Writer’s note: While our lesson this week focuses on saying thank you to God, May 10 also is set aside as a time to say thank you to our mothers and celebrate their sacrifices and love for us. A nice video tribute to moms can be found on tangle.com here.
A time to say thank you
We’ve come to the end of our six-week study of Nehemiah. It’s a great story of a man who had a God-placed burden to help his nation be restored to God—thus restoring their place and their future as God’s people—after sin had separated them from God, seen them conquered by another nation and sent them into exile for decades.
It’s also a story of a people who were willing to sacrifice their time, safety and health to rebuild their worship center and city as a testament to God. Now, after a 52-day effort that involved the skilled and unskilled, the priest and the farmer, the men and the women, the man-at-arms and the civilian, the walls had been rebuilt. Jerusalem, if not whole, was wholly encompassed for defense and national pride.
But while the effort reflected the sacrifice and energy of the people, the Jews understood the blessing from God the walls represented and acknowledged his powerful hand in the reconstruction. It was time to say thank you. It was time to dedicate the wall to his glory. And the most proper response to God’s blessings is to give thanks joyfully.
Big worship, pure worship
A blessing of this magnitude called for a large-scale worship service. Brian Petak, global outreach pastor for Fellowship Bible Church in Brentwood, Tenn., gives a good argument for large-scale worship: “I once heard someone say that ‘the size of your worship is determined by the size of your God.’ In other words, if my view of God is teeny-tiny, my response in worship to him will correspondingly be teeny-tiny. On the other hand, if my view of God is huge—as it should be—then my worship experience will naturally be huge as well! I’ve thought about this concept a lot, and have determined that I far too often live as if I have a very small God—my life-response, not just what I sing, but how I live, often reflects that I don’t have an accurate picture of the bigness—the absolute greatness of God.”
Our focal passage gives us a good model for approaching large-scale corporate worship, both in preparation and execution.
First, the people prepared for the celebration. The Levites put together the instruments to be used and gathered all of the land’s best vocalists (vv. 27-29), ensuring the scale of the celebration. But the Levites also ensured they approached worship in the right tone by purifying first themselves, then the people, gates and wall. While this ritual purification probably involved the Old Covenant act of sprinkling of blood (Exodus 29:21), today we can focus on a New Covenant purity of heart when preparing for worship.
Christian speaker David Nasser, in an interview with worship.net, talks about the heart condition of worshipping God: “Worship is the overflow of what we’re about. If you’re really about football, you’re going to worship football. If you’re really about money, you’re going to worship money. And what I mean by that is you’re going to spend your passion, your time, your energy—you’re going to shed your tears towards those things that are valuable to you.
“If you worship God, the one true God, and you’re a true worshipper, then the stuff that comes out of your spiritual pores is going to be the stuff of God. And so your God is where your passion lies, and you’re going to worship what your greatest passion is, who your greatest passion is.
“More than anything else, singing songs of worship should be just a banner and a reflection of the kind of life that we live for the glory of God.”
But after the preparation is the time for worship itself (vv. 31-43). Nehemiah, speaking in first person, tells of dividing the singers into two great choirs and of sending them out in opposite directions so all parts of the wall would be within earshot of the praise.
It is interesting that Nehemiah records so much in detail about the preparation for the wall’s dedication and uses only one verse recording the event itself—noting the sacrifices made, the music, and the joy of the people, a joy that “was heard from afar” (v. 31).
Maybe with the magnitude, the sincerity and the holiness of the worship, words failed him. May it be whenever we worship God, too.
Questions to explore
• When’s the last time you thanked God for the joy of a blessing received? Hasn’t that been too long?
• How can smaller churches worship in big ways? How can we as individual believers worship God on a large scale?
• Identify one specific blessing for which you can thank God. Can you also identify a plan for a time and way to do that?