Greatness is the goal. Most everyone aims for excellence and the standard is being above normal.
- Basketball: Michael Jordan is the standard (KB & LBJ are compared to him)
- Baseball: Babe Ruth is standard.
- Music: Johann Sebastian Bach
- Innovation: Thomas Edison (1,000 patents)
These are the standards by which today’s persons compare themselves. The problem becomes when we compare ourselves to these greats it potentially causes us to give up, thinking we will never measure up. But that’s not true – all of us have a gift at something and a God-given purpose.
The same thing happens when we read the Bible. We think the Bible is filled with heroes and extraordinary people that God uses. Then our process of thinking for the Christian life is that we can never do what a certain Bible character did. However, our minds fail us in this approach. The hero of the Bible is not humanity but God.
While the Bible does have individuals who have some gifts, largely the stories overflow with ordinary people being filled with the extraordinary presence and power of God. So, when we read the Bible we must remember we can relate – God includes you in His story.
EXAMINE Nehemiah 1 – 2 Renovate With Constant Prayer
- Ezra-Nehemiah teach us about God’s movements through people and nations.
- Ezra-Nehemiah teach us about Jesus. We see the emptiness of public reforms and religious renewals without the Redeemer. We see Ezra the preacher who’s words could not change hearts and we see Nehemiah the builder who could protect the city from external danger but not protect the people from internal corruption. Jesus is the greater Ezra-Nehemiah.
- But also, Ezra-Nehemiah teach the church today that in order to preserve something old we must persevere in something new. The Israelites wanted to go back to the good-old-days and they put their efforts into reconstructing what was in existence: temple building and city walls. But Israel’s revitalization would be incomplete without the new covenant of Jesus.
- Isaiah 43:19 “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”
2 Chronicles 36:15-23
15 The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place.
16 But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the LORD rose against his people, until there was no remedy.
17 Therefore he brought up against them the king of the Chaldeans, who killed their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary and had no compassion on young man or virgin, old man or aged. He gave them all into his hand.
18 And all the vessels of the house of God, great and small, and the treasures of the house of the LORD, and the treasures of the king and of his princes, all these he brought to Babylon.
19 And they burned the house of God and broke down the wall of Jerusalem and burned all its palaces with fire and destroyed all its precious vessels.
20 He took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia,
21 to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years.
22 Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing:
23 “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the LORD his God be with him. Let him go up.’”
Israel has failed God (summary statement of the OT!). Like a loving father who wants a child to learn the difference between good and wrong, God disciplines His children with Babylon conquering Judah (Israel). King Nebuchadnezzar enters Jerusalem and burns down the temple, breaks down the walls, and enslaves God’s people for 70-years. All of this fulfills the Lord’s prophecies through Jeremiah, including the exiles return through the proclamation of Persian King Cyrus.
- Israelites returns in 3 waves: Zerubbabel, Ezra, Nehemiah.
- Ezra ends and about 13 years pass (cf Ez 7:7). Artaxerxes is still king of Babylon. The setting for the book is in Susa (modern Iran), which was a winter capital of Persian empire.
- Susa was over 900 miles away from Jerusalem.
- Nehemiah’s name means “comfort.” Just as the Lord prophesied through Isaiah 40:1, comfort for God’s people is present.
- Nehemiah is a cupbearer to the king. In some sense Nehemiah was important because the king must trust him; yet in another sense, Nehemiah was expendable. He’s not Jordan/Ruth/Bach but he’s us – asking for God’s help.
Prayer is shaped by circumstances (Nehemiah 1:1-4).
Nehemiah spoke with men from Judah and asked how the returned exiled Jews were doing in Jerusalem. The report was that the remnant was in great trouble and shame due to the broken-down walls and gates. The invasion and destruction occurred 586BC and over a hundred years later the report is continued demoralization of the nation. Even the returned exiles over the course of the next few decades were unable to fix the mess of the city or morale of the people. Nehemiah is devastated for God’s place and people.
Nehemiah’s response was to sit down, weep, and mourn for days. Many know Nehemiah to be a man of decisive action, so to see this initial feature of him stunned and overwhelmed is unique. This goes on four months from Chislev to Nisan.
- GRIEF is real. As humans living in a world of heartbreak and pain, we cannot become numb to sadness or struggles around us. We must allow ourselves to feel – and feel deeply, not running away from where grief leads. The pathway of grief is meant to lead us to the heart of God who understands more than we give Him credit. So, when moments of hardship arrive unwanted on our doorstep – welcome them in knowing God meets us with a comforting embrace.
In all, the conversation that takes place between Nehemiah and Hanani is the beginning of a fresh start. Miracles begin with dreams and discussions. Our relationships are God’s basis for ministry work. God puts people in our life and creates circumstances for us that are meant to accomplish His purposes. God’s sovereign orchestration of daily life should not lead to our complaining but our crying out to Him. Nehemiah’s prayer life is shaped by His circumstances and conversations.
- Me on phone with Bill Baierlein and offering to pray over phone.
- Fred praying with me before certain Sundays or big events, funerals.
- Curtis reached out over text that he was praying for me.
- Special moments when I pray with my children at bedside.
> One of the ways you can let your circumstances and conversations shape your praying is by praying in the moment. Scriptures tells us to “pray without ceasing” (1Thes 5:17; Php 4:6). We should learn to not just pray for others but with them.
Prayer is shaped by God’s covenant (Nehemiah 1:5-11).
Nehemiah has numerous prayers, some large blocks and some short breaths. In these opening chapters we see both forms of prayer.
First, we see the large block of prayer that is based upon God’s covenant.
1:5 “O LORD God of heaven, the great and terrible/awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments.” (cf. Deut 7:21)
- Nehemiah’s prayer recognizes God’s authority and ability. He recalls God’s loyal love and faithfulness from previous generations. Nehemiah knows this from Deut 7:9 “Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations”
- Nehemiah prays with confession of sin. He confesses sin of Israel – a nation. Nehemiah confesses His part in the sinful drift and disobedience toward God.
- When it comes to sin, you may not be fully responsible but you likely have some fault. Own your part.
- Nehemiah quotes Scripture back to God – If we are unfaithful then we will be scattered, but if we repent and return then God will forgive and bless (cf. Deut 30).
- Nehemiah commits the nation and himself to God and asks for success (favor?) and mercy before the king.
Second, we see short breath prayers.
2:4 “Then the king said to me, ‘What are you requesting?’ So I prayed to the God of heaven and I said to the king…”
Previously, over a dozen years ago with Ezra, King Artaxerxes ordered a cease work on rebuilding the city (Ez 4:21). Undoubtedly, the king would not easily revoke a previous decree.
Nehemiah’s big perspective of God prompted him to pray big and attempt big things for God. The important aspect is the quick, short-breath prayer before he spoke to the king.
- God is jealous for our affections and time. We must grow to be people who pray in larger blocks. One of the helpful ways to pray in larger blocks of time is to prioritize praying in corporate gatherings. However, most of us will take advantage of learning to pray through the momentary prayers. If you believe God hears prayer, then you will increase when you pray.
Ex. George Mueller was a preacher and led ministries in England during 19th C. He hosted over 2k orphans at a time; 10K in his lifetime. He’d hardly ever make his needs known but would simply pray. Therefore, he was known as a man of prayer – receiving answers same day or sometimes same hour. His journals reveal over 50K answers to prayers – estimates almost 1K answered prayers each year for 60 years! Many times he had financial needs and he’d receive funding without anyone knowing, but His Father in Heaven. Over ½ billion dollars went through his hands into ministering to orphans and impoverished.
Prayer is shaped by commitment to act (2:5-8).
Nehemiah prayed but he did not only pray. He acted with boldness. Nehemiah expressed the gravity of his perspective that his homeland was in disrepair and needed rebuilt. So, he asked not only for the king’s permission but also the king’s provision to return to Jerusalem and help rebuild the wall. Nehemiah knows the king could view the request as betrayal and could cost his life. Yet, he was willing to act.
The King granted Nehemiah’s request, “for the good hand of my God was upon me.” (2:8)
Prayer must include our participation.
Old war leaders would say “Trust God and keep your powder dry.” The phrase reminds us faith is both prayer and participation.
God’s hand is upon us when we express our dependence upon Him. There is power in our work and witness when we are mindful of God’s presence through prayer.
- What is something you’ve prayed about but need to act in faith?
– Ex: Pray for rain, but do you get an umbrella?
Pray for relational healing but then do you continue antagonizing or relate in love?
Pray for another’s salvation but do you share gospel?
Pray for church growth but do you invite attenders?
- What is your “holy irritation”? What makes you weep? What stirs you to work for the Lord?
Nehemiah is broken for his home community. What are the needs around us? If SPBC is to renovate, one of our actions should be to increase prayer together and prayerwalking our community. Prayerwalking is praying on-site with insight. We need to see our community the way God sees it, so God can do His work through us.
> Where is your wall?
- What kind of person are you?
Nehemiah was a comforter. Nehemiah was a man of prayer. Nehemiah was a man of action.
– James 2:17 “So then, faith by itself without works is dead.”
– 1 John 3:18 “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”
- As Nehemiah put his life on the line before the King, so Jesus gave His life to the King. And the King gave it back through the resurrection. The sacrifice of Jesus enables us to have forgiveness of sin, but also to know we can place our life and ___ anything in the hands of God bc He’s trustworthy.
 Review his 9 prayers: Nehemiah 1:5-11; 2:4; 4:4–5; 5:19; 6:14; 13:14, 22, 29, 31.