A. Adoration (5)
B. Brokenness (6a)
C. Confession (6b-7)
D. Dependence (8-10)
E. Entreaty (11)
Life isn't about keeping score.
It's not about how many friends you have
Or how accepted you are.
Not about if you have plans this weekend or if you're alone.
It isn't about who you're dating, who you used to date, how many people
you've dated, or if you haven't been with anyone at all.
It isn't about who you have kissed,
It's not about sex.
It isn't about who your family is or how much money they have.
Or what kind of car you drive.
Or where you are sent to school.
It's not about how beautiful or ugly you are.
Or what clothes you wear, what shoes you have on, or what kind of music you listen to.
It's not about if your hair is blonde, red, black, or brown
Or if your skin is too light or too dark.
Not about what grades you get, how smart you are, how smart everybody
else thinks you are, or how smart standardized tests say you are.
It's not about what clubs you're in or how good you are at "your" sport.
It's not about representing your whole being on a piece of paper and seeing who will "accept the written you."
LIFE JUST ISN'T.
But, life is about who you love and who you hurt.
It's about who you make happy or unhappy purposefully.
It's about keeping or betraying trust.
It's about friendship, used as a sanctity or a weapon.
It's about what you say and mean, maybe hurtful, maybe heartening.
About starting rumors and contributing to petty gossip.
It's about what judgments you pass and why. And who your judgments are spread to.
It's about who you've ignored with full control and intention.
It's about jealousy, fear, ignorance, and revenge.
It's about carrying inner hate and love, letting it grow, and spreading it.
But most of all, it's about using your life to touch or poison
other people's hearts in such a way that could have never occurred alone.
Only you choose the way those hearts are affected, and those choices are what life's all about.
These words were passed on from a non-Christian; I don't know of their origin. Anyone holding onto worlds like these can only move forward in this volley of life. They sense the sting and pain of life. In a sense it summarizes Nehemiah's great resistance to only view the world from his easy chair and to step into the sweaty work of redemption. Satan's game is to see how long he can keep us playing the world even though through our confession of Jesus we have vowed to leave our participation in the world. His specialty is creating toys which distract us from our main calling.
But what happens when words like these get at the heart of God's people? What happens when we let a mission report like the one which Nehemiah heard speak its truthful and poignant words? We are great experts of deflection, lifting up our arms and deflecting the spears of truth off to either side like some Kungfu expert. But when they are no longer shielded, they come with such a thrust, we wonder if we will be able to endure them. But let the messages of pain and suffering hit our hearts. Let them come! If we have kept them off our hearts for 5, 10, or perhaps 20 years, then we need to remedy our warped perception of the world to be formed the way the Lord would have it. Listen again to Nehemiah's response in Nehemiah 1:4,
"Now it came about when I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven."
In his fasting and praying, in his mourning and weeping, we know his prayer was real. These kinds of prayers about the pain of others, the lostness of others are what God is straining to hear. If God has designed for His plan of work to be accomplished through our prayers, then let our prayers be multiplied. Yes, we can pray and the world be changed, but our own secure views of success have to first be broken. We need to learn to die to ourselves, to carry the cross of Christ. Is this not what our Master did when He went down to be baptized in the river of Jordan? There He took up the cross of the world and later hung on it so that the world might be saved. He was willing to put His personal preferences aside so to let God's concern fill His soul and consume His life on earth. May it ever be so with us that we will turn from underestimating and underesteeming the special work that God greatly desires to do through each one of us.
This is the first of many prayers in the book of Nehemiah. One might wonder why there are so many prayers written in a book, but they do have their purpose. They let us sense the agony of a manand the burden of his heart. They also provide the evidence that there is a God who does hear prayer. Because this is one of the longest prayers in the book, we will look at it more in detail. Remember his anguish over the report stirred his heart to pray. He was already living a righteous life. He already knew well the Word of God. Undoubtedly he would grow, but we find that the time he spent with other godly companions made him well prepared for one of the great works in history because God was behind the great work of rebuilding a city. Remember this is a specialized prayer for a certain situation at a certain time. But still we can sense the principles used in this prayer are very helpful. Let me mention a few of this emphases in prayer. We should pay close attention as to how he prayed. Sometimes we have not prayed correctly. However, we do know that God did mightily answer Nehemiah's prayer. Let's focus on five important emphases that should often be part of our prayers.
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A. Adoration (5) Right focus on God's awesome glory -
Real prayer cannot begin but by coming before God Himself. If God is not really there, then it doesn't matter what you said or that you prayed at all. But if there really is an almighty majestic creator God, then it makes every bit of sense to come properly before Him. You would not wear a swimsuit for a job interview nor should we come sloppily before His majestic presence. God cares far less about our clothes and fame in the world than about our understanding of Him. If we want to get anywhere with God we need faith. We need a clear and affirmative understanding of who He is.
The danger I find in a backslidden state is that some people can mumble a lot of attributes of God, but the words are only knowledge not yet applied to their lives. They leave no real impact upon their lives. God is all-knowing, but they still worry about tomorrow. God is holy but they still lightly deal with the sins of their mouths. What we say about God is very important, but our heart and faith behind those words must back them up. Praise words without heart adoration is empty. But when you combine your thrill and fear of God with these truths of who He is, then all of a sudden the meaning of worship strikes you. You are taken aback.
What did Nehemiah say in this moment of worship? In Nehemiah 1:5 he says,
"And I said, "I beseech Thee, O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who preserves the covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments."
He clearly recognized His authority over all things. Nothing is too great for God. He saw the world through his eyes and yet he knew of a greater God ruling over everything he saw. We today do not use the word 'sovereign' to describe God's power. Perhaps it is because we are flooded with democracies where authority and rulership is shared with the people. Nehemiah could see the emperor, King Artaxerxes, with all of the power of his word. Basically, what he wanted he got. But he knew and down deep believed, there was one far greater than King Artaxerxes.
Application When this truth begins to take hold of your heart, you begin to stop fearing man and start fearing God. You stop fearing what man might say or do. Just like our move to Oakland. We can look at all of the impossibilities, but in the end we must recognize God's sovereignty even over man. We also would start to fear God. I can easily imagine that Nehemiah was not naturally comfortable coming before the emperor. But when God puts something on your heart, you know you have to do something. You fear the consequences of not doing what He says.
The other main truth expressed in this prayer is regarding God's preserving the covenant. Nehemiah could take steps ahead in faith because of 1) God's faithfulness to His covenant and 2) Nehemiah's own consistent life. Without God's word of the covenant, Nehemiah could have lived the perfect life but to no avail. In the end it is God's great covenant work that makes the significant difference. The New Testament was founded on the work of Christ on the cross.
The power of a godly life was fully shown when God said He would recognize his devoted life and change nations on account of it. You will not grow in faith without getting your life together. I have heard many criticisms of Promise Keepers. But frankly, because the program challenges our lifestyle along with our faith, I can see why it is so effective and why God would be willing to use such a program outside the church. The church has in many ways missed this connection. Nehemiah made the most of it.
Application What about you? Can you demand something from God because of your righteous behavior?! More than often we are a bunch of spiritual sissies.
Nehemiah's conception of God greatly shaped the choices he made in life. We must not think that God would have us do what Nehemiah was called to. Nehemiah was Nehemiah. On the other hand, wouldn't it be a shame, a mockery of our lives, if we theologically professed all the right doctrines about God, but never lived our lives as if we really believed them. We need to fear this awesome God. We can sense the reason God is so angry with our Bible-saturated, commentary-dictated church.
B. Brokenness (6a) Right heart: he had a need for God to help - presumption is pride
The second emphasis in prayer was his great need for help. Nehemiah was broken. He did not have a way to accomplish what he sensed needed to be done. He was a desperate man. Some people think they have prayed a lot. They think God hasn't heard their prayers. But their greatest problem is that they simply are not broken in their hearts. Oh, they might be sorrowful over the condition of things, but they are not broken over the right thing. A simple example is the anger people show when they are impatient in traffic. I could give you a host of words angry people have said and offensive driving patterns because of their anger. But are you upset because they get away with cutting in line and you didn't or are you sorrowful over the impoliteness in that person and the danger they are in before God?
More than often we are upset with how we are bothered rather than how the wrath of God is upon the wicked. It is so easy to operate out of a sense of pride as if we did everything right, and God perhaps it seems is doing everything wrong. Yes, you can pray this way complaining to God. But you do not really care about the root of the problem. You just want a more convenient life. You don't want other sinners bothering this sinner. But this does not display a broken heart but a rebellious heart.
By broken I do not mean unable but meek and humble. It is not as if one has to be completely impoverished before one can come before God, but one has to believe that without God, he is nothing. He has to understand that his hope is in what God does for you and others. Our independent spirit has to be broken before we can sincerely plead for God to hear our prayer as Nehemiah did in 1:6a,
"Let Thine ear now be attentive and Thine eyes open to hear the prayer of Thy servant which I am praying before Thee now, day and night, on behalf of the sons of Israel Thy servants..."
Nehemiah is not presuming God to answer his prayer because he is so great or because his requests are so noble. Now this might seem contradictory with what I just said about confidence in our prayers because we are living rightous lives and asking what God desires. But notice even though in one line Nehemiah can speak so strongly, the next he is so humble. The issue is that he is not protecting his own life and purpose. He is not defending himself and his rights.
He understands that God's anger is upon them and if God wanted to, they would have no hope. God has been patient. He pleads for help. We see this in when Jesus teaches us to pray for God's will rather than 'our' will. We are must like Christ ask for grace and mercy rather than entering shooting match with God. A broken heart is a non-demanding heart. We are not focusing on what we want but what God wants. God is king; not ourselves.
Application Have you been demanding things from God? Have you been prideful in your heart because you think you know better? We better confess our pride.
C. Confession (6b-7) Right confession to break through - sin needs confession
The third emphasis of confession we find in the last part of verse 6 and 7. This is his ability to confess sins. There is no doubt that, as I mentioned above, that we need a lot more confession for our sins. But we also need the confession of sins for others. This might sound "Roman Catholic," but that is different than what we see with Nehemiah. Amazingly we find Nehemiah so humble and oblivious of self, that he speaks as a representative of others in his confession of sin. If the confession is of our own sin, we must be able to sense the remorseness of that sin. But Nehemiah was humble enough to confess the sins of others.
This corporate sense of sin would be judged as improper in our age of freedom. We think wrongly when we think we can do anything we want and that whatever anyone else does, does not affect us. Can part of our body be hurt without the other part feeling the pain? Have we become so isolated and independent in our selfishness that we cannot identify ourselves with the problems of some group in this hurting society?
Nehemiah had to go through the whole procedure of forgiveness in his own life before he could go on asking forgiveness from another. Nehemiah had to be able to grieve with that sense of corporate guilt. For indeed God judged the nation of Israel even though there were righteous men like Jeremiah in it. It only makes sense when we can humbly pray on the behalf of others we identify with, can we break down some of the strongholds the evil one makes much use of.
On October 4th there is a Solemn Assembly in Washington D.C. We as Americans are going to repent for a multitude of sins. This could be just another meeting with lots of speeches. On the other hand, it might be the thing that will save this nation. God's anger is great against this country. You can sense how great it s when you and I don't really care. We just care about our own lives. Nehemiah was broken with the pains of the people and like Jesus was baptized in the sins and pain of the people. He therefore could pray for the nation and thankfully did.
Application Can you go beyond the needs of your own life and confess the sins of others as if they are your own?
D. Dependence (8-10) Right dependence on God's Word - no change; Thy will be done
The fouth emphasis of prayer is to depend upon God's promises. Most often our prayers are to give us this or take away that. Rarely do we intermix our prayers with the Word of God. Rarely do we have our prayers come from God's Word. This is the first of the seven Remember prayers. It is the only one that says "Remember the word...." The word is God's word. The word is that presuppositional statement which does not change because it comes from the mouth of God.
Some people pray over their feelings. "Oh, I don't feel like going to work today. I was up late last night. This morning I was woken up by a baby crying, a false alarm and I had to go to the bathroom. Maybe God doesn't want me to go to work. Maybe He wants to show me His goodness by rewardng me a day off." If you let your feelings steer your prayers, then you will go down and down until you stop. Your feelings at this point become a place where you are susceptible to Satan's whispers. Do you know the Vile one can even give you suggestions in your mind? He can.
But our focus is on the will of God as declared through His Word. We see several truth statements in verses 8-10. Let's look briefly at them:
"If you are unfaithful I will scatter you among the peoples...." God already did this. He was faithful.
"But if you return to Me and keep My commandments and do them, though those of you who have been scattered were in the most remote part of the heavens, I will gather them from there and will bring them to the place where I have chosen to cause My name to dwell."
This is the promise of what God would do. It is what Nehemiah is focusing upon. There are three essential components to fulfill the requirements.
1) God's people are to return to Him. Nehemiah and at least a small group had returned to God. They were seeking God's will.
2) Keep His commandments. God's commandments were to shape their lives. If God means anything to these people, then God's Word must shape their decisions.
Lastly, 3) They are to "do His commandments." We do not find much distinction between this and the former. Let us say that it is not enough just to think about the commandments as tradition but are necessary to actually do. The people were to do them without the usual score of excuses. God was nto looking for anything extra good but just the good. God is not asking for them to make up for the past, but just get back to the foundation.
Application The only way we as a church is going to be restored is if we get back to the word of God. We need to meditate on His Word and love it. Only until we do this will we be able to do His will. Otherwise we will think we are doing it when we are not doing it. Ignorance plagues the church with reproach.
This is the reason our church is making serious effort to move. We sense God wanting us to be faithful in reaching out to all the Chinese in Pittsburgh as well as others. We sense that we can not do it where we are now. Obedience requires a move, and we have said that we will do it. This is a powerful statement before God. A pastor friend of mine says he is really touched by our willingness to move for the sake of the lost. We are giving up what will perish in order to gain what is eternal.
E. Entreaty (11) Right request to accomplish God's will - how can God answer wrong request?!
We need to make specific requests. Let God know what you need. Some people ask why do we need to ask what God already knows? The issue is that :
1) He has said you must pray it for it to be done, and
2) You must come to that point to realization that only God can help and so you trust Him for it.
What happens as a result? God gets the glory. If you didn't ask God, youmight consider yourself lucky, but when you pray, you dare not say it was just luck.
I have been trying to say to people who think we accidently have a nice church that this is because you are in a nice church. They do not understand how much God has blessed this place. In a sense it is a place where one can easily get the fear of God because things are so right. I say it is because God's people are praying. God's people have been obeying. Therefore we give praise to God for letting us be here.
Nehemiah's prayer was so powerful because the love of God got into the life and schedule of Nehemiah. His life turned about when he heard the report. I hope we so train our sons and daughters to be able to hear God's reports and so if God calls them into any special work, they are not lacking in knowledge or experience. But we must also come back to our own lifes. Will we really stop playing the world's game and begin to pray like we are suppose to?
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