Rachel Freeman had been looking forward to Wednesday, February 5, for weeks, no months. She’d worked hard during her four years of high school and her hard work had paid off. On Wednesday of this past week, Rachel was set to sign her National Letter of Intent with Ouachita Baptist University. Nobody was more excited than Coach Guymon, Rachel’s future coach at Ouachita Baptist. He had recruited Rachel hard during her senior year. He knew she would be a great asset to the team. Two days before National Signing Day Rachel was out on a run with her teammates when a truck came speeding up on the sidewalk and hit six of the runners. Rachel died at the scene.
Rachel’s family had been planning her signing ceremony in front of all of her classmates in the gym at Moore High School, but Tuesday they were planning her funeral instead. How? Why? What do you do? How do you make it through the unimaginable, the unbearable?
This past week countless millions of people around the world received devastating news in one form or another. Devastating news comes in all shapes and sizes, it comes to those who suspect it and those who are blindsided by it. Devastating news is crushing, gut wrenching, and unnerving. Devastating news can come in an instant and radically change the lives of people for the rest of their lives. Devastating news can come and linger, slowly hanging like a dark, ominous cloud overhead, and growing darker as the days pass by. My heart broke for a friend of mine I was talking to this past week about a loved one who is slowly fading because of dementia.
The reactions that people have to devastating news has not changed through the thousands of years of human history. Some grow quiet, as if they are in shock, while others respond in such an emotional, even physical way. I can remember watching the evening news and seeing a woman overcome with grief and sorrow, fall to the ground, and weep and wail at the news of the tragic death of her grandbaby. When Nehemiah heard the news about what was going on in Jerusalem, he sat down and wept as well.
The difference between Nehemiah and many of us is this: When Nehemiah heard the devastating news he turned to God in prayer. I want us to focus on Nehemiah’s prayer this morning. Let’s begin reading in Nehemiah 1:5.
5 Then I said: “O LORD, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commands, 6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s house, have committed against you. 7 We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses. 8 “Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, 9 but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’ 10 “They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. 11 O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.” I was cupbearer to the king. (Nehemiah 1:5-11 NIVO)
This prayer was a response to the news he had just been given by his brother Hanani and some other men who had come from Jerusalem. Nehemiah asked how things were going in Jerusalem and he was told the people were “in great trouble and shame” and the walls around the city had been broken down and the gates in the wall had been burned. In biblical times, the city’s walls were of utmost importance. Some would say the wall around the city was even more important than the city’s army. Without walls packs of bandits, bullies, and thieves would come right into the city at any time of the day or night and pillage the city. Nothing of any value could be kept in the city because it would be stolen by those who would take advantage of the lack of security, normally provided by the wall of the city. Proverbs 25:28 says,
Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control. (Proverbs 25:28 NIVO)
Years and years had passed. Almost 100 years had passed since the first wave of Jews had returned from Babylon and no progress was being made, the people were shamed and ridiculed by their enemies, being taken advantage of by others, and greatly afflicted by their circumstance. Most people would look for someone to blame, but Nehemiah looked to God. Nehemiah fasted, wept, and prayed for many days while he was looking to God. I want us to remember, Nehemiah was not in Jerusalem. He was not suffering any of the disgrace, financial hardship, or persecution that those in Jerusalem were suffering. Yet, Nehemiah wept over the plight of others, he felt their suffering, and he took his sorrow and their pain to God in prayer.
We talked last week about God’s call for each of us as followers of Jesus to “carry one another’s burden.” This is exactly what Nehemiah was doing. This is what God’s people have been doing for generation after generation, but I’m afraid that in our day, here in America, there are many followers of Jesus who only weep over their own suffering and the suffering of their loved ones. We are called to weep for the suffering people of God spread throughout the world and in our own backyard. We are called to weep over those who are lost, those who do not know Jesus as Lord and Savior of their own lives. When was the last time you wept, literally shed tears over someone’s situation, other than your family? As I was studying Nehemiah this past week I thought about something the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome. Listen to what Paul wrote about his own people, the Jews.
1 I speak the truth in Christ– I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit– 2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, 4 the people of Israel… (Romans 9:1-4 NIVO)
Paul said he had “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” in his own heart. What was it that was causing Paul such suffering? It was the state of his own people. His own people, the Jews, were rejecting Jesus in every place he went. It was so crushing to Paul that he said he would be “cursed and cut off from Christ” if only the Jews would have their eyes opened to their great need for Jesus. Paul would give up his salvation if only his people would turn to Jesus. Now that’s love. Just as Nehemiah and Paul were crushed over what they heard and saw in their own day, God is looking for men, women, boys, and girls who will be so moved by the predicaments, pain, and lostness of our own people today.
Nehemiah took his sorrow to God, in prayer. I mentioned last week that you and I will learn over and over again that Nehemiah was a man of prayer. We will find him praying about all kinds of situations and on most every page of his journal. Nehemiah praises God, confesses his sins before God, cries out to God for strength, mercy, compassion, and guidance. Nehemiah prays by himself and he prays alongside others. Prayer keeps Nehemiah oriented in a topsy turvy, upside down world. Let’s take a look at the opening sentence of Nehemiah’s prayer.
5 Then I said: “O LORD, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commands, (Nehemiah 1:5 NIVO)
Just look at what Nehemiah believes about God. God is YHWH God. He is the God of heaven. God is the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant love with those who love him and obey his commands. And when Nehemiah closes his prayer in Nehemiah 1:11, he prays that God’s ear would be attentive to the prayers of those who “delight to fear your name.” For Nehemiah, with everything falling apart in Jerusalem, there is a comfort in knowing that God is still God, He never changes, He is Nehemiah’s Rock and Strong Tower, and He is ours as well. This is why it is so important for you and me to begin with God and not our problems. We must begin with God and not the problems of the world. The priority of placing God first and foremost before us will keep problems in their proper perspective. David knew this truth and that is why he wrote, in Psalm 16:8.
8 I have set the LORD always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. (Psalm 16:8 NIVO)
I want you to notice something about Nehemiah’s prayer that is vitally important to our own prayer life. Nehemiah’s prayer is saturated with Scripture. There are not exact quotations in these verses, but there are clear references to Scripture from Leviticus and Deuteronomy throughout Nehemiah’s prayer. Let me just share a couple of examples with you. We’ve already read one of the examples I’d like to use. It’s found in Nehemiah 1:5 where Nehemiah refers to God as the One who “keeps his covenant of love.” Some other translations say, “who keeps covenant and steadfast love…” (Nehemiah 1:5 ESV). The King James Version translates the same Hebrew phrase, “that keepeth covenant and mercy…” (Nehemiah 1:5 KJV) Nehemiah was drawing upon the covenant God “cut” with Abram in Genesis 12. God chose Abram and made promises to Him. The Jewish people are God’s covenant people, they are the seed of Abraham, and Nehemiah, even though he had never been to Jerusalem, he knew the covenant God had made with His people. Nehemiah told God, “You are the covenant keeping God.” This sounds like Deuteronomy 7:9. Read it with me.
9 Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands. (Deuteronomy 7:9 NIVO)
Nehemiah’s God, our God, the One and Only True God is the covenant keeper. He does not break His promises, never. Now, we are quick to quote the wonderful promises of God that suit us best, but Nehemiah knew the reason the people were in the fix they were in was also because of the promise of God. Nehemiah was reminded of the sins of God’s people and so he confessed his own sin to God. Take a look at verse 6-7 with me.
6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s house, have committed against you. 7 We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses. (Nehemiah 1:6-7 NIVO)
Like Ezra, Nehemiah, even though he wasn’t even alive when the nation turned away from God, he numbered himself among the transgressors. He confessed the sins of the nation, his own family, and his own life before God. This has been very humbling for me this past week. It is so easy for me to look at all that is wrong with our nation, the visible evidence that we as a nation have turned away from God, and lose sight that I am guilty. When I am praying for God to change hearts and turn certain folks around, I need to put myself at the top of that list.
In Nehemiah 1:6-10 we get a glimpse of the second Scripture from Deuteronomy that Nehemiah had in mind while he was praying. First, let’s take a look at Nehemiah’s prayer. Read it with me.
8 “Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, 9 but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’ (Nehemiah 1:6-9 NIVO)
Nehemiah said, “Lord, remember what You told Moses.” What did God tell Moses? Well, Nehemiah summed it up pretty well in his prayer, but let’s turn to Deuteronomy 4:25-31.
25 After you have had children and grandchildren and have lived in the land a long time– if you then become corrupt and make any kind of idol, doing evil in the eyes of the LORD your God and provoking him to anger, 26 I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you this day that you will quickly perish from the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess. You will not live there long but will certainly be destroyed. 27 The LORD will scatter you among the peoples, and only a few of you will survive among the nations to which the LORD will drive you. 28 There you will worship man-made gods of wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or eat or smell. 29 But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul. 30 When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, then in later days you will return to the LORD your God and obey him. 31 For the LORD your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your forefathers, which he confirmed to them by oath. (Deuteronomy 4:25-31 NIVO)
God had promised His people that if they worshiped other gods that He would remove them from the land flowing with milk and honey and He would scatter them. Everything had happened just as God said it would, but now Nehemiah was calling upon God to remember…remember your people oh LORD! Nehemiah prayed,
10 “They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. (Nehemiah 1:10 NIVO)
This sounds almost identical to Moses in Deuteronomy 9:29. Moses was reminding the people that they had been rebellious since the day they left Egypt. He told them story after story to remind them of the hardness of their hearts and their rebellious ways. Moses also told them how he interceded for them before the Lord. Then, in Deuteronomy 9:29, Moses spoke to God, 29 “But they are your people, your inheritance that you brought out by your great power and your outstretched arm.” (Deuteronomy 9:29 NIVO) Lord, these people are a mess, but they are Your mess! Moses said it first, but Nehemiah reminded the Lord of the same truth. Today, it remains true. We are a mess, but we are God’s mess. He has saved us, redeemed us, claimed us as His very own. God will not abandon us in the mess of our lives. We, all of those who have trusted in Jesus as their Lord and Savior, are His. He will never abandon you, He will never leave or forsake you. You might be a mess, but you are God’s mess!
As Nehemiah wraps up his prayer, in verse 11, he prays for the Lord to give him success. More specifically he prays, “grant me favor in the presence of his man.” Which man does Nehemiah have in mind? It’s the king, King Artaxerxes. If the wall was going to be rebuilt, if the gates were going to be replaced, and if the city was ever going to be restored to its former beauty and vibrancy then the king would have to experience a change of heart. You might wonder how I know that? Well, if you will remember our study of Ezra then you will remember that in Ezra 4:17, King Artaxerxes sent a cease and desist letter to the Jews living in Jerusalem forcing them to stop building. Turn with me to Ezra 4 and let’s read together.
17 The king sent this reply: To Rehum the commanding officer, Shimshai the secretary and the rest of their associates living in Samaria and elsewhere in Trans-Euphrates: Greetings. 18 The letter you sent us has been read and translated in my presence. 19 I issued an order and a search was made, and it was found that this city has a long history of revolt against kings and has been a place of rebellion and sedition. 20 Jerusalem has had powerful kings ruling over the whole of Trans-Euphrates, and taxes, tribute and duty were paid to them. 21 Now issue an order to these men to stop work, so that this city will not be rebuilt until I so order. 22 Be careful not to neglect this matter. Why let this threat grow, to the detriment of the royal interests? 23 As soon as the copy of the letter of King Artaxerxes was read to Rehum and Shimshai the secretary and their associates, they went immediately to the Jews in Jerusalem and compelled them by force to stop. (Ezra 4:17-23 NIVO)
So, Nehemiah prayed that God might give him favor with the king. Nehemiah is a servant of the king, he can’t just barge into the king’s presence and make his demands, but Nehemiah knew God’s Word. God’s Word says,
1 “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.” (Proverbs 21:1 NIVO)
Nehemiah might not be able to change the king’s heart or mind, but he knew who could. Nehemiah knew who had the ability to change the king’s mind. Nehemiah knew the power of King Artaxerxes, but the king’s power wasn’t threatening to Nehemiah, Nehemiah wasn’t awed by the king. Nehemiah knew the King of all kings and he was appealing to Him to act on his behalf before Artaxerxes.
The difference between the prayer of Nehemiah and many of our prayers, my prayers, is that Nehemiah’s prayer is rooted in God’s Word while our prayers are rooted simply in what we want. What Nehemiah believes about God is rooted in what the Bible says about God and not what Nehemiah thinks about God. Nehemiah prays for the people of God based upon who God is and not what Nehemiah wants. This makes a huge difference.
Before we leave here this morning I want to ask you, “Have you ever prayed God’s Word?” Have you ever read a portion of God’s Word and prayed that Scripture back to God? This is really what Nehemiah did. He allowed God’s Word to shape his prayers. I want to encourage you to try it. I can even give you a couple of suggestions to get you started. Pray Psalm 23 or Psalm 27 or Psalm 103 back to God. You’ll be amazed at the depth of your prayer, the comfort God will give you when you pray His Word back to Him.
Also, before we go I want to ask you to allow the Lord to search your heart concerning the content of your prayers. If the Spirit of God were to go back through all of your prayers during the past year what topic or person appeared most in your prayers? I don’t know the answer for your life, but I bet I could guess what my top 10 would be. I’ve been convicted that my prayer circle is too small. I’ve been convicted that I spend far too much time talking to God about needs and wants and not nearly enough time praising Him for who He is and what He has done. Let’s focus on the greatness of our God, the awesomeness of our God, the mercy of our God, the holiness of our God during the next week. I know from experience that the more prominent God is, the less threatening everything else becomes to me. Let’s worship the Lord and proclaim His glory in our city this week. And if you’ve never surrendered your heart to Jesus then I want to invite you to do that this morning before you leave this sanctuary.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
February 9, 2020