Nehemiah"s Prayer (continued).
Nehemiah • Sermon • Submitted
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If you haven’t already, please turn in your copies of God’s Word to Nehemiah chapter 1. It is page 503 in the Pew Bibles.
Last week as we began to look at Nehemiah’s prayer, one of the first things we noted was that Nehemiah was just like us. Our tendency at times is to look at Biblical characters and get this impression that they are almost superhuman, we could never accomplish what they did because we don’t have their same capabilities. In men like Nehemiah, we see that what was accomplished through this ordinary man was the work of God not man. If God could use a man like Nehemiah, who had some of our same struggles, struggles with feeling inadequate, struggles with depression and fear, then God can use us as well.
What set Nehemiah apart to be used mightily of God wasn’t his incredible skills and capabilities, what set him apart was he was a willing and available servant with a heart for God and a heart for His people.
The next key we looked at last week was that when Nehemiah began his prayer addressing “O LORD God of heaven” he wasn’t just praying to a God Who sits up on His throne in heaven watching over the affairs of man. He was praying to the God of the Universe, the God Who is everywhere. In other words we are never alone, He is always with us, but not only that, He is also with our loved ones far away, we can trust them into His Hands.
We also looked at the fact that our God is great in any and every since, He is wise beyond our comprehension, able to handle any and every situation that comes His way.
On top of that, He is exceedingly mighty so, it doesn’t matter how big our trials may be, it doesn’t matter if they’re bigger than you and me, they cannot be bigger than our Exceedingly Mighty God, Who is great and mighty in every sense. And the icing on the cake is that He is also on our side and worthy of our trust and devotion.
We closed out last week with the story of the tribe in Africa who was so transformed by this God Who loved them, that they began to wear paths out into the bush where they would go regularly to pray to this God of love. By the way, is there still grass growing on your path? Or have you begun to wear it down as you have sought the throne of God daily.
Making our way through the Book of Nehemiah, we quickly find out that Nehemiah was a servant of the LORD God of heaven. As we finish out Nehemiah’s prayer in chapter 1 this morning, there are some traits we see in the life of Nehemiah that we really need to take note of and apply to our own lives if we want to see God accomplish His great work through us.
The 1st one is this: Next Slides
The Servant of God Doesn’t Turn Up the Volume. Vs. 4
Pam and I purchased our 2nd brand new vehicle in 2003. It was a 2003 Kia Sedona minivan and 16 years later we still have it. Overall it has been a really good purchase. Shortly after we exceeded the warranty on our Sedona, I noticed a particular noise up front, particularly when I drove with the windows down. Since I was commuting to work on my bike by this time, we rarely drove our van , most weeks we would drop the van off at my office on Sunday Evening along with meals for the week as well as clothes for each day. And since we rarely drove the van, I did what many of us do when we start to hear strange noises in our cars. I closed the windows and turned up the radio. Honestly, it worked like magic and since I generally only listen to Christian music it became an uplifting experience. Until a few months ago when the air condition stopped working. It became hard to ignore the noise driving with the widows down so I took it to the shop, about 1 thousand dollars later and the noise is gone!
In the book of Nehemiah, Nehemiah had just received a bad report from his brother about the condition of his home land. Keep in mind that Nehemiah is living in the palace. He is literally living in the lap of luxury, the finest clothes, a home in the palace, he worked side by side with the greatest leaders in the world, had influence, wealth, prestige, ate the best food money could buy. And he lived over 800 miles from the problem. The truth is, chances are Nehemiah didn’t know a single soul living in Jerusalem, why should he care?
Nehemiah could have easily shut his window and turned up the volume. Instead, we read this in verse 4: Next Slide
4 As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.
The fact that Nehemiah spent days in fasting and prayer tells me that his heart was so torn by what was taking place that he wanted to do more than just say a little prayer and move on. I believe he was seeking the face of God for what role he might play in being part of the solution to the problem his people were facing. He wasn’t sure what that role might be, but he was willing and available.
As we look at his response, I want to make sure we understand that his response is to be our response. While God may not lead us to play as significant role as what he played in Jerusalem, we still need to be willing and available.
Matt Chandler put it this way: “So I look at this, and I’m going, “Okay, is this compassion and empathy that’s burning in the heart of Nehemiah prescriptive or descriptive? Is God just telling me this is what Nehemiah felt, or is he setting before me what he wants my heart to look like? I’m here to tell you, whether you’re going to enjoy this or not, it is very much prescriptive and not descriptive. If you look at the Bible’s expectation on us as believers in Christ concerning, in particular, other believers in Christ, we are to feel and be bothered like our man Nehemiah is.” (Sermon on Empathy and Flourishing, Matt Chandler-Feb. 3, 2013)
The truth is, the moment you put your faith and trust in Christ, you are to step onto the playing field. Unfortunately for far too many of us we step into the stands to watch the action from the comfort of the bleachers, preoccupied by the trivial details of life.
In his book “Hand Me Another Brick”, Chuck Swindoll wrote; “Nehemiah was not preoccupied; he did not live in a dreamworld, opposed to reality. He asked, "What's the condition?" They replied, "It's a miserable situation." He heard what they said.”
It would have been so much easier for Nehemiah to respond with; “Wow, that is terrible news. What are the Colt’s chances against Oakland today?” I mean why should their problem be his problem? Instead, he wept, and mourned for days and sought the face of God for direction.
Why? What was it about Nehemiah that would not allow him to shut the window and turn up the volume?
It was the 2nd trait that marked the life of Nehemiah, the servant of God: Next Slides
The Servant of God Is Personally Concerned with the Need. Vs. 4
Nehemiah wasn’t satisfied with just receiving a report of the problem so he could go back to his view from the bleacher seats. God’s program was his program, so when he heard of the tragic situation of those back in Judah, and of the walls and gates of Jerusalem, he wept, mourned, fasted and prayed for days.
As we saw last week, Nehemiah prayed to the God Who was right there with the people, and as he was mourning, fasting and praying, something began to happen, he began to sense that God had something for him to do beyond just going to the throne of God. Actually, in the end he was to go from the throne of God to another throne. Scripture seems to give the impression early on that Nehemiah felt that God was sending him too Jerusalem to be a part of the solution, but first he had to approach the throne of the king. We will look at that in a little more detail later, but there is little doubt that Nehemiah knew he was to do more than just pray.
Nehemiah’s personal concern for the need led him to action.
Let me ask you an important question, since putting your faith and trust in Christ, have you been watching the action from the comfort of the bleachers, content with an hour and a half each Sunday but not a minute more?
If that’s you, guess what, sadly, you are a part of the majority. My challenge to you this morning is to follow Nehemiah’s lead step out of the bleachers and move onto the playing field, let your your personal concern lead you into action.
Perhaps right now you are thinking; “I’d love to Jim, but I don’t even know where to begin!”
I get the impression that Nehemiah was thinking the exact same thing as you, which leads us to the next trait that marked the life of Nehemiah, the servant of God: Next Slides
The Servant of God Goes to God First When Faced with the Problems of Life. Vs. 5
We see this in verses 4 & 5.
Verse 4 shows the immediacy of the request where we read:
“4 As soon as I heard these words”
There was no hesitation on Nehemiah’s part.
Then in verse 5 we see where Nehemiah went to with this great need:
“And I said, “O Lord God of heaven”
Last week, we saw in verse 5 the target of this prayer as well as the power of the One to Whom Nehemiah prayed to. This morning I want to move to verse 6 & 7 where we see something we may be surprised with from this man of God.
His confession that he was a part of the problem. Next Slides
6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. 7 We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses.
(Be sure to adjust the powerpoint to highlight the personal pronouns)
Did you pick up the personal pronouns Nehemiah uses in these verses?
Nehemiah says “we have sinned against you. Even I and my fathers house”
In addressing these verses Chuck Swindoll wrote: “Notice the words "we" and "I." The confession was not on behalf of someone else's failure. The confession had to do with Nehemiah’s part in the problem. What do we do when we are in conflict with another person? We usually blame the other person (our fallen state coming through again). We usually think of six or seven ways the other person has manifested his stubbornness and unwillingness to change, but we seldom consider our part in the problem. But it works both ways. So the very first thing Nehemiah said in regard to the problem was, "Lord, I am culpable. I am not only wanting to be part of the answer, I am confessing myself to be part of the problem.”
Swindoll goes on to write: “I plead with you—as you go before God in prayer concerning any unresolved personality conflicts, have the attitude reflected in these words: "Lord, I bring before you these areas where I have caused an irritation. This is my realm of responsibility. I cant change him. But God, I can tell you that this is my part in it; forgive me.” Swindoll, Charles R.. Hand Me Another Brick (p. 30). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
These quotes are from Chuck Swindoll’s book, Hand Me Another Brick, but he also preached a sermon series on the Book of Nehemiah and in his sermon on this passage he adds the following: You will not complain about people you are lovingly praying for.
Think about this statement before you complain to anyone else about someone you struggle with.
Nehemiah did’t stop with confession, he moves from confession to claiming God’s Promises. Look at verse 8 & 9. Next Slides
8 Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, 9 but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’
As I was reading what others wrote when looking at these 2 verses, most indicated that Nehemiah was reminding God of His promises. But as I thought about these verses and compared them with what I see in this man of God, I had another thought.
Nehemiah had just written “O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God”. In writing those words, Nehemiah is declaring that God is the God of the universe, the God who is everywhere present, the God Who is great in any and every way, and not just great, but exceedingly mighty. Do you really think Nehemiah felt it was necessary to remind that God of His promises?
I get the impression that Nehemiah was reminding someone else entirely of the promises of God. Any ideas on who that was? (Nehemiah, and anyone else who would read the words he recorded…all the way down to you and me).
We need to do this from time to time, don’t we. I can’t speak for you, but more often than not, when I find myself in the midst of times of great sorrow and sadness, the best recipe for getting through that dark time is remembering what God has already done in my life.
I am reminded of the old hymn we used to sing;
“When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed, When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost, Count your many blessings, name them one by one, And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.
Refrain: Count your blessings, name them one by one, Count your blessings, see what God has done! Count your blessings, name them one by one, Count your many blessings, see what God has done.”
Do you need to do this this morning. One thing I know for certain, if you have come to the point where you have truly put your faith and trust in Jesus, it won’t take a ton of effort to come up with a list of blessings to fill at least a page.
But maybe you need to start where Nehemiah did, with promises from God’s Word.
Promises like these: Next Slides
2 Peter 1:4
4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.
11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
29 He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. 30 Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; 31 but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.
19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
Did you know there are more than 5,000 promises in Scripture. We see in Nehemiah’s prayer some key reminders of some of the promises of God.
That brings us to the last trait that marked the life of Nehemiah, the servant of God:
The Servant of God Is Available to Meet the Need Himself. Vs. 11
Look how Nehemiah closes out this prayer: Next Slide
11 O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” Now I was cupbearer to the king.
Nehemiah closes out his prayer by not only opening the door for God to use him, but by assuming that God was going to use him and asking God to begin to work His handiwork in the life of the king.
By the way, this is a huge request, you see God had to literally transform this pagan king. If you go back to the Book of Ezra, chapter 4, you see that sometime before Nehemiah went to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall of the city, others had already tried to rebuild them. Some of the inhabitants of the land sent a letter of complaint to King Artaxerxes and after reading the letter he stopped them dead in their tracks. It was likely some time later that these same inhabitants destroyed what had been rebuilt and burned down any of the gates that had already been set in place. Nehemiah was asking God to change this pagan kings heart! That is why Nehemiah is asking God to “grant him mercy in the sight of this man”.
None of this history was important to Nehemiah, because he had enough faith to trust that God could and would change the heart of the king. And her was now making himself available to meet this need himself.
Like Nehemiah, we need to make ourselves available to be His instruments to accomplish His will that He might be glorified.
So what are the traits from Nehemiah that we need to put into practice?
1. The Servant of God Doesn’t Turn Up the Volume. (In other words we don’t ignore needs God places before us, we step out of the stands and onto the playing field.)
2. The Servant of God Is Personally Concerned with the Need.
3. The Servant of God Goes to God First When Faced with the Problems of Life.
4. The Servant of God Is Available to Meet the Need Himself.