Mourning in Prayer

Chapter 31

Theme: Mourning in Prayer
Focus on: Ezra
Reading Portion(s): Ezra 9 to 10:17; Ezra 7 & 8:15 to 36, Deuteronomy 7:1 to 6, [Nehemiah 13:26,27].
– Important Background Information
– Helps you find strength in God
What this article teaches you
One of the forms of prayer that is much missed today is “Mourning in Prayer.” The other forms of prayer are much more popularly preached on. This is neglected. But this kind of praying is one which can bring a true transformation in the life of the Church.

To pray in such fashion, the consciousness of sin should grip the heart of one who prays. It has to be genuine. One cannot fake it. The deep sadness a servant of God feels when he sees God’s commands violated and sin tolerated in the life of his fellow believers is what turns out as mourning. It is both a public and private praying. The grief over sin is so intense that it visibly shakes up the person or leader who is praying. This outward sign of inward grief over sin shall cause other believers to take notice. This shall lead them to take the right action against sin.

Ezra was a priest and teacher of the Law of God. He was an exile in the land of Babylon. But during the reign of King Artaxerxes, he returned to Jerusalem on orders of the king. The king had given Ezra permission to take with him any Israelites including priests and Levites in his kingdom who wished to go to Jerusalem. They were specifically asked by the king to seek the welfare of God’s temple in Jerusalem.

So Ezra, in accordance to the king’s orders, took with him a lot of priests and Levites to Jerusalem. They gathered together by the Ahava canal and prayed and fasted for a safe journey to Jerusalem. They reached Jerusalem safely after a journey of four months. Then they gave to the temple the articles of silver and gold and sacred articles they had brought from Babylon. Then the exiles who had returned from captivity sacrificed burnt offerings and sin offerings to the Lord.

When all this had taken place the leaders of the people came and told Ezra of a grave problem. They told him that the Israelites had mingled with the neighboring peoples. They had married the women from these neighboring peoples. Moreover it was reported to Ezra that the leaders and officials had led the way in committing this unfaithfulness.

This was unfaithfulness on the part of the Israelites because God through Moses had specifically commanded the people not to intermarry with the nations which God had asked them to destroy. God had commanded thus because He knew that these people would turn the heart of the Israelites from following Him to serve other gods. This would cause His anger to fall on His people and destroy them quickly. In fact, it was idolatry that led to the downfall of Judah and the exile and captivity of the people.

The news of such unfaithfulness had a profound effect on Ezra. He was stunned. He tore his tunic and cloak and pulled hair from his head and beard and sat down appalled. The people who had respect for God’s Law gathered around him. He sat there like that till the time of the evening sacrifice.

Look at Ezra. He had such an esteem of God’s Law that he was shocked to grief by the violation of God’s specific command not to intermarry with other peoples. He was grieved by sin in the life of his brethren. When he showed such grief other pious people noted it. They gathered around him. It tells us that if there is someone to take a lead in mourning; there will be many who will follow the example.

Then at the time of the evening sacrifice he rose from where he was sitting; fell on his knees and with hands spread out to the Lord, prayed. He told God in very earnest terms that he was too ashamed and disgraced to lift up his face to God. This was because their sins had piled up high and its guilt was very great. He identifies their sins as the cause of their humiliation, destruction and captivity at the hand of foreigners.

Ezra acknowledged the grace of God which had given them relief from bondage and captivity at that point of time. He expressed gratefulness to the kindness of God shown to them by the hands of the Persian kings to whom they were subject to as slaves. They were given gracious permission to return and rebuild the house of God from its ruins. Not only that God had helped them to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.

Ezra continued to confess. He told God that even after they were shown such kindness they had rebelled against God and disregarded His commands. Ezra told God that he could not find anything to say because of their sins. He told God that they had violated His command not to intermarry with the neighboring peoples who would use this as an opportunity to turn them away form the Living God.

Ezra hit the nail on the head when he told God that they were now just a remnant (a small group that is left). He wondered whether God will forgive if this remnant continued to break His commands especially through intermarriage. He finally told God that He is righteous and they have been unfaithful.

Ezra was in real sorrow. His grief was intense. He prayed and confessed. He was weeping and throwing himself on the ground unable to contain his agony. His great grief brought on the people a consciousness of their sins. The crowd that had gathered were awakened to the great sin of the nation in intermarrying with other peoples. They were moved by the public mourning of Ezra. They too wept bitterly.

Then Shecaniah, one in the crowd, spoke up for the people. He agreed that they had indeed sinned by marrying foreign women from the peoples around them. But he said that there was still hope for Israel. He added that they will make a covenant with God and will send away all the foreign women and children according to God’s Law. He called upon Ezra to rise up and take needed action. He wanted Ezra to take the lead in this matter. He affirmed their support to Ezra in this matter and asked him to take courage and do the needful.

Ezra rose up encouraged. He put the leading priests and Levites and all Israel under oath to do what had been suggested. They took the oath and Ezra withdrew from before the house of God. He went to the room of Jehohanan. While Ezra remained there he did not eat food or drink water. This was because he continued to mourn over the unfaithfulness of the exiles.

As we look at Ezra we find in him some great qualities. He was a man who respected God’s Law thoroughly. He was not a man who only read the Law; but was one who wanted to see God’s commands obeyed. This makes a lot of difference. We have many who have a great bookish knowledge of God’s Word. They seldom care to its observance in practice. Ezra stands out as a man who had knowledge as well as the concern to see God’s Law obeyed in practice.

When Ezra was told of the sin that the people had committed he was shocked. This is the response of a heart sensitive to God and His Word. The problem with modern Christians is that they have lost this sensitivity. Without this kind of sensitivity sin is tolerated in their lives and lives of their fellow believers. Ezra was a man who would not tolerate sin.

Ezra’s confession of sin was born out of deep grief. It was not a pleasant, superficial movement of the lips. The prayer came from deep down his heart. A prayer born out of grief over sin can never be made without deeply affecting the person who makes the prayer. We have an absence of such kind of praying. Its absence has greatly contributed to the decline of moral standards in the life of believers.

The great question that haunted the mind of Ezra was the way Israel returned to sin even after being heavily punished by God for their earlier sins. At this point of time God had shown them grace by allowing them to return from captivity and rebuild the temple of God. Yet when they were shown such grace they easily slid down to the pit of sin again. Are we any better? God, after having allowed us to be defeated in our pursuits time and again because of our sin, might have given us grace to rebuild what was lost. And when it is done do we relax and relapse into sin that once caused our undoing? This prayer of Ezra should make us answer this question. And if we have sinned we should confess and renounce all sin in our lives.

Finally, Ezra’s mourning was not a show put up for the crowd. He went back to the room and kept on fasting and mourning. He was mourning in public and mourning in private. This is the kind of men God needs today. Men who will mourn over the sins of God’s people both in public and private. Such prayers shall definitely bring about a reformation in the life of the Church.

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