Partly inspired by Isaiah 58:12 (which is rapidly becoming a ‘theme verse’ for the church in 2013!), Dave spoke about Nehemiah this morning and his commitment to rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. Nehemiah definitely could have been called a ‘Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.’ Born during the Israelites’ exile, Nehemiah had never even seen Jerusalem and yet when he heard that the walls of Jerusalem were broken down and the gates burned with fire (Neh 1:3), he was moved to fast and pray.

Nehemiah was a man of prayer. The work for which he is most famous began with prayer, continued with prayer, and the last words recorded in the book are words of prayer! He learnt to persevere in prayer: from getting the initial message to speaking to the king took about four months, during which time he was constantly in prayer. His prayer began with a confession of Israel’s apostasy and an identification with sin. Prayer always starts with a confession of sin, with an acknowledgment of our sinfulness in relation to God. When he started praying, Nehemiah probably didn’t expect to be the means through which God would answer his prayer. But as we align ourselves with God’s will in prayer, often we see things that we can actually do. Nehemiah came to the place where he realised that the rebuilding of Jerusalem mattered more than the luxury, influence and power he enjoyed with the king. He reached the point where, when the king asked him what was troubling him, he could send up an arrow prayer and ask the king for permission to go to Jerusalem himself (Neh 2).

When he arrived in Jerusalem – doubtless to the curiosity and excitement of the people there, for any royal official must have been newsworthy! – Nehemiah spent three days in prayer and reconnaissance before he spoke to the people about his plans. The God who had already worked on the king’s heart to grant safe passage and leave of absence had worked in their hearts too, so that they were eager to join with Nehemiah. Opposition came (Neh 2:19-20) in the form of ridicule and scorn. Opposition will always come to those who seek to put God first, for the offence of the cross makes no sense to those outside God’s plans.

Nehemiah dealt with the opposition by praying (Neh 4:4-6). When the enemy changed tactics and brought in actual fighting, Nehemiah showed wisdom in splitting his forces, putting half the men to work and half to guarding the work. When the enemy wanted to distract Nehemiah into ‘friendly conversation’, Nehemiah refused to be distracted (Neh 6:2-3). He was not deceived by false prophets (Neh 6:8-13). Instead, he kept his gaze on the work and thus, in 52 days, the work was completed (Neh 6:18). After that, he gave time for the reading of the law and reminded the people that this was now a time for rejoicing (Neh 8:10).

Nehemiah models for us whole-hearted surrender to God. Like Moses before him, he gave up the fame and comfort of his life to ally himself to God’s people, who were downtrodden and in need. The kind of fasting God requires from us is to loose the chains of injustice, untie the cords of the yoke, share our food with the needy and to clothe the naked (Is 58:6-10, see also Matthew 25). One person really can make a difference. One church really can make a difference. We need to stand up for the things we believe in and understand that we work for eternal rewards. Like the quizmaster in ‘Mastermind’, we need to finish that which we have started and continue to do the things God has called us to do.