I fell on my knees and spread out my hands to Yahweh my God…our iniquities are higher than our heads and our guilt is as high as the heavens. Ezra 9:1-15
One of my strongest early memories is from the time I was 6 years old in a dance class in Houston, Texas. There was another girl, a year or two older than me that I carpooled with. After class, we would go into the convenience store next door. I felt so grown up getting to buy a pack of gum with the change my mom had given me.
Then one day the dance instructors called me into their office and said the other girl (we’ll call her Thelma) had been caught stealing from the store. Thelma told them I had been stealing, too. This was the first I had heard of it; I was 6, and still mostly sweet, so I was devastated and cried all the way home.
My parents knew I hadn’t stolen anything. I had the money to buy Juicy Fruit, because they had given it to me. So I wasn’t crying because I was in trouble; I was crying because it was unfair. I was embarrassed and didn’t like being blamed for something I didn’t do.
In Ezra 9, Ezra cried in embarrassment, too. But here’s the thing that gets me – he was broken and even shared responsibility for the sins of others, sins he didn’t commit.
Israel was supposed to be set apart. They were God’s chosen people. But they hadn’t acted that way. In fact, even the leaders had been unfaithful (v. 2) by embracing pagan practices in the most intimate way.
But Ezra didn’t shake his head in disgust or condemn the people in his heart. Devastated, Ezra fell on his knees and cried out to God in confession. Like similar prayers in Nehemiah 1:5-11; 9:6-38 and Daniel 9:4-19, the pronouns throughout Ezra’s prayer are revealing.
Never once does he say “they.”
Our guilt, our iniquities, our slavery. This is the prayer of a guy who understood what it means to be a part of God’s family. Yes, each one of us will stand alone to account for things done while in the body (2 Cor. 5:10). But we are also tightly and irreversibly connected to that body (Rom. 12:5). When one part fails, we all feel it. And we need to fall on our knees and cry out in confession.
In the wake of the Ashley Madison list, Ed Stetzer estimated at least 400 pastors and church leaders would resign their positions yesterday. That number was based on his conversations across denominational lines, and clearly, is only a microcosm of the apparent unfaithfulness in the church.
As the body of Christ, if we are not devastated, humiliated, and spreading out our hands to God, then something is wrong. We need a lesson from Ezra. We need broken hearts, honest confession, earnest prayer, and a greater awareness that spiritual warfare is real.
There are true believers all around us who have been and are still now falling into the temptation of all forms of unfaithfulness. Fall on your knees and pray. And when you do, change your pronouns. Instead of praying for “them,” pray for “us”. We are, together, the body of Christ.