild it.”
There is an emphasis here on the desire of wanting to rebuild what is broken. Nehemiah recognizes the need for major change and decides to do what it takes to repair the brokenness.
The same needs to happen in our spiritual lives. When Nehemiah learned about the broken wall and the condition his people were living in, he experienced deep heartache, grief and pain. We should experience these same emotions when we see the brokenness in our own lives. Brokenness opens us up to experience a new work of God and allows him to repair everything that we cannot fix on our own.
Once we recognize the darkness in our lives, we must confess our sin. God is never glorified by His children remaining in a cycle of sin and darkness. Romans 6:14 says, “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” The passage goes on to say in verses 15-18: “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! …and having been set free from sin, [you] have become slaves of righteousness.” In Nehemiah 1:6-7, Nehemiah writes, “…confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. 7 We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses.” Nehemiah confesses the sin in the people of Israel’s lives, as well as his own, and does not try to place the blame on others. Likewise, we need to own up to the sin in our lives and quit blaming others for our actions. It doesn’t matter what circumstances we’ve been in, how others have hurt us, or how we grew up—all that matters is that we come before God and admit our brokenness to him and confess our part in it.
One of the most profound points the preacher made in this sermon is our lack of confession to other believers. He asked the congregation, “Why is it easier to confess our sins to a holy God and not to another human being? Maybe we aren’t really confessing to God, but to ourselves.” If we truly understood the filthiness of our sin, we wouldn’t take it so lightly to confess to our holy, perfect God. Confessing to other human beings should be much easier.
So even though I have never been one to get excited about a new year, and I certainly have never been one to make a New Year’s resolution, this year I’m going to try it out. I want to stop denying the sin in my life and letting it interfere with my relationship with God. Brennan Manning, in his book The Ragamuffin Gospel, wrote, “In order to free the captive, one must name the captivity.” I want to name my captivity. I want to stop being so afraid of confessing my sin to others. I want to be able to admit I’m broken, not only to myself, but to others believers, and to God.
We are all just a bunch of sinners in a room full of sinners trying to convince one another that we aren’t sinners. So let’s stop trying so hard to put up some silly façade of perfection and just start being real with one another. Let’s constantly push one another towards Jesus and be there for one another in the good times and bad. Let’s make sure 2016 is marked with spiritual growth and filled with the joy of knowing Jesus and experiencing his healing power in our lives.