Sermon for Sunday 25th July 2021

 

Sermon: Nehemiah, a man of prayer… (Please read Nehemiah chapter 1 & 2)

 

Welcome…

Prayer…before the throne of God above

Read Psalm 121:

 

My friend Jack Bye – asked me, when I first met him, have you ever thought about prayer? Whenever I had a concern or worry, or a decision, invariably old Jack would say, have you prayed about it?

A prayer warrior, certainly; he prayed about everything; he showed that prayer works! I know that some thought of Jack as, so heavenly-minded that he was of no earthly-good. Not so! He was always off (literally) on his bike, well into his 9th decade; always busy, but never too busy to spend time on his knees in prayer. Indeed, he was prayer…as I said to the many friends who gathered at Jack’s funeral.

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Read Nehemiah 1…

 

Because we are human, our hearts are often hurt when those we know – or even those we don’t know (near or far) – are hit by tragedy. We are surrounded by bad news reports, of fire and flood and pestilence. We’re often left feeling helpless (overwhelmed/discouraged) by the violence and destruction all around us. We ask: What do we do?  What can we do? Often (our first response) we turn off and tune out; we turn away and think about something else, or do something else. It might work for a while.

 

It’s much more difficult to escape like this, of course, when the crisis affects us personally. When we get bad news, when those we love most are hurt…Where do we go? How very often prayer is the last resort, the place people go when they’ve exhausted all other possibilities – at their wit’s end. The Psalmist (Ps 107) knew where to go – and what to do: to cry out to God. We all know this! Often we bring matters for prayer far too late.

 

O, what peace we often forfeit; O what needless pain we bear; all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer!”

 

Our ministries (our church life) and our mission will stand or fall at this point. Nehemiah’s first point of reference, his port of call is God. His very first reaction is Prayer. I have no doubt he was worried, but Nehemiah will give those worries and fear to the Lord. We discover more about the character of Nehemiah – he’s an action-man, a go-getter – a builder of structures and a no-nonsense leader of people.

We might have expected such a man to storm into the king’s chamber and demand an audience, and demand that the king dispatch him immediately to Jerusalem so he could deal with the great burden he was feeling and deal with the crisis at hand.

No…

4 When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.

 

Others might have stayed in their cushy, well-paid and appointed job…He stops. He prays. He prays for 4 months on this occasion! He prays an amazing prayer, in the early part of his story.

 

 Why?  Because Nehemiah knows he will be given 3  helpful (essential) things: 1. Prayer will give him perspective; 2. Prayer will give him humility; 3. Prayer will give him confidence…

 

Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants…”

 

1. Prayer will give him perspective:

 

God! God is God! God is first. God has the BIG PICTURE. He knows the beginning from the end. The Lord has the true perspective, the true vision. Nehemiah knew this. Nehemiah goes to the One who is awesome, mighty in power. He will put his problems and his burdens – the things that make him weep and keep him from food and sleep – before the God of heaven. We have to feeling that Nehemiah has done this before, many times – he was not a priest, prophet or a king – he was a man who spent time with God! His prayers (like those of Jack Bye) were saturated in scripture…that he knew the Word of God was evident in the way he talked and waited on the Lord.

Nehemiah doesn’t know how to solve the problem of Jerusalem, or its crumbling walls or its half-finished temple, or its broken people… but he does know (instinctively, spontaneously) to go to God – that he should seek God’s perspective…in other word, to discover what God thinks, what he wants; in effect, to “think God’s thoughts after him”.

The disciples didn’t always understand the things that Jesus taught and many would leave him because of that.

Jesus asked Peter if he was going to leave him too, and Peter said, “Lord, where (else) would we go? You have the words of eternal life!”

 

Nehemiah looks to God and it is there he finds perspective… Like Jehoshaphat (surrounded by enemies) prayed for help to the God who is in heaven and acknowledged, “…we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you…” (2 Chronicles 20: 12)

Nehemiah knew God through prayer – not only as powerful but as the loving Covenant keeper (promise keeper). His allegiance is to another King and Nehemiah seeks His presence.  He seeks out the throne of God. Before any wall is built or any deal is ever brokered; before a brick is laid, prayer is made…that way lays God’s perspective…

 

2. Prayer will give him humility:

 

I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. 7 We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.

 

The mess of exile (the holy city) is all down to sin…The people didn’t want God.  They excluded him from their daily and national life. This honest man acknowledges that the people got what was coming to them. Like us?

 

8 “Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nation…

 

Nehemiah doesn’t exclude himself; he has a right view of himself before God. A good leader doesn’t justify or excuse himself from (personal) responsibility in the mess of his people – and if he is to do a work for God he will need to clear the path by owning his own actions and inaction.

 

Looking out and looking up and looking inward was always the way…and it still is…

 

14 If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. (2 Chr 7:14)

Nehemiah uses the word servant(s) no less than eight times in this prayer.  Prayer will humble us.  It will make servants of us. It should. Prayer will teach us to know our proper size before a holy God, and that’s what you call a true perspective…a humble, contrite spirit…

 

One writer has rightly said, “When there is no reverence for God (no fear) there will be few answers from God…” If we don’t go to God and listen, we will never learn humility.

 

James (Jesus’ half-brother) was a man of prayer, too. They called him “camel knees” – so great was the time he spent in prayer. It was his habit. In his letter he says, “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.  The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective…” (James 5: 16)

 

A righteous man is a humble man. God will never hear the prayers of people who fail to acknowledge their sin! We seem to be more concerned with the sins of others. God would have us acknowledge our own!

 

3. Prayer will give him/us confidence:

 

Nehemiah’s prayer speaks to a confidence in God. This is not about self-confidence. It is the Lord who is to restore a broken city and people – he bases his petition in the absolute faithfulness of God (1:8-10).

 

9 but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’

 

Nehemiah did not try to convince God to change, because God is already perfect and just. He fulfills his promises. As surely as God had fulfilled promises to punish, he would fulfill his promises to rescue his chosen people.

 

This same faithfulness (of God) was the basis for Nehemiah's confidence, his hope – and ours…

10 “They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand.

 

Finally, Nehemiah made his request. He asked that God open a door for him to help his stricken brothers. He was preparing to ask the king to let him return to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls.

 

11 Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favour in the presence of this man.”

 

He asked in faith (1:11). Nehemiah placed his confidence in the Lord who is powerful to bless the plans of those who truly dedicate themselves to him…

 

Christians are often described as “children of Abraham” – because they were those who walked in faith and who measured reality by the Word of the One who makes promises.

Abraham and Nehemiah were both models of believing prayer – those who listened to God – those who took him at his word…such as these are men who (ultimately) trust in the Lord...

 

Nehemiah wasn’t the only person to weep over the holy city. Jesus did it, too! He still does…

 

34 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.

41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.

Why should we pray? 1. Prayer will give us perspective; 2. Prayer will give us humility; 3. Prayer will give us confidence…these things will give us courage.

 

It’s not a waste of time to pray. It never is. Prayer is never an excuse to do nothing. Prayer precedes and accompanies action. The story of Nehemiah proves that. His story is peppered with prayer, big ones and little arrow ones. If we want to rebuild our broken walls or mend our fractured relationships, we should (always) start with prayer, continue with it and never stop! So get started. Take it to the Lord in prayer, and be a man or a woman of prayer; be a people at prayer and wait for the results because prayer changes both the pray-er and transforms those who are prayed for. This will unify the church. Prayer works…

MFR 25-07-21

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Background:

The carrying away of Judah to Babylon, permitted by God, represented His judicial response to the failure that marked His people. Their disobedience, defilement and dismissive attitude to the messengers of the Lord, as recorded in detail in 2Chron.36.14-16, resulted in the desecration and destruction of the house of God that Solomon had built and the dismantling of the walls of Jerusalem. Many were taken captive and removed from their homeland to Babylon.

By the time Nehemiah appears on the pages of our Bible, the Medes and the Persians had overthrown Babylon and under their rule the first group of exiles had been permitted to return to Jerusalem, in keeping with God’s programme communicated to Jeremiah. This group led by Zerubbabel and in partnership with Joshua, the High Priest, began work on the reconstruction of the temple. These initial steps of recovery came to a halt and the ministry of Haggai, the prophet, had a particular relevance to the difficulties encountered at that time.

During the reign of Artaxerxes a further group of exiles, under the leadership of Ezra, returned and a detailed account of their activities is provided in Ezra chapters 7-10.

Meanwhile, Nehemiah was engaged as the king’s cupbearer in Shushan the palace. His role embraced the responsible position of being the personal attendant to the king; he had obviously proved his personal integrity in terms of trustworthiness and dependability otherwise he would not have been allowed to serve in such a favoured capacity. He offers a most encouraging example of how to live in a strange land, perhaps like the pandemic…how have you lived in this strange land of exile?

 

Reflection: The fact that Nehemiah prayed so regularly and spontaneously demonstrates that he lived a life of communion with God and in this connection it is important to note the regard that he had for "the book of the law of Moses" Neh.8.1. This shows that communion with God through prayer and the Word of God were vital to his spiritual wisdom and advancement. What about your time in prayer and scripture? How wise are you?

His prayers were usually, Elijah-like, linked to specific needs or circumstances, giving a clear endorsement of the fact that our God has a deep interest in the everyday affairs of life. His prayers were brief and very much to the point; providing an excellent example in how to pray and what to pray for. Nehemiah grants every available encouragement to engage regularly in prayer and to live a life of constant dependency on God.

 

Conclusion: What can pausing in prayer do for us? It can remind us that we don’t act alone. God is on our side, a God who loves us and wants the best for us. That knowledge gives us courage. Time in prayer before a big venture ultimately tests the call, ensures it is genuine. But it also confirms our commitment to it. Such a project as Nehemiah’s – rebuilding the wall, helping to restore Jerusalem, the name of God – could not be undertaken half-heartedly. It could not be rushed into. Undertakings such as these require an interim period. Our successful undertakings require prayer.

 


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