A. Developing a prepared heart
B. Possessing a responsive heart
This is the second message in the "Rebuilding Our Faith" series. Our first message was an overview of the whole book of Nehemiah. We understood through the seven "Remember" prayers of Nehemiah that he was not just a gifted man but a godly man. He did not just care about the organization of a city but its spiritual renovation. When our hearts are just content with adding new transfer members then our congregation is ready to be carried out to the morgue. It is easy to live and feed the powers and needs organization. These things are like the new technocratic pets such as the "nano kitty" that are becoming common where one has to pretend to feed and pretend to cleanup. It is all imaginary; there simply is no substance. In the end it will not make much difference whether you ignore it and it dies or you take care of it and it lives. If we only have transfer members then the lost are still perishing as before. Membership is important but never as our end goal but only as a subservient tool to get our real goals done.
No wonder the present generation is suspicious of organization. They are not convinced of its importance or purpose. When the vision is lost, the people are destroyed. We might blame our young generation for not believing but in the end I believe that we have stopped living by vision and only live to perpetuate an organization.
Let me first use the nation of America as an example. Would we challenge our own sons, (girls should not serve as soldiers), telling them that it would be an honor to die in battle for our country? From the ambivalent and false American political stories we hear today, we are rarely convinced that we should protect the country in which we live. People are rewriting history books so that we do not live by vision and give up on this country and its traditional values. We need a desperate return to the real constitution and its purpose.
This phenomena can be seen in the church today too. Would we want our young children to commit their lives to an organization like the church and become pastors and missionaries? "Don't become too committed," parents say. People will think this way because they do not believe in the overwhelming importance of the church. They know only of its organization and do not know its vision. The organization has again subvertly replaced the organism. So the young and old are not out there to get too involved. This is not true in all parts of the world. Some places know the importance of the kingdom of God. They are wholeheartedly committed to the building up of the kingdom of God. They are willing to give their time, money, talent, and lives if necessary. It is their lives.
The Book of Nehemiah comes at a most dismal time in history. For the vision was lost and the people became corrupted and uncommitted to the living God. They lived like other people live. They wanted to be modern rather than live in the fear of God. Because they left God, God judged them like He said He would. The relationship with God as dictated in the covenant never ended. It just entered a new phase, albeit a most unpleasant one. But if the soul of the person is removed, why keep the body alive? If the country lost its heart, then why should it continue on like always? It shouldn't! They were judged and sent far away into exile. Here we see Nehemiah in Susa, the capitol of Persia in 445 B.C. One might have thought that the state of Israel should have had a funeral. Maybe they did. But just like the boy Elliot who had finally given up hope in ET's life, so Israel had given up hope in itself. But again like Elliot who found hope in a revived flower, only a desperate and waiting man like Nehemiah might discover the flicker of life found in God's promises. In effect, we want to study the reverse flow of life and learn how we can bring the body and soul back to full life.
Nehemiah did not believe the organization of the community could exist unless the soul was to be added to the city. But how did God rebuild the city of Jerusalem from one man in a distant and remote nation? Some people have given up on the Western church. Some say that England and the UK are great examples of where the church in America is going. The whole thing is slowly decaying. The vision has so far gone from the church that they say the only way that anything good will come from her is if American is taken over and the church is run underground. This would do something for the church, but it would be a horrible nightmare for the people. I don't know what will happen in America. My larger concern, and it should be yours, is how can we be instrumental in the growing of the kingdom of God? How did Nehemiah do it?
This whole operation was much more difficult than just starting fresh. To rebuild something requires a great more momentum to make sweeping changes in a people. Today I want to look at one of the most important lessons in the whole book, and perhaps the most applicable to us today too. We want to look at the flicker of light that gives us hope. I want us to know how to take the promise of God and wave it high in desperate hope. In other words, we are looking at reclaiming the land, rebuilding our faith, regrouping the lost. We are laying some of the most important foundations in the restoration of a vision. We will observe both Nehemiah's prepared heart as well as his responsive heart.
A. Developing a prepared heart
Sometimes we jump over the preparation stage. We want to make lots of money without the discipline of hard labor and study, thus the quasi ethic of gambling. We want to have freedom without developing responsibility. Sometimes we might think Nehemiah all of a sudden stood ready for this great task, never thinking of the life-long life of discipline and faithfulness. This is not true. The better a foundation, the better the building. When we examine the city and community that was built through the instrumentation of Nehemiah, or when we examine the challenges he faced from without and within, we should not fool ourselves that he was made overnight. We want to discuss what was needed in Nehemiah's heart to be able to respond the way he did. We must discuss this for without the preparation there is not proper response.
In the introduction, there is very little said about who Nehemiah's background. The only thing we know was that Nehemiah had a brother who recently got back from a trip to Israel. Whether it was a family visit or business trip we do not know. Evidently his brother must have possessed some freedom and financial wealth to do this.
Nehemiah, like many of us, maintain some links with his homeland. For him the old land was Jerusalem. He lived in ease and yet he never forgot the state of his people back home. He faced all the pressures to forget about his background and live for the future, taking care of his own immediate needs and forgetting the needs of those far away. Accelerated acclimation to the new culture and language seemed to lead to the best future. And perhaps he had already done many of these things to get in the position he now held. But somehow at this point in his life, he was still very attentive to God's heart. When God's timing was right, he responded. Nehemiah is consistently seen as a bright, God-sensitive, bold and persevering man of God.
Because of the dearth of information here on his background, let us study what kind of man he was from his response. The story starts with Nehemiah asking his brother and the others what was going on in Judah. It could have been just conversational, but it is not written this way in the text. Everything Nehemiah does is very deliberate and significant. Nehemiah was asking because he cared. I want to focus on three areas of his life that enabled him to respond as he did both in the short and long term.
1) He had a love for God's Word
God's Word was in his heart. If God's Word comes out in an instant prayer, you can be sure it was put there over a period of time. It might have been put in his heart by his dad and mom who kept telling him of God's Word, but it seems more than just this. He also took an active role in putting God's Word at the forefront of his heart and mind.
If you remember back to the series from II Peter 1, you will remember that we were to add the knowledge of Jesus Christ into our lives. We were not just going to be content with outward good conformity - living by the general consensus of values about us. But when we add on the knowledge of Christ found in God's Word, we can begin to look at what is needed to live godly lives in this world. The knowledge of God's Word prepared Nehemiah for his significant role in the rebuilding of Jerusalem.
Application My question for you is do you have God's Word so planted in your heart that it can be used at an instant notice? Jesus used God's Word to protect Him from temptation, to instruct others, to guide Him, etc. If Christ knew the Word of God, why don't you make sure that you know and love God's Word too? How can you be prepared to meet the challenges and opportunities of life if you don't aggressively love to study God's Word?!
2) He lived in obedience.
The first area of preparation was in knowing God's Word, the second was in doing God's Word. Nehemiah in Nehemiah 1:8-11 said,
"Remember the word which Thou didst command Thy servant Moses, saying, 'If you are unfaithful I will scatter you among the peoples; 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.' "And they are Thy servants and Thy people whom Thou didst redeem by Thy great power and by Thy strong hand. "O Lord, I beseech Thee, may Thine ear be attentive to the prayer of Thy servant and the prayer of Thy servants who delight to revere Thy name, and make Thy servant successful today, and grant him compassion before this man."
Now it is very clear that Nehemiah had it on his heart to be part of the restoration. He was not the only God-fearing man but joined himself with others who had a passion to obey the Lord. He could not have reached this point if he was still caring about making compromises in his own life. If the condition that God would bring them back was "keeping His commandments and doing them" (1:9), then we can be sure Nehemiah was living such a life.
Application We must be sure that obedience is not just verbal confession. In order to rightly deal with sin, he had to live an upright life. You can be taking a lot about seeking God's will, but it is vain talk until we actually obey. If you know you are lazy and God's Spirit is prodding you to use your time better, then it is sin to not respond.
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3) He had a caring heart.
There is no doubt that Nehemiah felt involved. Some can think he just asked casually about Jerusalem. But Nehemiah purposely asked. It was an important step in the whole chain of reactions. I doubt this was a new topic to him. I doubt he was all of a sudden being challenged with this need. We cannot be sure he wasn't, but even if he was, he cared about what he heard.
So much news today is merely information. I am trying to listen to less news with more care. My grandfather set a good model here. He would listen to the news and then pray over what he had heard. There was not the mere amusement of knowing what is going on - news as entertainment, nor news as arrogance, that is listening to show oneself knowledgeable. But he was hearing the news in such a way that God was speaking to him.
The issue is whether we are going to do the asking or just the assimilating. Much of what goes for education is assimilation of facts. There is very little thinking out there. We read commentators and commentaries rather than think. We rarely study the original documents and the Bible itself. Without this invaluable tool, we will not easily respond to news rightly. Unless we ask the right questions, we will not get the right answers. The world will give us their political interpretations why Tibet needs to be free, or social interpretations why the welfare system has to be taken apart, but the follower of Jesus must care. He must be able to ask what the Lord wants.
Application We need to ask because we care. When Jesus saw people, it was because He cared for them. Do we sense the pain, loneliness and anguish in people's hearts or are we just trying to learn how to get ahead in our own lives better?
We are not asking what a godly decision is in a certain case, but how do we get to that point where we can make it? So many of us have our minds set out to have such and such a career that we have never given a distant chance to what God would have us do in our lives. These career goals formed early in life are in many cases idols. Christians join the world's system worshiping their career hopes with devoted attention, tens of thousands of dollars in offerings - even go into debt, spend hours and years meditating on them. Somehow they still think they are good Christians. Unless you make your career to serve Christ, then you better not go into it. Unless you know of and are ready to make the difficult decisions you will need to make in a certain field to stay loyal to the Lord, then don't go into it. I am not against training, but it must maintain its proper place. I would not skip church to take a test. I would not advance my chances for a bonus if I had to sacrifice my worship of God.
There is something in Nehemiah's heart that is precious. Undoubtedly the Spirit of God came to mightily move in Nehemiah's heart at a certain point, but there is more than that. Nehemiah's heart was as a field that was plowed under, tilled and sowed with seed. All the work is in waiting for the rains of the Spirit of God to come and cause life to come from that seed.
What if God wanted us to do some special task whether here or far away in our hearts, would we respond to Him appropriately? Great leaders like Joseph, Noah, Daniel, Jeremiah, etc., did not instantaneously become great. They had a foundation in their lives where they made some foundational decisions that what mattered most is that they were doing God's will all through their lives. For if we properly understand this preparatory stage, it is the testing ground of your heart whether you will obey the Lord in the small things so that He might be able to give you larger responsibilities.
Application Are you really preparing for God to work through you? Are you anticipating more that affair with the sport program or nestling down with God's Word in His presence? How can you say you love God's Word and His people when you spend so little time on these things and much more time on feeding your eyes with vain entertainment?
B. Possessing a responsive heart
If we prepare ourselves like a child or neglect preparation, then how can we expect anything more than to be treated as a child or baby? But in Nehemiah's case, we find that a great foundation was being laid in Nehemiah's life, like many other saints of old. Forty years in the wilderness was a perfect training program for Moses who grew up in a palace. Nehemiah was ready now for what we would see is a series of crucial decisions. We must not think of God's will as making one right decision but many right decisions to do what God wants in the way God wants.
We only find that He asked. Nehemiah had to ask. When he did ask, he knew he would never be the same again. We do not see the words of the Holy Spirit in these verses, but we sure see the Spirit working in him. The anointing of the Spirit was heavy upon Nehemiah. He seemed to be overwhelmed at the things he was hearing. There was a heavy burden upon his heart that he couldn't escape. The report only confirmed what he already knew. Nehemiah heard the report say in 1:3,
"The remnant there in the province who survived the captivity are in great distress and reproach, and the wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates are burned with fire."
For years his life was being prepared for this time. He waited faithfully. This calling was so compelling that protecting his career or placement no longer became important. Life itself he was willing to forsake if necessary. But in a distant part of his life, the embers which were being kept alive by the Word of God, all of a sudden became a huge all-compelling flame. Note what happen to Nehemiah after he heard the report in verse 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."
You might wonder whether he had just heard that his father died or something of equal personal tragedy. But actually what the report said in verse 3 only repeated that which had been going on for a long time already. But the additional report just burst upon his heart. Some people think the call of God is a sudden and unplanned event. All of a sudden without much struggle God told me to do something and I do it. Probably very rarely this happens, stubborn and unbelieving creatures we are. We wrestle with the idea. The wrestling becomes for us a way of confirming this is what God wants. The burden persists. People keep saying you should lead a Bible study, but you think "No, no, I can't do it." The burden must persist until we are willing but also until we are believing that He can do such and such through a person such as I.
Now don't get me wrong that because I use the word "calling" that a certain church was calling Nehemiah to come serve. Again, that is also more rare than common. We do not see that there was any particular opening asking for someone to lead the Hebrews out of Persia back to Jerusalem. Please send your resume, etc to the following address. The greatest struggles about God's will take place in our hearts - in our own wills. Once this is cleared then we should not be surprised to see opportunity to confirm God's will as moved in your heart. So the man of God can begin to feel God's heart as it comes to rest in his heart as a burden. If you have such a burden, and it can be easily thrown off, then don't worry about it. But if it persists in the back of your mind and has seized your heart, you would be wise to confront it right away.
Nehemiah was so moved when he heard the report, he had to sit down. He wept and mourned for days. He even fasted and prayed seeking for clarification of God's will. It is like waking up one wintry morning to discover you have a box of an unassembled tricycle on the living room floor. Because it is your living room floor and you have a child wanting a tricycle, you seem destined to put it together! Nehemiah was given this burden that just broke his heart. He was then wondering how God would give him an opportunity to do what was on his heart. For him no doubt it seemed like a grand miracle had to take place. No doubt this always seems the case. If I said last December that within one year we would all be worshiping at First Baptist and another church would be using this building, you would think me strange. But God is full of mysteries. A series of divine interceptions must precede otherwise it would never work out. Please do not overestimate Nehemiah's high position. Even if he got permission from the world emperor, how would he fund it? How would he protect the people on the journey? How would they ever get the supplies? How would the people respond? How would their enemies be protected? How would the people in Israel respond? Nehemiah fasted and prayed before the God of heaven to see what was on God's heart. We will discuss what he prayed more next time.
But I would like to close upon his remorse upon first hearing the report. There is no doubt that Nehemiah was the right man because of his compassion. He cared for their hurts and bruises. He didn't tolerate the situation; at least he did not want to just tolerate it. He cared. He had compassion just like Jesus when he looked out and saw the multitudes,
But do you have genuine compassion? Is your heart sensitive to the needs around you? My belief is that there is much God longs to do in our generation, but the young and old have become deaf. They have never sought God out; they have never taken His Word seriously. You have been too long absorbed in your own career and play activities.
At a recent pastors prayer meeting we met in the front of a small church at one of the worst corners on the Northside. Here we were with about a dozen people praying in front of this tiny church for God to change the Northside. Among the crowd is a few non-clergy. One lady deaconess from Riverview Presbyterian Church has been so concerned for this corner that she actually started rallying other people and churches to join with her in making a lasting change. Christians from all different churches gather together to pray. I know this sister cares for this area. She is not a developer with hidden interest but a mother who has watched her children grow up in that decaying area for many years. She has a sharp eye. She knows where the drug sellers do their transactions and the prostitutes theirs. Something is driving her soul to make a difference. Why her? Because no one else stood up? Could anyone else? Yes. One person told me that she heard Kathryn Kulmann say that she was not God's first choice but more like the 6th or 7th. There were that many men that turned down that kind of ministry that God had wanted to exercise.
The survival of the church and the community with its freedom depends on how much we in our freedom will discipline ourselves to do God's work. The night is about to come for the Western church. Its shadow has already fallen on some European countries. The shadow is chasing us. God is asking each one of us to lay a foundation upon which He can use. He is asking us to prepare ourselves for His work wherever it might be, whatever company you might work in. But the issue is that we anticipate His person and His work by readying ourselves. Too long we have fed our vain imaginations with fake pets and empty organizations. Does it really matter who won the ball game? Does it really matter if you see the end of a movie? They will pass away. But what will endure is the kingdom of God. Where is your heart? Do you really care? God is waiting to see it in your life.
Biblical Foundations for Freedom