Who are you?
What’s your story?
These are the questions that we constantly ask others, ask ourselves, and find ourselves trying to answer. Our whole life is a journey, a continuous progression from one thing to another, developing from one thing to another. Each day we add another piece to our story and become characters in the stories of others. Our narrative is what forms us, what informs us, and what transforms us. Our story is who we are – but what if we are only reading a small part of it?
I recently the story of Ezra standing before the people of Israel, reading the Law. I have read this story many times before and have always been impressed with Israel’s willingness to stand for hours and listen to the Law, praising God and gaining understanding for leaders who stood among them to explain it. Immediately after this time of reading and worship Israel turned and celebrated God’s deliverance, grieved their sin, confessed it, and renewed their covenant with God. In this one chapter of Nehemiah there has been a complete spiritual revival that has convicted a nation and restored its joy.
I have read the Law.
While I appreciate the history of Israel and the establishment of the Law for God’s people to be a light for the nations and ambassadors of his holiness, Leviticus has never really moved me to a full-blown recommitment of faith, and if I was picking a sermon topic to give to the entire country the Law would probably not be my first choice.
So, I kept reading on to Nehemiah 9 where Israel confesses sin and pray to Yahweh. The prayer recorded in Nehemiah is a retelling of Israelite history that is similar to many other biblical passages, but I couldn’t stop reading it. Because it was awesome.
It begins by saying, “Blessed be your glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise. You are the Lord, you alone.”
They pray to the Creator. They pray to the God of Abraham. “And you have kept your promise, for you are righteous.”
They pray to the one who delivered Israel from Egypt. They pray to the one who parted the sea. They pray to the one who established the Law. They prayed to the one who fed them in the desert. They pray to the one who guided them, even when Israel foolishly rejected Yahweh. “But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them.”
They pray to the one who did not leave them even after they made a golden idol. They pray to the one who did not leave them, even when they killed the prophets and were overtaken by other nations. “Yet when they turned and cried to you, you heard from heaven, and many times you delivered them according to your mercies.”
They pray to the one who loved Israel even when she hated him. They pray to the one who was faithful even when Israel was not. They pray to the one who brought them out of exile and reunited them to stand there today and listen to the Law. They pray to the one who was taking them back again.
The more I read the clearer their eagerness to hear the Law became. Israel was not learning about a centuries-old legal code and they did not just feel guilty because they found out they weren’t following it. Israel was finding out who she was.
After years in exile and being far from God, Israel was for the first time hearing her story – God’s story. The Israelites stood for hours, fell to the ground and worshiped, praised, sought understanding, felt conviction, found exceeding joy, and was transformed because they finally understood who they were. They were the people of the unfailing, everlasting, merciful, and omnipotent Yahweh.
Perhaps many of us struggle to figure out who we are because we don’t know our story. Perhaps we do not know the story of the God who wants to reconcile us to his glory. Perhaps we have forgotten that we are the people of the unfailing, everlasting, merciful, and omnipotent Yahweh.
We are direct byproducts of who we believe God to be. But we will never understand who God is, or who we are, if we do not know the story of God.
When we read Scripture we see a God who powerfully created a world where he manifested himself through an imperfect nation. We see a God who would do anything to establish Israel and bring the nations into his everlasting Kingdom. We see a God whose greatness was not diminished, but rather perfected, by a willingness to suffer, serve, and condescend to humanity. We see a God who continues to work among us, establishing his Kingdom and drawing the world into his presence.
And the story does not end there. We are characters in this divine metanarrative. God has acted through history repeating the motif over and over again: even when his people were unfaithful, still he was radically faithful. As I have begun to contemplate this great story I have reflected on my own life, seeing where God has worked and where he has guided me to an increasingly greater understanding of him – and, in turn, myself. My conversion was not a one time event, but a beautiful narrative of God faithfully acting in me, through me, and despite me.
When we write our story without an understanding of God, we start in the middle. It is not until we begin to see the multifaceted God who created all of the characters that we can truly live out our story. Because there’s Tolkien and there’s Twilight and, well, I hope we’d all prefer to be one of those over the other.
Return to Scripture to rediscover the story of who God is. Stand in awe of how God has already acted in your story. Let him be the main character of the story you’re writing.