16(Neh 01) Answering the Call
No minister studied the rapidly unfolding events against scriptural teachings more closely than did Concord's 32-year-old minister, William Emerson (grandfather of Ralph Waldo Emerson). For a long time, his world had been dominated by local concerns and salvation preaching. But all of this changed in March and April 1775, when all the members of his congregation were propelled into what he termed "the greatest events taking place in the present age."
By March, Emerson and other Concord patriots knew that British spies had infiltrated their town and informed General Thomas Gage of a hidden armory and munitions supplies stocked by the local "Sons of Liberty" (a secret society of radicals). Many believed Gage was planning a preemptive strike on these supplies, and they feared for their lives. At a muster of the Concord militia on March 13, Emerson preached a sermon on 2 Chronicles 13:12: "And behold, God himself is with us for our captain. … O children of Israel, fight ye not against the Lord God of your fathers, for ye shall not prosper" (KJV).
Never would he deliver a more momentous sermon. He had it within his means to promote or discourage an almost certainly violent call to arms. What was he to say? What was God's will for his American people?
With obvious agitation, Emerson began his sermon with the somber note that recent intelligence warned of "an approaching storm of war and bloodshed." Many in attendance would soon be called upon for "real service." Were they ready? Real readiness, Emerson explained, depended not only on martial skill and weaponry but also on moral and spiritual resolve. To be successful, soldiers must believe in what they were fighting for, and they must trust in God's power to uphold them. Otherwise they would scatter in fear before the superior British redcoats.
What were the men of Concord fighting for? In strident political terms that coupled the roles of prophet and statesman, Emerson argued for colonial resistance. For standing by their liberties and trusting only in God, the American people were "cruelly charged with rebellion and sedition." That charge, Emerson cried, was a lie put forward by plotters against American liberty. With all of the integrity of his sacred office behind him, Emerson took his stand before the Concord militia:
The road ahead would be difficult, Emerson cautioned, but the outcome was one preordained from the beginning of time. Accordingly, the soldiers could go forth to war assured that "the Lord will cover your head in the day of battle and carry you on from victory to victory." In the end, he concluded, the whole world would know "that there is a God" in America.
On April 19, the mounting apprehensions became fact as 800 British troops marched on Lexington and Concord to destroy the patriot munitions. At Lexington, Gage's troops were met by a small "army of observation," who were fired upon and sustained 17 casualties. From there the British troops marched to Concord. Before their arrival, the alarm had been sounded by patriot silversmith Paul Revere, and militiamen rushed to the common. William Emerson arrived first, and he was soon joined by "minutemen" from nearby towns. Again a shot was fired—the famed "shot heard 'round the world"—and in the ensuing exchange, three Americans and twelve British soldiers were killed or wounded. America's colonial war for independence had begun.
Words like Emerson's continued to sound for the next eight years, goading, consoling, and impelling colonists forward in the cause of independence. The pulpit served as the single most powerful voice to inspire the colonists.
For most American ministers and many in their congregations, the religious dimension of the war was precisely the point of revolution. With backs against the wall, and precious little to take confidence in, words like those of Emerson's were their only hope.
What is it that is broken in your life - something that needs to be rebuilt?
The most hopeless people in the world are people who recognize that they have a problem, but have no vision from God about how to solve with that problem.
Where there is no vision, the people perish…Proverbs 29:18
Everybody ends up somewhere in life. A few people end up somewhere on purpose. Those are the ones with vision. The advantage of vision is it sets a direction for our lives.
Vision provides the push through the problems. Vision provides the energy for the effort. Without vision our passion leaks, our production falls, and our people scatter.
In the pages of the OT is the journal of a man who stands tall as person with vision who rebuilt what was broken. His name is Nehemiah. The name means “the Lord’s comfort.” Nehemiah’s visionary efforts brought comfort to God’s people in a time of great need.
Nehemiah’s hope-filled visionary leadership is a powerful example – no matter what your position in life. Coaches, supervisors, parents, student leaders, executives, and spiritual leaders can all learn from this great man.
The setting is about 500 years before the time of Christ. God’s people had lived in Israel for centuries before. God had told them: “Obey Me and you’ll live in the land for a long time. Disobey Me and you’ll be carried off into captivity.” That’s what happened. The Babylonians came and conquered God’s people and took the leading citizens 1,000 miles away.
But the discipline was ending. Several years before, some of God’s people were given permission to return to Jerusalem to rebuild a broken down temple and a broken down city.
But the attempts to rebuild the protective wall around the city (destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC) had been frustrated by some ‘the enemies of Judah’ (Ezra 4:1,7-16). As a result very few people lived in the capital city (Neh. 11:1). Jerusalem was a city of ruins.
Nehemiah lived in the royal city of Susa, the winter residence of Artaxerxes, the Persian king. Judah, the homeland of Nehemiah, was a thousand miles away.
Nehemiah was the cupbearer to the king. He was more than a “butler”. A cupbearer held a position of great responsibility. At each meal, he tested the king’s wine and food to make sure it wasn’t poisoned. Of he died, then the king wouldn’t. Doesn’t sound like a great job. But think. A man who stood that close to the king in public had to be handsome, cultured, knowledgeable, and able to advise the king when asked. Because he had access to the king, the cupbearer was a man of great influence. The cupbearer was rather like a prime minister and master of ceremonies rolled into one.
Nehemiah was the right man in the right place for God to use. He had vision – vision to see a problem… and its solution. And because he had vision, he had hope.
I. A person with vision…sees the need. vv. 1-3
Bad news came from Jerusalem: walls flattened, gates burned, morale low. But Nehemiah cared about the glory of God and the good of the people in Jerusalem. Now he hears that the Jerusalem Jews were living in desperate days.
Ruin, and instead of a magnificent city, Jerusalem was in shambles; and where there had once been great glory, there was now nothing but great reproach.
God was being dishonored as long as Jerusalem lay waste. This was the place where the reality of God’s presence would be experienced in love and mercy by those who sought Him. It wasn’t happening, so Nehemiah was concerned.
A God-ordained vision will begin as a concern. Something will bother you about the way things are or the way things are headed.
There are far more needs in the church and the world than any of us has time or energy to meet, and no one is required to try to relieve them all. But God’s call to serve will be a call to meet some human need.
As you start, by the grace of God, to rebuild the walls, you must first of all see the ruin in which they lie.
Vision is a reflection of what God wants to through us to impact the world. It is not about maintaining the status quo.
Living where we live, we can become comfortable. We can lose sight of the need. Do you see the needs that are around you? This is a hemorrhaging and hurting world. There are broken hearts, fractured families & lives. Do you see the brokenness of humanity? People are looking for meaning and value and turn to heart-breaking things.
A person with vision … sees the need.
II. A person with vision feels the need. v. 4
There is no such thing as emotionless vision. Passion!
He mourned because the city that was meant to be a light to the nations had become an international joke (Isaiah 42:6-7; 49:6). Nehemiah was so moved by the need that he refused to eat—at least on a regular basis.
Neh. knew how to weep with those who weep, to weep over the failures of God’s people.
It was one thing to know that state of affairs in a general way; it was quite another for Nehemiah to feel the pressure and burden of it in his own heart.
Visions are born in the soul of a man or a woman who is consumed with the tension between what is and what could be. Anyone with vision will tell you this is not merely something that could be done. This is something that must be done!
What makes you pound the table – angry? What makes you weep?
Nehemiah was not the last to weep over Jerusalem—one day our Lord sat on the slopes of Mt. Olivet and wept over that city, and mourned and prayed and sacrificed His life for it…life’s work for God has only begun when they have wept and mourned and fasted and prayed over the revelation of conditions as they really are.
You never lighten the load unless first you have felt the pressure in your own soul. You are never used of God to bring blessing until God has opened your heart and made you feel deep sorrow about the needs around you, until you have first sat down and wept over the ruins in your soul, in your church, and in the Kingdom of God.
A person with vision…feels the need.
III. A person with vision shares the need
A. …with God.
§ This prayer is the first of twelve. Too often, we plan our projects and then ask God to bless them; but Nehemiah didn’t make that mistake.
§ From Kislev (November-December) to Nisan (March-April) is over a hundred days, more than three months, perhaps more than four. For at least three months, then, Nehemiah and his friends waited on God, asking each day that God would act today.
§ Prayer helps the vision mature in us. Acting too quickly on a vision is like delivering a baby prematurely. They can be weak and not survive. So it is with a vision. Immature visions are weak. They rarely make it to the real world.
§ Through prayer, God goes to work on you to prepare you for the fulfillment of the vision. Vision comes before preparation. But the preparation must come. Why? Vision will exceed your ability.
§ Prayer prepares you for the job ahead. And prayer mysteriously moves the hand of God to work behind the scenes preparing the way. Prayer helps you distinguish between a good idea and a God idea. It helps you make sure that you are in line with what God is up to in the world.
§ Prayer keeps us looking. It keeps the burden fresh. It sensitizes us to the subtle changes in the landscape of our circumstances. When God begins to move, we see it. Praying helps us not miss the opportunities that come our way.
§ Visionary prayer…exalts God. (1:5)
· Admits sin. (1:6-7) He included himself in the confession of the sins of his people.
· Nehemiah is not a holier-than-thou type who’s fixated on the failures of others.
§ Visionary prayer…reviews truth. (1:8-10)
· He reminds God of His own word. Lev. 26:40-45 and Deut. 4:23; 30: 1-6
· He based his prayer upon God’s past dealings, and saw in them a mirror of God’s plans.
§ Visionary prayer…requests help. (1:11)
· While Nehemiah was praying, his burden for Jerusalem became greater and his vision for what needed to be done became clearer. Real prayer keeps your heart and your head in balance so your burden doesn’t make you impatient to run ahead of the Lord and ruin everything. As we pray, god tells us what to do, when to do it, and how to do it;
A person with vision shares the need… with God
B. … with God’s people. v. 11a
§ Who are these “servants who delight in revering your name”? They have to be godly friends and associates with whom Nehemiah has shared his concern and who have now joined him in his intense vigil of prayer as he pleads with God to act.
§ Followers find the leader & then the vision. Leaders find the vision and then the followers.
A person with vision…shares the need.
IV. A person of vision meets the need. v. 11b
Don’t forget: he was the king’s cupbearer and he was successfully secure in his own life.
Dedication to God’s service was the first item…Nehemiah identified himself in prayer as God’s “servant” (1:6, 11), and the way of a faithful servant is constantly to ask, as Paul did on the Damascus road, “What shall I do, Lord?” (Acts 22:10).
Someone said that that prayer is not getting man’s will done in heaven but getting God’s will done on earth. However, for God’s will to be done on earth, He needs people to be available for Him to use.
God is still looking for people who care… “Here am I, Lord—send me!”
Get out of your comfort zone. Get out of the nest! A nest is good for a robin while it is an egg. But it is bad for a robin when it has wings. It’s a good place to be hatched in, but it’s poor place to fly in. It’s always sad when people don’t want to leave the nests of their lives.
Conclusion: quote from Teddy Roosevelt. “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena… who strives valiantly… who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”
This is the way to have hope when things are broken.
As long as there’s a God in heaven and people on earth who believe in Him and who will work with Him, there is hope!