************ Sermon on Nehemiah 1:1 - 2:6 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on May 7, 2000
Nehemiah 1:1 - 2:6
"Get Tall: Fall On Your Knees"
Topic: PrayerThis year, GEMS, you have been looking at prayer in the same way as the Western rancher. You have learned that you get tall when you fall on your knees. In other words, when you are on your knees in prayer you reach into heaven itself. When you are on your knees in prayer you are working on the most important relationship in your life – your relationship with God.
Title: Reach Heaven
A Western rancher had asked the district superintendent to have a pastor assigned to his community.
"How big a man do you want?" asked the superintendent.
"Well, Elder," the wiry, tanned man replied, "we're not overly particular, but when he's on his knees we'd like to have him reach heaven."
You learned, too, how important and necessary prayer is in the life of God's children. In fact, the busier you are, the more pressure you are under, the more time you should be spending in prayer. Quite often at such times we think we are too busy for prayer. But it is only when we do not neglect prayer that we can handle life's busyness and pressure.
This evening we want to look at the prayer life of God's servant Nehemiah.
I Nehemiah's Prayer Life
A Nehemiah was a real prayer warrior. Before he did anything important he prayed about it. Whenever he faced a crisis he prayed about it. Whenever he had an important decision to make he prayed about it. And, because of his close relationship to and with God – as shown by his prayer life – he was willing to risk everything in order to do what he believed God wanted him to do.
B We need to backtrack for a moment and take a look at the historical situation or setting of the book of Nehemiah.
In 586 B.C. the city of Jerusalem was besieged by the Babylonians. When Jerusalem fell, the royal palace and the city were set on fire and all of the survivors, except for the poorest of the poor, were taken into captivity in Babylon.
Fifty years later, in 538 B.C. the Persian king, Cyrus, destroyed the Babylonian Empire. In that same year he issued a decree permitting the Jews to return to their native land. Any Jew who wanted to return could return to Judah. Furthermore, the temple could be rebuilt, and Cyrus would even help finance part of the rebuilding from the royal treasury. The temple vessels also were returned. The number of those returning was almost 50,000, and were led by Zerubbabel.
Some 80 years after this, in 458 B.C., another return took place during the reign of Artaxerxes I (ahr tuh xuhr' xees), king of Persia. This return was led by Ezra. Finances for the journey were provided by the royal treasury and the people were allowed to have their own judges. This time over 5,700 people returned to the Promised Land.
C Now, while many of the Jews returned to Judah from the exile, Nehemiah remained in Persia. He was the cupbearer of King Artaxerxes I (ahr tuh xuhr' xees). This may not sound like much of a position to us but in the courts of Ancient Near Eastern kings the cupbearer was considered a high ranking official. The cupbearer was responsible for serving wine at the king's table and protecting the king from poisoning. The cupbearer was often taken into the king's confidence and had no small amount of influence on the king's decisions.
As our Scripture reading tells us, Nehemiah was able to talk to a group of men from Judah. He heard from them that the rebuilding of Jerusalem was not going all that well; in fact, the walls of Jerusalem remained broken down and its gates were burned (Neh 1:3).
GEMS, I want you to note what Nehemiah did after he heard these things:
(Neh 1:4) When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.Did you hear that? Nehemiah responded to the news with prayer.
King Artaxerxes I (ahr tuh xuhr' xees) noticed that Nehemiah looked sad and inquired as to the reason (2:1f). Though Nehemiah was scared to tell the king his personal problems he told him about Jerusalem's walls and gates anyway (2:3). Then the king asked Nehemiah, "What is it you want?" (2:4). We all know what Nehemiah wanted. He wanted to answer God's call to go to Jerusalem to rebuild her walls and gates. But before Nehemiah dared to say this to the king I want you to notice that again he "prayed to the God of heaven" (2:4). The King gave Nehemiah permission to go for a time and provided him with letters guaranteeing his safety and giving him access to timber and also sent army officers and cavalry with him (2:8f).
When Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem he personally checked out the walls and gates (2:11f). Then he shared with the priests and nobles and officials and others his plans to rebuild the walls and gates of Jerusalem (2:17). After they heard Nehemiah's plans they asked to participate (2:18).
Of course there were those who opposed this good work. They accused Nehemiah and the Jews of rebelling against the king (2:19). They mocked and ridiculed them and their work. They said things like:
(Neh 4:2-3) "What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble--burned as they are?" (3) ... "What they are building--if even a fox climbed up on it, he would break down their wall of stones!"Now, GEMS, I want you to note how Nehemiah responded to these insults: he again responded with prayer and kept on working (4:3-4).
Nehemiah heard of a plot to fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. How did Nehemiah respond? In Scripture we read this:
(Neh 4:9) But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.
The workers on the wall grew tired. They also feared attacks from those who opposed them. Nehemiah called everyone together and encouraged them to press on. This they did, laying stones with one hand and holding a sword or a spear in the other (4:16f).
Nehemiah then heard of another plot, a scheme to stop the building of the wall and its gates (6:1f). GEMS, what did he do this time? Again he prayed (6:9).
If you were to turn to the end of Nehemiah, you will notice that Nehemiah's last recorded words are also a prayer: "Remember me with favor, O my God" (Neh 13:31).
D GEMS, do you see the pattern in Nehemiah's life? Every time he faced an obstacle in his work he fell on his knees and prayed and reached into heaven; he got tall on his knees. And each time God gave him the strength he needed to stand up and move on and keep going. Each and every time Nehemiah was bowed down with trouble and discouragement in his life he stooped down in prayer and got tall again. Each and every time Nehemiah was in trouble he, by prayer, plugged into his divine power source.
Because Nehemiah was a praying man of God, he was able to accomplish the impossible. Look at it this way. When Nehemiah first gathered his fellow Jews together and laid out a plan for rebuilding Jerusalem, her walls had been in disrepair for over 140 years already. I am willing to bet that many of the Jews living there no longer even noticed the crumbling wall. They simply accepted it as part of the landscape. But Nehemiah prayed. He got tall on his knees and reached into heaven. He tapped into the power of God almighty. And do you know what happened? The wall that had laid in ruin for over 140 years was rebuilt in only 52 days!
Do you think that Nehemiah could have done this without prayer? Let's suppose, for a moment, that Nehemiah said to himself,
"I can do this on my own. I have sufficient power and strength. I have letters from the king and soldiers. What else do I need?" Would he have been able to rebuild the walls and gates if he had this kind of attitude? Of course not! Nehemiah was a big man in God's kingdom only because he got down on his knees before the Father.
E GEMS, I want to ask you who it is that you idolize? Who is your hero or heroine? Who do you try to imitate and emulate? The world holds out rock stars, movie stars, athletes, famous people, TV anchor women, politicians, and the like as heroes and heroines. I want to tell you this evening that Nehemiah is a better hero than anything or anyone the world has to offer. Nehemiah is a worthy model for us to follow.
Life always has it ups and downs. We become depressed and discouraged about our grades or our looks or our athletic ability or our friends. We stumble and fall. We face opposition. We feel like we are all alone, without a friend. Sometimes we don't understand ourselves and our own actions and words. So what do we do? What can we do? Like Nehemiah, we should fall on our knees and reach into heaven. If we learn to pray through those situations we can and will get up again.
II Our Prayer Life
A God had a purpose or calling for Nehemiah. God wanted Nehemiah to rebuild Jerusalem's walls. How was Nehemiah able to accomplish this? Because he was a praying man of God. Because he had a close relationship with God. Because he had the desire to talk with God all the time and about everything.
We should strive to be like Nehemiah. We should all be praying people of God. We should all get on our knees and reach into heaven and tap the power of the Almighty.
Too often, though, we let things interfere with our prayer life. We get too busy and think we don't have time for prayer. Or, we allow ourselves to be easily distracted. Or, our thoughts wander and concentrate on anything but God. Or, we do not take care of ourselves and stay up too late and are too tired. The problem is a lack of discipline. We don't make prayer a priority. Prayer becomes the last thing we do rather than the first. We use it as an escape mechanism. The following story appeared in "The Prairie Overcomer":
Topic: PrayerAlthough this story at first evokes a smile, it is sobering to realize that prayer is often an escape mechanism rather than a way of life. This may be true even of believers who call on God only when they've reached the end of their rope and there seems to be no other way to solve their problems.
Title: I Won't Bother You Again
A fisherman who was out of fellowship with the Lord was at sea with his godless companions when a storm came up and threatened to sink their ship. His friends begged him to pray; but he demurred, saying, "It's been a long time since I've done that or even entered a church." At their insistence, however, he finally cried out, "O Lord, I haven't asked anything of You in 15 years, and if You help us now and bring us safely to land, I promise I won't bother You again for another 15!"
B So, GEMS, how can you make prayer a daily habit? How can you make it as much a part of your life as it was a part of Nehemiah's life? How can you work on the most important relationship in your life – your relationship with God? Here are some suggestions that have worked for me:
• Schedule your prayers. Do it the same time and place every single day.
• Keep a prayer list – so you remember what to pray for. An even better suggestion is to keep a prayer journal – on one side you list all the things that you pray for; on the other side you list all of the Lord's amazing answers.
• Start off by reading the Word and meditating upon that Word so that your mind is tuned to God.
• Pray your way through one of the praise psalms as you lift God's name on high.
Topic: PrayerGod's servant, Nehemiah, would say one big "Amen" to this. For, you get tall and reach into heaven when you get down on your knees.
Title: The Prayer Telescope
The brilliant scientist Sir Isaac Newton said that he could take his telescope and look millions and millions of miles into space. Then he added, "But when I lay it aside, go into my room, shut the door, and get down on my knees in earnest prayer, I see more of Heaven and feel closer to the Lord than if I were assisted by all the telescopes on earth."
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