The greatest evil in our
day is the secular humanism that says we do not need
God to do what we want to do. I think an even
greater tragedy is how many Christians live their
lives on the basis that they can function quite
adequately without Him. It is easy to think we can
depend upon our own abilities and ignore God. God
does not help those who help themselves. He helps
those who cannot help themselves. The religion of
secularism is the fastest growing religion in
America, and it has taken on a sugar coated
The book of Nehemiah
opens with a description of the tragic events in
Jerusalem. The people were in trouble. A hundred
years have passed and the walls of Jerusalem have
not been rebuilt and there are no secure gates to
The walls had been broken
down by the Babylonian invasion in 586 B.C. The
people of Judea were in exile in Babylon for 70
years. Two groups had returned from captivity to
Jerusalem. There is no historical evidence that the
walls of Jerusalem had been rebuilt before Nehemiah
The opening verses of
Nehemiah sound like the refrain of Psalm 137:1-4.
"By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and
wept, when we remembered Zion. Upon the willows in
the midst of it we hung our harps. For there our
captors demanded of us songs, and our tormentors
mirth, saying, 'Sing us one of the songs of Zion.'
How can we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land?"
(Psalm 137:1-4, NASB 1995)
Do you sing a song like
that today? Are your eyes focused on a great need
and a great challenge and feel utterly insufficient
for the cause? Perhaps your own personal wall and
outer gates need to be repaired before you can
accept the challenge of a new ministry.
THE TRUTH ABOUT OUR
There were spiritual
walls in Jerusalem that had to be broken down such
as idolatry, arrogant pride, and a secularism that
said we don't need God, and we don't want Him to
interfere in our personal affairs. God's
indictment was very clear, and He did not stutter.
The people of Judah stiffened their necks and
hardened their hearts against the Lord God.
"Furthermore, all the officials of the priests and
the people were very unfaithful following all the
abominations of the nations; and they defiled the
house of the Lord which He had sanctified in
Jerusalem. The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent
word to them again and again by His messengers,
because He had compassion on His people and on His
dwelling place; but they continually mocked the
messengers of God, despised His words and scoffed at
His prophets until the wrath of the Lord arose
against His people until there was no remedy" (2
God finally said enough
and brought the Babylonians to power and took the
people of Judah into captivity for 70 years.
When God was through with Babylon, He picked up
another hammer and used the Medo-Persians to deliver
His people from captivity.
Old walls have to
come down before new ones can be built.
God had to tear down some
old spiritual walls before He could build new ones
God used the Babylonian
king Nebuchadnezzar to destroy and remove the
sinfulness and idolatry of His rebellious people.
The old walls had to be "broken down, and its gates
are burned with fire" (1:3).
Nehemiah clearly defined
the problem. He saw the people of Jerusalem under
"great distress." It was a miserable situation. The
word for "reproach" means, "sharp, cutting,
piercing." They were suffering from misery and
calamity. With the walls torn down, they were in a
What are some of
the old walls God needs to destroy in your life?
Survey the walls around
you in your personal life, your home, your marriage,
your work, and your pleasures. Get alone with God
and take a hard look at some old walls that are
keeping you from being all that God wants you to be.
Perhaps your old wall has
become overgrown with the briars of sinful habits
and entanglements of sinful relationships. Maybe
your wall is filled with sinful habits that you now
find difficult or next to impossible to break.
Your wall may be wrongful
sexual practices that the Bible clearly forbids. You
know they are wrong and clearly out of control.
Maybe it is the wall of pornography or addiction to
prescription drugs or an unquenchable desire for
Is your old wall filled
with a critical attitude and a bitter tongue? Do you
whine and complain about everything? Has your
faultfinding become compulsive and habit forming?
Does it spread like an infection throughout your
Maybe the walls of your
city have been broken down.
Perhaps the gates to your
city need to be repaired. You were burned and no one
can get inside anymore. Perhaps it was some
bitter experience, betrayal or emotional abuse that
caused your gates to crumble. Maybe your ministry
was sabotaged by the selfish pride or controlling
spirit of someone or perhaps your reaction to him or
her. Your gate may have been burned by a selfish,
controlling, lying, backstabbing, abusive spiritual
leader and now you don't trust anyone, even godly
people. You may have been so badly burned that you
want to run away and hide. It has left you with a
feeling of reproach and disgrace. The emotional
scars on your wall have left you in great personal
distress and the last thing you want to do is trust
someone with your old wall. I have been a pastor and
ministered to other pastors and missionaries for 58
years. I have experienced and have seen what happens
when we build walls. The Lord has to remove all of
our false securities. He will bring them down one by
Do you find much of your
wall and gates to your life in the need of repair?
God will never use us to
our full potential unless we see the true condition
of our walls and burned down gates to our city. May
the Holy Spirit illumine the true condition of our
church, our community, and our world. We have to
weep over the walls before we can rebuild them God's
There is a new spiritual
wall that needs to be built around the city of your
soul. There is a wall of witness and testimony that
needs to be built that will exalt high the
faithfulness of our Lord God. We need to build a
solid wall of strong Biblical theology based on
God's faithful revelation. We need to build a strong
wall of eternal security based on the saving grace
of God in Jesus Christ. The strong wall of
justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ
needs to be proclaimed so that everyone who hears it
will trust in Him. On that wall of sound doctrine we
build our witness to the world.
Face the truth
about your old walls.
Nehemiah wept, mourned,
fasted, and prayed over the conditions in Jerusalem
(Neh. 1:4-8). He became personally involved in
solving the problem. He was a compassionate leader
who spent time seeking the mind of God.
That is where God's
people must always begin. What is the condition of
your spiritual wall?
Jesus said, "Blessed are
the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of
heaven" (Matt. 5:3). Have you recognized your
poverty of spirit? Do you realize it truly is in
utter spiritual destitution, helpless and miserable?
When you realize your poverty of spirit, you realize
your absence of pride, self-assurance, and
self-reliance which will not sustain you in God's
holy presence or in the building of new walls.
It is only when we come
to grips with our utter nothingness and utter
dependence upon God that He will rebuild our walls.
How is your relationship
Alan Redpath said, "When
God takes up a man and uses him in His service, the
first thing He does is to show him his own utter
inadequacy, insufficiency and unworthiness for the
tasks" (Blessings out of Buffetings, p. 22).
A. W. Tozer describes
what happens when we neglect the walls of our lives.
"Let the owner neglect for a while his prized and
valued acres and they will revert again to the wilds
and be swallowed by the jungle or the wasteland. The
bias of nature is toward the wilderness never toward
the fruitful field" (The Roots of the Righteous,
"What the walls were to
Jerusalem, our lives are before God," writes Chuck
Swindoll. Then he adds, ". . . the walls of our
lives often lie in ruins through neglect. The leader
who brings us to rebuild the walls is the Holy
Spirit, and it is He who continues the work of
reconstruction inside us. He tries His best to bring
to our attention the condition of our walls, but
sometimes we don't hear what He is saying. Yet, we
are not hard of hearing; we simply don't listen" (Hand
Me Another Brick, p. 27). Or we do not want to
Mourn over your old
Nehemiah prayed with a
humble attitude and a broken heart.
Nehemiah mourned over the
loss of his walls. He "sat down and wept and mourned
for days" (v. 4). God always welcomes a broken
spirit and a contrite heart.
The picture is an intense
emotion, expressed in weeping, fasting and prayer,
and it continued for four months.
Jesus said, "Blessed are
those who mourn, for they shall be comforted" (Matt.
5:4). Such mourning is too deep to conceal. The
sense of personal sin is too deep to hide. The
sinner sees his sense of poverty and spiritual
conviction and feels deeply. He mourns like a man
mourning for the dead. He cries out, "O wretched man
that I am. Who can deliver me?"
Jesus saw the deplorable
sins of Jerusalem in His day and sat down on the
slopes of Mt. Olivet and wept over the city and
mourned, prayed and sacrificed His own life for it.
What is your reaction to
your walls where you live? You may want to weep and
mourn and tell God all about it. He can take it. Do
we care enough for the spiritual needs of our world
to weep over it?
Get on your knees in
brokenness and mourn with a broken heart at what you
I know, that is not the
popular fad in our churches. Facing the truth in our
lives, mourning and weeping are not the popular
church "happy talk" mentality. But God still demands
that we face the facts about our spiritual walls and
mourn over them. Our choice is between feel good and
restoration of our spiritual life. God's principles
have not changed. The popular Christian happy hour
reinforces the narcissistic attitude and spiritual
depravity in our churches. Health, wealth and
prosperity will not produce spiritual maturity in
your life or in your church.
Nehemiah did not start
working until after his weeping. Neither can we.
Nehemiah could only work
after he cast himself in utter dependence upon the
LORD God. We work in vain if we are not in total
dependence upon Him (John 15:5, 16; Eph. 3:16-17).
"Prayer and fasting
before God of heaven" is the right attitude (1:4).
His heart was tender toward God. It is significant
that as a great leader the first thing Nehemiah did
was to turn to God in prayer.
Cyril Barber writes, "The
self-sufficient do not pray; they merely talk to
themselves. The self-righteous cannot pray; they
have no basis on which to approach God."
"There is one kind of
person for whom God can do nothing; it is the person
who is absolutely satisfied with what he is at this
moment in the sight of God," says Redpath.
PRAYER WAS THE
FOUNDATION FOR NEHEMIAH'S WALL (1:4).
Nehemiah's faith was
focused on the great attributes of God. Nehemiah's
prayer came from the heart of a man who fed his soul
on God's Word. He knew what God was like. He also
knew the great promises of God.
"I was fasting and
praying before the God of heaven" (v. 4).
As a Christian leader,
what is the first thing you do when you are made
aware of a problem? What is your first reaction as a
pastor or immediate supervisor? Is your first
instinct to take it to God in prayer?
Hudson Taylor said, "It
is possible to move men through God by prayer
alone." Nehemiah made prayer his priority.
Prayer is important for
every leader because: "Prayer makes me wait" and
depend upon God. It prevents us from rushing in to
fix something when we do not have all the details.
It forces us to depend upon God. Prayer not only
"makes us wait," but it also "clears my vision,"
says Swindoll. It helps us to see things from God's
perspective. Moreover, "prayer quiets my heart." It
takes away the worry and anxiety and gives a
steadfast peace. "Prayer activates my faith" (Hand
Me Another Brick, p. 41).
Pursuing God in
What is this "God of
heaven" like? He is "the great and awesome God, who
preservers the covenant and lovingkindness for those
who love Him and keep His commandments" (v. 5).
Your prayer life cannot
go wrong when you pray back to God His own great
promises and truths. Our friend Nehemiah recognized
the attributes and character of God.
He is "the great and
awesome God." Nehemiah begins with praise to God. He
anchors his prayer on the great attributes of God.
God is faithful even when we are faithless.
Nehemiah was pursuing God
in praise. He is the God "Who preserves the
covenant." He treats us with "lovingkindness."
God is pursuing a love
relationship with us. He loves those "who love Him
and keep His commandments."
Spend some time in the
Psalms marking your Bible so you can come to them as
you begin your daily prayers. Begin your prayer with
reading a few verses on praise and adoration of our
great God and Savior. This sets our attitudes right
before God. His desire is to hear us praising Him
every day. Nehemiah was no stranger to the truths of
God's Word. His anchor was in the faithfulness of
the LORD God and His covenant.
You may find it helpful
to copy some choruses and favorite hymns in the
blank pages of your Bible so you can refer to them
as you begin your prayer with praise. Take your
hymnal and read aloud some of the great hymns that
are filled with profound doctrine.
and Confessing Sin
Nehemiah was confident
that God would listen to his prayer.
His prayer is an appeal
for God's tender mercy. The more intensely we are
aware of our sinfulness and failure the more we,
too, will bathe our prayers in His mercy.
"Let Your ear now be
attentive and Your eyes open to hear the prayer of
Your servant which I am praying before You now, day
and night, on behalf of the sons of Israel Your
servants, confessing the sins of the sons of Israel
which we have sinned against You; I and my father's
house have sinned" (Nehemiah 1:6).
God demands that we mourn
over our sinfulness. "There is no blessing until we
look deep down in our own soul and see our spiritual
life as it really is," says Redpath.
Nehemiah had the
attitude, "There but for the grace of God go I." The
person who forgets his sinfulness falls into sin.
Nehemiah includes himself
in his confession of sin. There is no blame game
going on in his prayer. There is the absence of
self-righteousness. He does not excuse himself. He
accepts his own responsibility.
"We have acted very
corruptly against You and have not kept the
commandments, nor the statutes, nor the ordinances
which You commanded Your servant Moses" (Nehemiah
"Remember the word which
You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, 'If you
are unfaithful I will scatter you among the
peoples'" (Nehemiah 1:8). James Boice has pointed
out that God's covenants with Israel had two sides
to it: blessing and judgment. It was conditional. If
the people obeyed Him, God would bless; if they
disobeyed, He would chastise them. And that is
exactly what God did.
Nehemiah reminded God of
his promise when He said, if "My people who are
called by My name humble themselves and pray and
seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I
will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and
will heal their land" (2 Chronicles 7:14).
Has the Holy Spirit put
His finger on some sin in your life where you need
to confess to Him and turn from it?
We must do business with
God before we can do His business. He can use us to
His glory when He has us ready spiritually. He has
to lay new foundations before He can build secure
walls in your lives and ministry.
Affirmation of what
God is doing in your life.
Nehemiah's prayer is a
great affirmation upon God's past dealings and what
He is doing in his life. Real prayer is rooted in
the great promises of God. Nehemiah reminded God of
His gracious promises. In order to pray like that he
had to be familiar with God's promises. You cannot
pray back to God His promises if you have not
acquainted yourself with them.
Nehemiah claimed the
promises of God. He was fully assured that God was
able to do what He had promised.
"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'" (Nehemiah 1:9).
Nehemiah claims God's
promise to restore His people spiritually. His
prayer was answered based on God's purposes and His
great promises in Deuteronomy 30:1-5 and Isaiah
44:28-45:4. A great sovereign God is the one who
made the promises, and He will fulfill them.
He is a God who forgives.
He is a God who restores His people. He is a God of
great power. He is the God of the covenant.
Do you base all of your
prayers upon God's Word? Nehemiah learned to do
that. All of the great prayer warriors down through
church history have learned to do that.
"They are Your servants
and Your people whom You redeemed by Your great
power and by Your strong hand" (Nehemiah 1:10).
God has given Christians
great promises to claim as we rebuild our walls.
"If we confess our sins,
He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins
and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John
"The steadfast of mind
You will keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in
You. 'Trust in the Lord forever, for in God the
Lord, we have an everlasting Rock'" (Isaiah 26:3-4,
NASB 1995). The KJV reads, "Thou wilt keep him in
perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because
he trusteth in thee. Trust ye in the LORD forever:
for in the LORD JEHOVAH is everlasting strength."
What is God doing in your
life? What has He been doing over the past year?
What kind of ministry has He had you involved in
recent weeks? Ask Him to guide you and provide for
what He wants to accomplish in and through you. When
He calls He equips and provides.
"I can do all things
through Him who strengthens me. . . . And my God
will supply all your needs according to His riches
in glory in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:13, 19).
He is looking for a
vessel that is completely available to Him.
Nehemiah spent four
months, from December to April, praying over the
"great distress and reproach, and the wall of
Jerusalem" and its gates that were destroyed by
fire. That was the burden of his heart. And he
unloaded that burden on the Lord.
Verse eleven tells us
that Nehemiah had other believers praying over the
situation. "O Lord, I beseech You, may Your ear be
attentive to the prayer of Your servant and the
prayer of Your servants who delight to revere Your
name, and make Your servant successful today and
grant him compassion before this man." Now I was the
cupbearer to the king" (Nehemiah 1:11).
What is the burden God
has laid on your heart?
Make your prayer request
specific. Put your faith in God to help you and
start praying specifically for the burden He has
laid on your heart. Ask Him for grace and strength
to accomplish the task that is before you.
Yield yourself to
Jesus said, "But seek
first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all
these things will be added to you" (Matthew 6:33).
The servant of God does
not go to God and make demands on Him. He does not
insist on his rights because he has none.
Nehemiah was determined
to know the mind and direction of God before he
acted upon the terrible news of the deplorable
situation in Jerusalem.
Servants of God do not
have any right to choose their own task or sphere of
service. Nehemiah realized the claim of God on his
life and for that reason he sought the mind of the
LORD God before he acted. "Lord, what will You have
me to do, and how would you have me do it?" Only as
the Lord achieves His eternal purpose in and through
you will your life be successful in His sight.
God wants absolute
submission to His will.
The only way we can
possibly live the Christian life to its fullest and
to enjoy that quality of life which is made possible
in Him is by virtue of allowing Him to live His life
in and through us. When we focus our eyes upon Him
we draw from His fullness.
God is looking for a man,
a woman, a youth who will make himself available to
King David said to his
son Solomon, "As for you, my son Solomon, know the
God of your father, and serve Him with a whole heart
and a willing mind; for the LORD searches all
hearts, and understands every intent of the
thoughts. If you seek Him, He will let you find Him;
but if you forsake Him, He will reject you forever"
(1 Chronicles 28:9). Those are words of wisdom for
us today too.
Expect God to
answer your prayer.
The Lord wants us to
trust Him. Have you ever noticed that God does not
provide until we need it? His timing is always
perfect. For years I have kept a running list of "I
Saw God Do it!"
Nehemiah expected the
Lord to give him success. "O Lord, I beseech You,
may Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your
servant and the prayer of Your servants who delight
to revere Your name, and make Your servant
successful today and grant him compassion before
this man. Now I was the cupbearer to the king"
He was praying something
like, "Lord, something has to happen! Do something,
anything. Change our lives. This is no way to live.
Lord, you take over my life."
I like the simple prayer
of Jabez because it came from his heart. "Now Jabez
called on the God of Israel, saying, 'Oh that You
would bless me indeed and enlarge my border, and
that Your hand might be with me, and that You would
keep me from harm that it may not pain me!' And God
granted him what he requested" (1 Chronicles 4:10).
That is what God wants
from us. When I pray that prayer I expect God to
answer it. I expect Him to give me success in what
He is doing in my life. It is not my will; it is His
will that I desire.
The father of the modern
missionary movement, William Carey declared: "Expect
great things of God; attempt great things for God."
That is spiritual boldness.
Make me successful today,
Lord in the things that please You. Nehemiah was
available to meet the need in Jerusalem, if that was
Rejoice in Christ.
When God answers your
prayer, please don't forget to stop and thank Him.
In fact, before you end your prayer, break out in
praise to Him rejoicing in His faithfulness.
PRINCIPLES AND PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS
Obviously we have made
many applications along with the observation and
interpretation in this study. The opening chapter of
Nehemiah gives us some basic principles for an
1. Nehemiah was
available to God and to His people. He had an open
door policy with people and a direct line with God.
2. He recognized
the need and clearly defined it. He could state the
problem in a concise statement.
3. Nehemiah got
involved in solving the problem.
4. He got eternity
into the picture. What is God's perspective of the
this Series on the Nehemiah Index
1:1-12 Prayer of Nehemiah
Series: Book of Nehemiah