What does it mean to live your life "before God"? You do not accidentally live your life before God. Positioning yourself in the presence of God to know him, hear him, and respond to him takes discipline.
I was recently studying this topic for a retreat I was going to preach at, while at the same time studying the book of Nehemiah, which our church is preaching through this spring. As I began to look at chapters 1 and 2 of Nehemiah, I noticed what I am referring to as the "7 Disciplines of Living Coram Deo." There are 7 ways in which Nehemiah positioned himself before God in order to know him, hear him, and respond to him.
1.) The Discipline of Allowing Sin's Destruction to Affect Your Heart
Nehemiah hears of the devastation of Jerusalem and he is broken over it. We see further in the chapter that he realizes this devastation is the result of the sin of his people (1:6-8). He was in grief and mourning for days over the effects of sin in his world (1:4). When you hear of devastation, death, suffering, evil acts, etc., do you recognize that these are the result of sin? Further, do you allow this to affect your heart deeply? Are you moved by sin's destruction? Nehemiah was and it moved him to position himself before God.
2.) The Discipline of Mourning and Weeping in Prayer
Nehemiah spent days in mourning and weeping (1:4). We are often afraid to feel; emotions are scary. We fear we can’t trust our emotions, so we learn to turn them off. In fact, in my tribe of evangelicalism, we tend to even dichotomize our emotions and our spirituality. We are thinking people, not feeling people. Nehemiah was so moved by sin's destructions that he found himself weeping and mourning for days. You could say he was in deep grief, perhaps even a season of depression or deep sorrow. He was not, however, in mourning and weeping without hope, for he was doing so in prayer. He took his mourning, he took his weeping, he took his lamenting to God in prayer, and he petitioned God. The discipline of coming before God in mourning and weeping through prayer is a discipline of utter dependence upon the only one who can truly rescue us.
3.) The Discipline of Mourning and Weeping in Fasting
Not only did Nehemiah bring his mourning and weeping before God in prayer, he did so through fasting (1:4). Fasting is a practice that many of us do not practice in our culture. We are a culture which gives into our cravings, hungers, and our desires quickly. Fasting is a practice which teaches us discipline and dependence. To not eat when you are hungry tells your flesh that it is not your master. Nehemiah practices the discipline of fasting in his time of sorrow to remind his flesh that it does not rule him; rather, he depends on the God who is sovereign over all things.
4.) The Discipline of Focusing on God’s Promises
In his prayer, Nehemiah reminds God of God’s promises (1:5;9). This is not for God’s benefit. God has not forgotten his promises. It is for Nehemiah’s sake. He is reminding himself of God’s promises. He is focusing his thoughts on the truth of God’s promises in the midst of allowing his emotions to feel the devastation of the situation. He is worshipping God through feeling the pain and responding in faith.
5.) The Discipline of Waiting in Prayer
Nehemiah knew action needed to be taken and he believed he was the one to take it. Despite this, he positioned himself before God through the discipline of waiting in prayer. We know that four months went by from the time he became aware of sin's devastating blow and the time that he petitioned the king to let him act on behalf of God’s people. Four months of waiting. Four months of praying. Four months of trusting. There are few things that contradict our culture more than waiting. We don’t like to wait for anything and have created every means possible so we do not have to. In doing so, I fear that we have lost the discipline of waiting before God in prayer.
6.) The Discipline of Confession
Nehemiah not only reminds God of his promises, he also confesses sin (1:6-7). He realizes it’s not just someone else’s sin which causes this devastation, but it’s his own sin as well. He owns it. Notice that he confesses his own sin, his family's sin, and his nation's sin. Nehemiah is confessing socialized, nationalized sin and taking responsibility for it as he does his own. American Christians have much to learn from his confession. I pray I would learn to position myself before God through confession like Nehemiah did.
7.) The Discipline of Praying "In the Moment" Prayers
Four months after learning of sin's destruction, Nehemiah is given an opportunity to ask the king for the authority to act on behalf of God’s people. Nehemiah says he was afraid to do so and that he said a prayer before asking (2:4). Remember, Nehemiah has been praying constantly for four months, but here, when a moment of action arrives, when he is confronted with fear, when he knows he is in need of God’s action or all will be lost, he prays. I call these "in the moment" prayers. They are those prayers that are spurred by a momentary situation or need. They are prayers we learn to pray when we are positioned in a place of desperation before God, humbly realizing he is our only hope.