: The proper response to trouble and shame is always penitent prayer.
I asked Jo the other day if there was possibly a time over our 32.5 years of marriage when I had maybe responded improperly
to a situation.
Apparently I have. And just as an aside Jo has an insanely good memory for detail.
Amid the barrage of Jo’s recital commemorating my numerous offences was the ‘kick under the table’ incident.
Community service announcement
If your wife were to tap your leg with her foot under the table while you were dispensing some wise advice or information to another person at that table; the improper response
would be to exclaim, “Who’s kicking me?”
To be fair I have made some good responses. When Jo asked if I’d marry her, I said, “Sure. Wanna watch me play footy?”
Proper responses, improper responses
I’m sure you have a few stories of your own.
In our passage we will learn about a proper response
Today we begin the story of Nehemiah
. From 1:1
we see that these are Nehemiah’s ministry memoirs from the year 445BC. This is historic narrative
I have it on good authority that 43% of the Bible is historical narrative – not including the gospels.
When the Readers Digest produced an abridged version of the Bible, making it faster and ‘more interesting’ to read, they did it by removing the boring bits, which to them was much of this history.
But God has kept it in. He has done that for our good. To teach us how to see his hand throughout history
. It has been preserved as Scripture to make us wise for salvation in Christ. And to know how to walk in a manner worthy of our calling.
And from today’s section of Nehemiah we will answer the question:
What is the proper response to great trouble and disgrace?
Nehemiah is an Israelite but he lives in Susa (v1),
the winter residence of the king of Persia
We’ll see why he’s there in a minute.
But he catches up with some guys from Jerusalem and this is what they tell him.
v3 God’s people are
“in great trouble and disgrace
If this was a Gerard Butler
movie (Olympus has fallen; London has fallen; Angel (LA) has fallen) it would be called “Jerusalem has Fallen.”
The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire
Look down to the end of v11
we read that Nehemiah was cupbearer to the king.
This is a position of great responsibility.
Taste the wine before the king got it.
Secret service agent protecting the most powerful man on the planet from assassination.
So what is the response of Nehemiah, secret service agent to great trouble and shame?
For a man in this position there are a few options.
Leverage his position to petition change.
Embark on a covert mission with other secret service agents.
Or go it alone.
What he actually does is to pray
v4 As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.
The proper response to great trouble and shame is prayer.
For such an action figure this response to what is obviously distressing news might seem lame.
Seriously, does prayer actually do anything? I saw a social media post during the week following more gun violence. The post pictured a condolences card with the words Thoughts and Prayers which had been crossed out and hand written underneath were the words Action and Courage.
The message is clear. Prayer is useless in the face of trouble and shame. We don’t want useless sentiment, we need action.
And it is true, ‘thoughts and prayers’ can be a throw away line.
Not all prayer is equal. The New Testament book of James tells us that there is a way of praying which God will not answer
But here, Nehemiah shows us THE PRAYER THAT GOD WILL ALWAYS ANSWER.
“O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, [prayer informed by Scripture] let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses.
This is a penitent prayer. Lord you are good and we are not.
You keep your word [v5 covenant
] You are steadfast in your love to those who seek you as their Lord. We however, break our promises and disobey your Word. We are corrupt and rebellious toward you.
God you are good and we are not. But our hope is in you.
v9 God says, but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, … I will gather them
If you turn back from your sin and seek me as Lord I will answer you. I will show mercy and address your brokenness. That is a promise from God. The prayer he always answers.
We often pray from our small viewpoint. God does answer but always from his big picture view. This prayer acknowledges God’s sovereignty/power and authority
The penitent prayer is the prayer that God will always answer it is as true today as it was 2500 years ago. If you turn back from your sin and seek me as Lord I will answer you.
Prayer + Sovereignty of God MASSIVE. Let’s see what Nehemiah 2
has to say about this. Not everything, but confidence in God who never changes.
Three times in chapter 2 we see God at his work
[God answering prayer] according to his great purposes through Nehemiah. Nehemiah refers to is as the good hand of God upon him…
Firstly, we see God’s hand upon him when Nehemiah is …
1. Requesting the king (v1-8)
Four months (v1
), this issue still weighs heavy on Nehemiah. Sometimes weighty matters remain weighty for a time even as we trust God to act
In fact God uses Nehemiah’s distress for his greater purposes. God may not answer straight away. And God can use your discomfort.
We see that it’s the king’s birthday, or some other celebration; not usual for the queen to be there (v6
Time of joy so why the sad face emoji
Nehemiah? No small matter (v2 afraid
), he shoots an arrow prayer
to God and then he makes a bold request
Letter of authority, use of the king’s account at Bunnings to repair the damage and tidy up a house.
Nehemiah approaches the king in boldness, because he has called on God in repentance. He knows God answers such prayer.
And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me.
It was the king who wrecked the walls (Ezra 4:7ff). But it is God who will move him to rebuild. Because he directs history for his purposes.
Secondly, we see God’s hand upon him when Nehemiah is …
2. Recruiting the people (v11-18)
So Nehemiah arrives in Jerusalem. V12-16
checks out the extent of the damage to the walls of Jerusalem. It’s a mess. I imagine a mess something like walk-way along Kedron Brook after the floods. Mangled and misplaced. It’s going to take a lot of work.
But Nehemiah recruits the people. Read v18
And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work.
The king is now helpful because the good hand of God is upon Nehemiah to lead the people so that God’s eternal purposes will be achieved.
Lastly, we see God’s hand when Nehemiah is …
3. Rebuffing the enemy (v10, 19-20)
V10 and 19
we see the local government councillors are unhappy that help has arrived for God’s people.
“The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build, but you have no portion or right or claim in Jerusalem.”
It is God who will assure that his plans succeed, he will work through his people (those who trust him) and no opposition can stand in the way.
What can we learn about a proper response from this historical narrative account of Nehemiah?
Thankful confidence in God’s Steadfast love and faithfulness.
God has been at work in all of history to move his long-term plans toward fulfilment.
What we see is that Jerusalem c.450 years later was the host city for the fulfilment of these plans.
On a Roman cross, just outside those rebuilt walls God’s long-term plans were revealed. That the cost of our corruption, wickedness, and rebellion against God were paid for in the death of the Lord Jesus.
And it was within those rebuilt walls, after his resurrection that the good news was first proclaimed that forgiveness of sin and eternal life was found through repentance and faith in the Risen Lord Jesus. That is the proper response – to great trouble and shame of sin.
And it was from that city that the message spread throughout the world.
1 John 1:8-9
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Nehemiah has changed the way I pray this week …
Shooting in Texas
Nehemiah 1-2 teaches us to be people who are growing in our understanding of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness.
Who never lose sight of our sinfulness and need for Jesus.
And who delight in God for his mercy and grace and who declare his glory thought living boldly for him.