Summary: What does the prayer of corporate confession look like?
Three theologians were having a deep theological discussion while they were walking down the street one day. They were talking about prayer. More specifically, they were talking about the most effective positions of prayer. The discussion got pretty intense so they actually stopped there on the sidewalk to try and make their points. It just so happened that they stopped underneath a telephone pole where a lineman was up in the air working on the cable. Now, I’ve been there. There’s something interesting that happens when you’re up in the air. You can clearly hear every word that’s spoken on the ground. Well, this is what he heard. He heard the first theologian make the case that the key to powerful prayer was in the position of the hands. He said he always held his hands together and pointed them upward as a form of worship. The second theologian disagreed with him. He said that the only position of real prayer was always on your knees. The third theologian said they were both wrong. He put on his most pious expression and said that the only position worth its salt was to pray while stretched out flat on your face. The lineman finally had enough of the self-righteous theologians, so he threw in his two-cents worth. He said, “Fellas, the most powerful prayer I ever prayed wasn’t when I had my hands folded the right way. It wasn’t when I was bowed on my knees. And it wasn’t when I was laying on the floor. The most powerful prayer I ever prayed was when I was dangling upside down by my heels from a power pole, suspended forty feet above the ground.” I can understand exactly what he’s talking about. Prayer is an amazing thing, isn’t it? Hebrews 4:16 tells us that because Jesus is our eternal Great High Priest, we can come boldly before His throne of grace in prayer. Why? So we can obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Mercy and grace. Mercy from God to keep us from the punishment and judgment we deserve. And the grace of God that gives us the righteousness and blessings and gifts we don’t deserve. In that verse, the writer of Hebrews uses the words “us” and “we”. “Let us come boldly”, “that we may obtain mercy and find grace.” That’s one way that prayer is a lot like our Christian life. As 21st century American Christians, we have a hard time getting the concept of “us” and “we”. So much of our American heritage is wrapped up in the whole idea of “rugged individualism” that it has warped our idea of what it means to be a Christian. It has made the focus of Christianity almost solely on the idea of Jesus being our personal savior. To be a Christian means that I’m saved. It means that I have a personal, one-on-one relationship with Jesus. I’m saved, I’m going to heaven, that’s the extent of it. Well, that’s all true, but it certainly isn’t the extent of it. As Christians, we live in the understanding that Jesus both saves us as individuals and He saves us into His body. He is our personal Savior, therefore we are a part of His corporate body called the church. Because of the nature of our salvation being both personal and corporate, that is the nature of our prayer as well. Yes, we as individual Christians are to come boldly before the throne of grace in prayer. But we as the corporate body of Christ are also to come boldly before the throne of grace in prayer too. Now, how does that happen? It happens when any one of us prays on behalf of all of us. That’s what Ezra does in our passage tonight. As the spiritual leader of Israel, this was his unique responsibility. As your pastor, it’s my unique responsibility as well. But just because it is my unique responsibility and God holds me uniquely accountable for the way I pray for this church… even though it’s uniquely my responsibility, doesn’t mean it’s only my responsibility. Although this prayer we’re looking at tonight was prayed by Ezra, it could have and should have been prayed by the people as well. It was a very specific prayer for a very specific purpose. Remember where we’ve been over the past few weeks. The remnant had traveled the 1000 mile journey from Babylon to Jerusalem. When they got there they spent about 5 months setting up and getting prepared to start the work. They had a time of preparation, a time of observation, and a time of motivation. Because of the extensive preparation where Ezra continually taught the people God’s Word and lived it out in front of them, they were convicted of the sin in their midst. They observed that sin and were motivated to change. All of that led up to the point we are in our text tonight. All of that led to one of the most powerful prayers of corporate confession in all of the Bible. I want you to notice what didn’t happen. Ezra didn’t implement a bunch of rules and laws and programs to force the change on the people. That wasn’t the type of top-down approach he used. His top-down approach was the real top-down approach. He got on his face before the real Top. And in the next few weeks, we’ll see how through this prayer, God stirred the people’s hearts to change. See, Ezra could have followed typical 20th and 21st century leadership models. He could have been the dictator that forced change. Or he could have been the cheerleader that tried to motivate change. But no matter how effective his method would have been, he could have never changed what really needed to be changed. What really needed to change was the people’s hearts. And God, through His Word, by the power of His Spirit is the only One who can change the heart. Ezra would have failed any of today’s corporate or church leadership classes. He would have miserably failed any of today’s church growth courses. They would say that he just didn’t get how to be a leader. But they would be wrong. Because he did get it. He wasn’t interested in temporary man-centered, man-generated reform. He had seen too much of that before. He was interested in the power of an Almighty God working in and through His broken and willing people to change hearts and lives and work His will through them. He was interested in God being magnified, not himself or even his people. And that’s the reason he prayed this prayer of corporate confession the way he did. Do you want to see the things that Ezra wanted to see? Do you want to see hearts and lives changed as God accomplishes His work through us? Do you want to see God magnified in and through his people here at Brushfork Baptist church? If you do, then you need to pray a prayer of corporate confession like Ezra did. His prayer came in three parts that we need to pray as well. The first part was historical reflection. Look at verses 6-7.