In 587 BC, the city of Jerusalem was torn down. God allowed this, because of sins and mistakes they had committed over hundreds of years. At the time, it seemed as if Israel was finished. The walls and houses were burned. Not one brick was left upon another. The city was plundered of all valuables. The people were murdered, raped, sold into slavery. Those who remained were carried off as refugees to a foreign land. The whole nation was destroyed.
Then, a full generation after this complete destruction God gave them a second chance. The book of Nehemiah tells the story of a group of exiles who returned to rebuild the city of Jerusalem. Nehemiah was the leader of one of those groups. His specific mission was to rebuild the walls of the city.
So what does this have to do with us? Plenty! The Book of Nehemiah is also an allegory of our own rebuilding after disaster. At one time or another everyone will endure a time of destruction. We may think it’ll never happen to us, but it will. We are never safe. Our sins and mistakes bring destruction on us the way it did in Israel. But after that destruction comes rebuilding. Even now God may be getting ready to rebuild your life.
Sometimes, destruction comes upon us, because of our sins and arrogance. Other times, it just comes, without us doing anything wrong. No matter how or why destruction comes, it always has a purpose. God must plow the field before He plants. God must break up the old to plant the new.
Nehemiah wasn’t a prophet--he was a butler. Nehemiah quit job of butler to the king of Persia to serve as butler to the King of Kings. Being a butler taught him how to get out of the way and let the king lead.
One day while serving in the king’s palace Nehemiah was approached by a delegation of visitors from Jerusalem. He asked how the rebuilding was going. The news was grim. “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.” Nehemiah 1:3
This was terrible. Instead of making a new Jerusalem, the new returnees were being defeated everywhere.
Christians in America are in a similar place. Our country was once a center of Spiritual awakening, but now Christians have lost their prominent place and influence in society. This has come about, because of our sins of pride and laziness. We took God for granted, assuming our will and God’s were sought power so we could rule in His name. We failed, and churches all around us are closing. Christianity in America is nearing collapse.
Christians try to rebuild, but the walls are down. Morally, there is very little difference inside and outside the church that few can tell the difference. Divorce, premarital sex, and the consumerist mentality is just as predominant inside the church as outside. Non-Christians criticize our judgmentalism and lack to love, and there is validity in their complaint.
We still build big churches, but compared with the churches of the past, they are hollow structures. They are full of people, but those inside lack the fierce commitment to Christ that was there in previous generations. The moral structure of the church of the past is still in ruins.
Twenty-five hundred years ago, Nehemiah heard that the Holy City was in ruins. When he heard it, he was upset, but not hopeless. God showed him the key to rebuilding. They had to rebuild the walls. Without a wall to keep out the neighbors, Jerusalem would be overwhelmed by the world.
We need two kinds of structures, or walls, in our lives. We need inner walls and outer walls. The outer walls are the structures that enable us to live in the world. In our lives, that means things like our family, jobs, houses, cars, and all the things that enable us to live in this world.
But even more important than our outer wall is our inner wall. These are the moral values that help us stand before God. When the outer walls collapse our inner wall stands firm. The inner wall gives us our identity as Christians. If we lose our identity, we can’t exist.
When Nehemiah hears the news he doesn’t get busy. He doesn’t rush in to try and fix the problem.
The biggest mistakes we ever make come from a desire to fix our outer problems while ignoring our inner problems. A person gets divorced, then quickly remarries without any awareness over why they did wrong in their first marriage. We get a job to pay the bills, without stopping to think why we were fired. We try to rebuild the outer wall, but do not deal with mistakes that caused it’s collapse.
When the Muslims had overrun the Holy Land, Christians responded by launching Crusades. After hundreds of years of bloodshed, the church not only lost, but ended up fighting each other. Spiritual problems do not have military answers. Before we rebuild the outside, we must rebuild the inside.
We see Nehemiah’s wisdom in verse 4, “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.” He didn’t organize an expedition. He got down on his knees and prayed.
The inner walls begins with our relationship with God. Greater is our God than whatever problems are in the world. God can beat any enemy, heal any hurt, and overcome any obstacle. He carries us when our strength fails. His strength is not human but superhuman. God’s force and power are inside us. They are our inner wall.
Nehemiah’s prayer gives us a good example of how we can rebuild our inner wall.
Step 1—Start with rebuilding our vision of God. The way we see God determines how we see the world.
“O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandment.” Verse 5.
God is great and awesome. He can do whatever he sets out to do. He is trustworthy. He keeps his word to us. He loves us. Seeing Him as He is give us strength.
There are two crucial mistakes we make about God. The first is to forget He is all powerful. Whatever our problems, God can solve them.
The second is to forget God loves us. Don’t begin any project of self-renovation until you understand God’s unqualified and unending love for you. He is with you in all circumstances and at all times.
Step 2--rebuild your devotional time with Him.
“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,” Verse 6.
God always hears our prayers, but prayer is more than asking. Our hearts can’t be remade in a day, but through habits developed over a long time. Prayer night and day means developing a habit of consistent prayer.
Don’t take worship lightly. It’s not just a pep rally to get us in the mood to work. Prayer and God’s Word is what renovates our inner selves. It is the most important thing we do.
Our culture scoffs at prayer. Sometimes people who don’t understand prayer act as if it’s unimportant. They make comments like, “God helps those who help themselves” or “He’s too heavenly minded to be any earthly good.” But hard work and personal effort cannot substitute for God’s help. Nehemiah recognized that only in God’s power could we win the battle, and not ours that wins the battle.
Step 3--rebuild our humility.
“confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father's house have sinned. 7 We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses.” Verses 6-7.
For generations Israel had become arrogant before God. They thought they could get away with being personally lax and corrupt and still build God’s house. How wrong they were!
Arrogance is thinking we’re always right and have all the answers. It’s also thinking we’re so important that our personal sins don’t matter. To think we’re right all the time is a sure sign we’re wrong. We need to repent and admit our mistakes. Rebuild the inner wall with repentance and humility. We must admit that we aren’t always right. Trust in God, but not in our own wisdom.
We cannot know the future, so we should tread very lightly and carefully. Take our time before acting. Walk carefully and stay close to Him. If we think we know what the future will bring, then we should immediately repent of the thought. Stay humble and trust in Him.
This weekend is St. Patrick’s Day. St. Patrick was the person most responsible for the conversion of Ireland to Christianity. St. Patrick’s followers then traveled to Scotland and England, and established Christianity there. If you are of Scottish or Irish descent you probably owe a spiritual debt to St Patrick.
Patrick was a humble man. He had been captured by Irish slavers as a youth, but escaped to England. He was converted and returned to preach. But his first efforts at preaching met with failure.
Then, on a mountain now known as Croegh Patrick, he prayed and fasted for forty days. When he came down off the mountain, he came with the power of the Lord. Everywhere he went, he stood up to the pagan priests, established churches and won all Ireland for Christ.
It wasn’t church walls he built that converted Ireland. It was what God built in his own soul. His habits of of prayer that enabled him to climb that mountain to stand up to Satan.
We don’t win spiritual battles by earthly means. We win them on our knees, in humility and repentance.
Nehemiah knew that only came when he stopped leaning on his own understanding. God was king. He made the difference. We learn to follow God one step at a time. The inner structure that carries us through is one of complete trust in Him.