First Mennonite Church
January 16, 2022
He Who Calls, Also Empowers
Text: Nehemiah 1:1-11
This and in the next few weeks, I will be preaching from the book of the prophet Nehemiah. But before I do or say anything, let me bring this to your attention.
This year in November, First Mennonite will be turning 125 years of being founded. It was founded in 1897. There is no doubt the Lord has been with this congregation throughout these many years. The Lord has been the one who called pastors, teachers, and administrators for the various committees this congregation has had and has today. The Lord has called each and every person who has been a member of this congregation, whether baptized here or not, whether baptized or not. The Lord has been and is faithful. He held the hand of this church in its times of difficulties. He has blessed and made it a blessing to this community. The Lord has and continues to rejoice with and over us. His mercies never end, in fact, in the word of the prophet Jeremiah, his mercies are new every morning. God’s mercies are new for you and me today.
Now, the reason why I am doing this short series in the book of Nehemiah becomes clear. The book of Nehemiah can be divided into two major sections. From chapters one to seven, the book of Nehemiah focuses on building the city walls. From chapter eight to 13, Nehemiah focuses on building the people, their faith and commitment to the Lord. For any congregation the age that we are, these two aspects of building are essential. I want to be open about my intentions and as you know, I have never peddled on anything before and for any reason. But, the story of Nehemiah can awaken in our heart issues that not usually come to our heart. So let us turn to Nehemiah chapter one.
Read the Text:
In my sermon last Sunday, I briefly mentioned what was happening during Jeremiah’s imprisonment. The Babylonians were about to take over Jerusalem and to carry away the majority of the people into captivity. Let us forward some 150 years after and we have the story we read in our passage this morning.
The name Nehemiah means “Yahweh has comforted.” Nehemiah was possibly a third or fourth generation of the exiled Jews. Therefore, he was not part of the original generation of exiles. As the cupbearer of the Persian king Artaxerxes I, Nehemiah had the responsibility of selecting and testing the wine the king would drink, as a defense against assassination attempts at the king.
Around the months November-December in 445 BC, which that corresponds the month of Kislev, a brother of Nehemiah and other Jews came to see Nehemiah. The way we are told how Nehemiah got to learn of the situation in Jerusalem, is that he questioned Hanani and his companions about it. Nehemiah not only inquired about the situation, but he interrogated them on how things really were in Jerusalem. And the report give about the condition of the city, was not that it was only bad, but even disgraceful. The wall around the city was all in rubble and the gates charred and dangling.
Upon hearing about the condition of the city, Nehemiah wept. Verse four reads: When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.
People cry for various reasons. Some out of joy, like when their child is born, or like when a couple say their wedding vows. Some people cry out of sadness, like when their child goes to college, or when watching a sad movie. But here is a man who was crying for broken walls and burned down gates. Nehemiah mourned, fasted, and prayed about the things he just heard.
Nehemiah’s prayer in verses five to 11, reveals his approach to God about the burden Nehemiah had in his heart.
Praise: The first part of the prayer was praise. Nehemiah praised God, as Creator, sovereign and faithful to those who keep his commandments. Nehemiah praise God for his eternal love.
Praising God should be a fundamental part of our prayers. Our prayer should not only be for petitioning to God. We should give praise for the blessings God has given us. The very possibility and privilege we have of coming before the holy and creator God should be reasons to give him praise and the glory.
Nehemiah then moves to confession. It is very interesting to notice that even when the reason Nehemiah found himself where he was, in Babylon, and was not part of the rebellious generation that caused the exile, he included himself as part of those who sinned against God. He did not blame his ancestors for what happened to the people, the city, or for the effect the rebellion has had on the following generations. Nehemiah confessed to God the sins of his people and pleaded with God to remember the promise he made to his people. Nehemiah knew that when God remembers something, he graciously does something towards those he remembers. God never forgets. He is always mindful of those who fear and love him.
Finally, Nehemiah’s prayer ended with a plea for success about what God had placed in his heart to do. Nehemiah asked God to give him grace when he pleaded his case before the king.
Nehemiah’s prayer can be a model for our prayer. Worship and praise should always be part of our prayer to God. God deserves gratitude and praise for everything in our lives. Confession of sins should precede petitions. And finally, let us be mindful that nothing should be excluded in our prayer. We can ask God for spiritual revival of the church, just as we can ask God about the maintenance project we have in the church.
I remember one day while visiting at the house of missionary in Belize. That day he was laying down linoleum on the floor of his house. Before he laid a section of it, he would pray that it would come out fine. He prayed even when putting linoleum on his floor. Nothing should escape from our prayers, be it for healing, the Holy Spirit’s guidance, or even for the tasks we have on any given day.
My dear brothers and sisters, I have always come before you, Sunday after Sunday, with the honest assumption that above everything in your heart is the earnest desire to obey God. I am certain in my heart that you want to please the Lord; that you want to obey what the Lord tells you to do. I come before you with the assumption that you have given your heart to the Lord and that in your gratitude for his marvelous grace you also would like to be in his service.
I am sure, there were many Jews who knew and saw the condition of the city walls and gates. And many of them might have said, “Oh it’s too bad!” or “What a tragedy, poor people!” Or, “Sorry, the needs more than I can help with!” And it was indeed. The situation was terrible. It was a tragic situation that no single person could solve by him/herself. But something happened to Nehemiah. God placed a burden in his heart after only hearing of the condition of the city. Here is man, a decent, respectable man, not a faint-hearted man, actually he was serving the table of the most power king in the world, yet he wept, he mourned, he fasted, and he prayed about what he just heard. God put a burden in Nehemiah’s heart to do something about a situation almost a thousand miles away.
Among the people of God, there are needs, always. Be it for people or for things that need to be done. There are needs that are met upon arising, sometimes due to their being small or requiring urgent address. But there are needs that go for long without being addressed and some due to being not as pressing or because they would require a hug investment of work or resources or both. After 125 years, FMC has many reasons to give thanks to the Lord for its existence. After a century and a quarter, we have much reasons to rededicate the life and ministry of FMC. It is my trust that God has begun laying on your heart that sense of a burden for what he wants you to do. I want to believe that God is doing what Paul says in Philippians 2: for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. The God who worked in the heart of Nehemiah also put in him the unwavering will to fulfill God’s purpose for the city.
May the Lord work in our hearts to stir up an unstoppable desire to pursue his calling on what we have to do about the projects we have for this year. Amen!