Grace For The Journey
We have begun a new series called REBUILD. To rebuild means “to build (something) again after it has been damaged or destroyed.” I said last Friday that many of us are in the midst of personal rebuilding projects, rebuilding our lives, rebuilding our families, rebuilding our marriages, rebuilding our walk with the Lord. Like those who returned to Jerusalem from Babylon, we have allowed ourselves to be taken captive to sin. The walls have come down, the gates have burned, and we need to rebuild. Solomon said in Proverbs 25:28, “Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.”
The Book of Nehemiah is about rebuilding. The walls of Jerusalem are broken down and the city gates are burned. Someone needs to lead a “rebuilding project” and that someone turns out to be Nehemiah.
Nehemiah is neither a priest nor a prophet. He is just a regular guy, an ordinary person who is concerned about the city of Jerusalem. And Nehemiah is going to lead arguably the greatest rebuilding project in the history of God’s people, rebuilding the city walls and gates in a record 52 days.
God likes to use ordinary people
To do extraordinary things.
A British evangelist once said to D. L. Moody, almost in passing said, “The world has yet to see what God will do with a man fully consecrated to him.” Those words changed D. L. Moody’s life. They can change us, too: The world has yet to see what God will do with one man, one woman, fully consecrated to Him. Nehemiah was one such person, fully consecrated to God.
Let’s review briefly some of the introductory background from last time. The year is 445 BC and Nehemiah has a very important job. His job title is “cupbearer to the king.” He tasted wine before it was given to the king to make sure it was not poisonous. He lives in “Shushan.” The Greek name for the city is “Susa” and the Hebrew is “Shushan.” Nehemiah is living in the citadel or the fortified palace of the king. In 586 BC King Nebuchadnezzar invaded Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, burned down the palaces, knocked down all the walls, and burned the gates. He carries them away into the vast empire of Babylon. The people are scattered throughout Babylon in a captivity that will last 70 years.
All these events occur because the people of God were unfaithful to Him. God worked through the Babylonians to discipline His children. After 70 years, the people are allowed to re-inhabit their homeland in Jerusalem. God’s people were taken north of the Promised Land and scattered abroad. It is a 1,000 mile journey from Judah to the place where Nehemiah is. This is western Iran today. Part of the city is actually inhabited today and is called Shush, Iran. Nehemiah will make this journey more than once.
Sushan is the capital of the Persian Empire. It was also the palatial winter residence of the king. Sushan is the location from which the events occurred about which we read in the Book of Esther; she was queen there in Sushan. Daniel had one of his visions in the Persian capital of Sushan and there is a tomb there to this day presumed to belong to Daniel.
Nehemiah hears the walls are still broken down and the gates are burned and the place needs to be rebuilt. What is the first thing that he does? Verse 4 tells us, “So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” Nehemiah is rocked by the events. He is knocked down to his knees and he prays.
Our series is REBUILD and with Nehemiah’s help we are going to learn today about, “Rebuilding our Prayer Life.” Nehemiah is a man of prayer. He prays a lot and in different ways. He prays long, word-saturated prayers like the prayer we are studying today in chapter 1. He also prays shorter prayers, “bullet prayers” or “arrow prayers,” the kind you say quickly in few words. Like the mother who prayed for her little boy each night at bedtime. Someone asked her what she prayed. She said, “Thank God he’s in bed!” Well, the prayer here in Chapter 1 is a longer prayer and a very helpful prayer for our study today. In keeping with our series title, REBUILD, I want to share with you three Building Blocks of Meaningful Prayer . . .
There are three major components of Nehemiah’s prayer that are helpful for us to both remember and use. I pray that we will think of these three blocks as we pray later today and throughout the week. What does meaningful prayer look like? What are the essential building blocks of meaningful prayer . . .
I. Acknowledgement And Adoration Of The Savior.
Prayer is most meaningful when we begin with praise and adoration of the Savior. Nehemiah begins his prayer by calling attention to the greatness of God. Verse 5 says, “And I said: ‘I pray, Lord God of heaven, O great and awesome God, You who keep Your covenant and mercy with those who love You and observe Your commandments.’” The phrase, “Lord God of heaven” is an acknowledgement of the only One True and Living God. The Babylonians may have many little gods and idols, but there is only One True God who reigns from heaven. This anticipates our Lord’s teaching to the disciples when Jesus said in Matthew 6:9, “Pray this way, ‘Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Your name.” Praise and adoration of the One True God. Nehemiah continues to acknowledge God as a, “… great and awesome God …” Nehemiah likes those two words, “great” and “awesome.” He will use them again in Chapter 4 where he calls upon the Israelites to defend themselves against their enemies, “Remember the Lord, great and awesome, and fight for your brethren” (Nehemiah 4:14).
This first part of the prayer here in verse 5 is almost word-for-word from Daniel’s prayer in Daniel 9:4, where Daniel intercedes for the people. This must have been a common way to begin a prayer. It is a good model for us. We direct our prayer upwards to the heavens to acknowledge, praise, and adore our Savior, “Lord God of heaven, O great and awesome God …” What a great way to begin a prayer!
Then Nehemiah, like Daniel in Daniel 9, draws attention to the character of God. In verse 5 he goes on to state that God, “keeps His covenant and mercy with those who love Him and observe His commandments.” He is a gracious and good God who loves His children. His children are to love Him back in a wonderful covenant of love and mercy.
Begin your prayers with the first building block of adoration. Adoration of the Savior.
Next block . . .
II. Confession Of Our Sin.
Verse 6 says, “Please let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open(this part is very similar to Solomon’s prayer years earlier in dedicating the temple; 2 Chronicles 6:40), that You may hear the prayer of Your servant which I pray before You now, day and night, for the children of Israel Your servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel which we have sinned against You. Both my father’s house and I have sinned.” Nehemiah is 1,000 miles away from the broken down walls yet he places himself right there with his fellow Israelites as those who are guilty for the sin that led to their captivity in the first place, “Both my father’s house and I have sinned.” He is confessing sin.
He acknowledges that he and his fellow Jewish believers had sinned against God by going after the false gods of the people around them. They had succumbed to idolatry and turned their backs against God in unfaithfulness to the One who loved them and brought them into the land. God had warned through the prophets that if the people did not return to Him he would scatter them into captivity. That is exactly what happened. Nehemiah acknowledges that he is guilty. He is confessing his sin. That confession continues in verse 7, “We have acted very corruptly against You, and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses.”
You may recall Deuteronomy 28 which is a listing of blessings and curses. God is speaking through the Prophet Moses. Moses tells His people – in essence – if you obey then it will mean blessing for you. If you disobey, then it will mean curses upon you. Pretty simple and straightforward. It is not about their salvation; it is about their living as the people of God.
In his confession here in verse 7, Nehemiah recalls the words of Moses. He says, “We have not kept the commandments, the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses.” Deuteronomy 2815 says, “But it shall come to pass, if you do not obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments and His statutes which I command you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you.” The list goes on to talk about all the curses, including God’s driving His people away from the land. Nehemiah acknowledges this truth, that this is exactly what he and God’s people have done; they have sinned against the Lord and “have not kept His commandments, statutes, and ordinances.” He is confessing they he and the people are guilty.
To confess our sin is to own up to it. We also need to lift up our voice today. We need to confess our sin, to own up to our sin, and admit we have done wrong. We do not blame others. We take ownership of our own actions. Blaming others for our sin is as old as the fall itself. You can see the “blame game” being played out in Genesis 3 where the first sin occurred. God comes to Adam and says, “Hey, Adam! What have you done?!” And Adam said, “The woman you gave me, she enticed me.” Adam actually blames both Eve and God: “the woman YOU gave me…” God says, “Eve, what have you done?!” The woman says, “The serpent deceived me.” Adam blames God and Adam blames Eve. Eve blames the serpent. They fall into the blame game.
Confession of sin is to own up to it. Confession is important in every relationship. In a marriage, for example. Confessing our sin means we take ownership of our part in the conflict. A husband and wife are arguing over something, who is to blame? Both! Jesus said in Matthew 7:3-5, “And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
In a marriage, I have got to remove the plank out of my eye before I can see clearly. I have got to deal with my fault. Even if I think my ownership of the problem in the marriage represents only like 5% and the remaining 95% of the blame is my wife’s responsibility, then I have still got to deal with my 5% of the problem. Confession of sin is to own up to it. Admit that you were wrong about it and ask her to forgive you. Pretty simple. If we both do our part, a relationship and communication is restored. You are responsible for your part before God.
That works the same in every other relationship, too. Do not blame your boss! Own up to your problem at work. Deal with your 5% or whatever it is. Confess. Same with parents and children. Parents, do not blame your children; children, do not blame your parents. Let each own up to his or her own share of the blame. Same with every other relationship.
Nehemiah confesses his share of the blame. We have seen the first two building blocks of meaningful prayer: Adoration of the Savior . . . Confession of our Sin . . . Thirdly . . .
III. Recitation Of The Scripture.
Recitation is to recite, to say something aloud. Prayer becomes much more meaningful when we recite Scripture to the Lord. That is what Nehemiah does. In verse 8 Nehemiah says, “Remember, I pray, the word that You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations.” Nehemiah is reciting Scripture. He is reciting the teachings of Moses in both Deuteronomy and Leviticus. He is recalling the threats and promises of Scripture. And he recites the Scripture in order to make a strong plea that God would stand by His people.
Verse 9 continues, “But if you return to Me, and keep My commandments and do them, though some of you were cast out to the farthest part of the heavens, yet I will gather them from there, and bring them to the place which I have chosen as a dwelling for My name.” Nehemiah is reciting Scripture to the Lord. The actual words are in Deuteronomy 4:25-31, “When you beget children and grandchildren and have grown old in the land, and act corruptly and make a carved image in the form of anything, and do evil in the sight of the Lord your God to provoke Him to anger, I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that you will soon utterly perish from the land which you cross over the Jordan to possess; you will not [h]prolong your days in it, but will be utterly destroyed. And the Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the Lord will drive you. And there you will serve gods, the work of men’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see nor hear nor eat nor smell. But from there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you are in [i]distress, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, when you turn to the Lord your God and obey His voice (for the Lord your God is a merciful God), He will not forsake you nor destroy you, nor forget the covenant of your fathers which He swore to them.”
Nehemiah acknowledges that this is precisely what has happened. He confesses his sin and then recites Scripture to the Lord and, in essence says, “Now God, do what You have promised!” That is a bold prayer. “God, You said that if we would return to You that You would take us back. You are a loving and merciful God who said You would not forsake us, so here we are! Here we are.”
In Verse 10 Nehemiah adds, “Now these are Your servants and Your people, whom You have redeemed by Your great power, and by Your strong hand.” Nehemiah brings himself and the people before the Lord and admits that they were the ones He redeemed out of bondage in Egypt and led into the Promised Land by His great power and strong hand. He then asks Him to keep His promise to His people – to redeem them again by His great power, and by His strong hand. He asks God to doo what He said He would do if they confessed and returned to Him. He is standing on God’s Word.
Nehemiah has confidence
In the faithfulness of God
To keep His Word.
This is not unlike Abraham before him who knew that God promised a long family line would come through his own son, Isaac. When God called Abraham to sacrifice his son on Mount Moriah, the Bible tells us in Romans 4:20-21 that Abraham, “did not waver at the promise…(but was) fully convinced that what God had promised He was also able to perform.” He knew God would keep His Word. I suppose Abraham recited the promise of God over and over again as he journeyed up to Mount Moriah. Recitation of Scripture, recalling the Word of God.
Nehemiah wraps his prayer up in verse 11 when he says, “O Lord, I pray, please let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant, and to the prayer of Your servants who desire to fear Your name; and let Your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man. For I was the king’s cupbearer.”
“This man” is King Artaxerxes who had commanded the work of rebuilding to stop years earlier according to Ezra 4:23. Seven (7) times in this prayer Nehemiah refers to himself or God’s people as a “servant” or “servants” of the Lord. This is especially significant given that Nehemiah is literally a servant of King Artaxerxes.
Nehemiah knows that
He is first and foremost
A servant of the Living God!
The recitation of the Scripture is what adds teeth to Nehemiah’s prayer. He is quoting God’s Word back to Him. It is bold to say, “God You said thus and such, now keep Your Word!” That is what Nehemiah does. This is not arrogance. He knows that ultimately God will work out His will, His way, and in His time. Nehemiah knows that he can trust God, trusting His character, trusting Him to do the right thing at the right time.
Building blocks of meaningful prayer . . .
Adoration of the Savior,
Confession of our Sin,
Recitation of the Scripture.
In closing our study, let’s consider the . . .
Benefits of Prayer:
1. Prayer makes me wait.
We will see in our study next time that four months pass by before God works through Nehemiah’s prayer. Remember as the beginning of today’s study I said the Book of Nehemiah is a reading of Nehemiah’s personal diary or journal. There is no entry for four months because nothing happened. Prayer makes us wait on God.
Have you heard the three ways God answers our prayers? He answers with Yes, or No, or Wait. God says, “Yes, no, or not now.” In my case there are four possible answers; God says, “Yes, no, not now, or You’ve got to be kidding!” Prayer makes me wait. Secondly:
2. Prayer clears my vision.
Lifting up our prayer to the Lord helps us think through the situation so we can see better.
3. Prayer quiets my heart.
Pray leads me to lay my concern or burden before the Lord and to trust in God to do the work.
4. Prayer activates my faith.
Prayer allows me to go on knowing God will do the right thing.
The Bible tells us in James 4:2, “You have not because you ask not.” Someone has suggested what it would be like getting to heaven and finding one room there full of neatly wrapped boxes stacked high with your name on each one with, “Never delivered to earth because never requested from earth” written on the tag.
We have learned about the meaningful building blocks of meaningful prayer. These truths will mean nothing forget about them and do nothing with them. Let me give you little mortar to make them stick. Three layers to help rebuild your prayer life . . .
Have A Daily Quiet Time.
Every one of us should have a time of daily quiet. Have one! Get up earlier . . . Stay up later . . . do what you need to do . . . Schedule a Daily Quiet Time
Memorize Scripture – One Verse A Week.
Nehemiah recited Scripture. He knew the Word! Do you? Which do you know better: today’s sports stats or Scriptures? What shapes your identity? Which do you know better: what is trending in Twitter or what is taught in God’s Word? I am not trying to lay on a guilt trip, I am just asking. Do you know the Word and can you recite it as you pray? There is power in it. You are praying and asking for a particular thing that lies within the revealed will of God and you say, “Lord, You have said in Your Word, in Mark 11:24, “What things soever you desire when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you shall have them,” and I’m doing that right now. Keep Your Word, Lord, amen.” Or you pray, “God, You said in Proverbs 3:5-6 to trust in You with all my heart and not lean on my own understanding, but acknowledge You in all my ways, and You will direct my paths,” so I am trusting You right now as I make my way to this meeting that You are going to give me the very words to say and to guide the outcome. Thank You for keeping Your Word, amen.” I have found that when I pray and take God at His Words, that I am far more likely to see God work in ways I desire.
To recite Scripture, you have to know Scripture. Choose a Bible verse that is meaningful to you and memorize it this week. As a family, memorizing verses of Scripture.
Ask God To Deepen Your Love For Him.
We want to spend time with people we love. If we are trying to rebuild our prayer life just to rebuild our prayer life then it will just be a slavish, mechanical, tiresome burden without love. Prayer is dialogue with someone we love. If you do not pray to God, you need to grow in your love for God. This flows out of the Daily Quiet Time, from reading from His Word, and calling His Word back to Him. Just be honest and ask God to deepen your love for Him. Ask God to specifically grow you in this. Ask Him to help you to see that He is the fulfillment of your heart’s greatest desires. Acknowledge that He wants you to love Him with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and your strength. Ask Him to deepen your love for Him.
When you pray, your love will grow.
The depth of your love for God is related
To the depth of our prayers to God.
Focus on the depth of your prayer life, not necessarily length of prayers.
When the Gettysburg battleground became a national cemetery in 1863, Edward Everett was to give the dedication speech and Abraham Lincoln was asked to say “a few appropriate words.” Everett spoke eloquently for two hours, then took his seat as the crowd roared its enthusiastic approval. Then Lincoln stood to his feet, slipped on his steel spectacles, and began what we know today as the “Gettysburg Address.” By comparison, a very brief address containing those famous words “the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here…” And suddenly he was finished. Everett had spoken for close to two hours. Lincoln for just two minutes. His talk had been so prayer-like it seemed almost inappropriate to applaud. As Lincoln sat back down, a reporter from the “Philadelphia Press” whispered to him, “Is that all?” And the president answered, “Yes, that’s all.”
Do not underestimate
The power and depth
Of two minutes
With God in prayer.
Nehemiah interceded for God’s people. In this way he helps us look ahead to the true and better Intercessor who represents God’s people perfectly before the Father, our Lord Jesus Christ. Do you know Him? Are you growing in your love and relationship with Him?
This is God’s Word …
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”