Renewal of our covenant with God is a part of the lifelong pilgrimage of all believers. The extent of our recommitment depends upon how far away we have strayed from our Good Shepherd and the fold of God.
I made a significant rededication when I was a student at Georgia Tech. What precipitated this turning point was realizing that I was trying to manage my young adult life with the commitment and faith of a 9-year-old, which was the age when I first publicly accepted Christ as my personal Lord and Savior. How absolutely ridiculous, I thought. It was like trying to meet my financial obligations with the allowance I received when I was a mere child. Even as I had grown , I also had to grow up spiritually.
I do not discount or invalidate my spiritual experience at age 9. I committed at that time as much as I understood about myself and about God and his will for my life. My rededication updated this earlier commitment by turning over to God all that had changed about me since my first commitment.
Other changes have brought about other times of renewal and rededication, such as my call to the ministry, my marriage, the birth of my children, my work in various churches, my call to minister as a hospital chaplain family therapist and more recently, having grandchildren.
The wonderful and joyous season of Advent gives us a grand opportunity to experience God's presence in unique ways and open our eyes to see our need to renew our covenant with God.
The story of Ezra reading and interpreting the books of Pentateuch (Genesis - Deuteronomy) and the hearers reclaiming their heritage reminds me of a momentous experience I had when I went to train to become a teacher of teachers of the Bethel Bible Series. In two weeks, we covered all the books of the Bible under the superb tutelage of the Lutheran pastor who had written the series. It was truly a spiritual awakening, as God's word became once again "the true and lively word," as James Cleland at Duke was fond of saying. It was a time of renewal of my covenant with God.
Returning to teach the teachers over a two-year period was also one of the most rewarding experiences of my ministry. What a glorious sight it was to see more than 200 people come out on Tuesday nights to study God's word for the next year.
In reading Nehemiah's story, the people appeared to have been almost illiterate as far as the Pentateuch was concerned. Could we benefit from more intentional times of studying God's word?
The apostle Paul addressed this matter when he wrote, "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child, but when I became an adult, I put away childish things." Let's hope we never lose our childlike trust in God; however, let us not be immature concerning what we are to believe about God and what God wants us to do with our lives in his world.
Meaningful worship experiences and serious study of God's word led the people of Nehemiah's day to a time of renewal. Such times of worship and study can still result in exciting discoveries with lifelong benefits as well as times of renewal.
The Rev. Gene Norris is a Presbyterian pastor who serves as a hospital chaplain and a marriage and family therapist.
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