Strengthening our hands for the work

Posted: February 19, 2018 in Uncategorized

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.” Nehemiah 2.18

I wonder how well we know the book of Nehemiah
The thing that stands out most in my mind is that Nehemiah was the man who rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem
He also restored the worship of the Jerusalem temple
But what does the book of Nehemiah mean for us? What does it mean for our community?

As we read, we realise the walls are just a part of the picture
That bigger picture is the restoration of the relationship between the people and their God
That’s why we also heard a reading from Genesis this morning

God shows Noah the rainbow, as a sign of the covenant he makes with humanity and al living things
The theme, repeated again and again, is covenant, covenant, covenant
And that is also true of the book of Nehemiah – which is deliberately written as a re-telling of Deuteronomy, the book that tells how God prepared his people to enter the Promised Land

Nehemiah tells the people God wants them to rebuild the city wall
But he also tells them to treat one another with justice
If there’s no justice for the people in the city, there’s no point in having a city

The book of Nehemiah also reminds us of the importance of prayer
Nehemiah does great things, but he doesn’t rush into action
His first response to every situation is prayer
He prays before he leaves the Persian court and comes to Jerusalem

When he gets to Jerusalem, he does nothing for three days – perhaps because he’s tired after the journey
But I think he spends that time in prayer
Then he goes off and tours the city by night, and looks at the ruined walls
And I’m sure that’s also time he spends in prayer

Then he assembles the people, and speaks to them. He says,
You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision.” 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.

How do the people respond to Nehemiah’s testimony? Are they convinced? Yes!
They said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work.

The toughest part of mission is, breaking the news to the people who will have to do the work: how do you persuade them? Nehemiah shows us how

First of all, it helps if people know you are someone who prays
Nehemiah’s habit of prayer reveals him to be someone serious, someone of integrity, someone who wants to serve God rather than himself

How often do we come together for prayer in our church, outside worship services?
How far does that reflect the time we spend in prayer, individually?

Secondly, it helps if people know you’ve done your research – you’ve spent time seeing the situation as it is on the ground
Nehemiah doesn’t just act on the basis of the reports that reached him in Susa
He takes the time to see for himself exactly how things are

Prayer walking is an obvious tool to use in seeing our community through God’s eyes – but every meeting with people from our community, formal or informal, should be preceded and followed by prayer

Thirdly, it helps if people can believe the thing you want to do comes from God; that God’s purposes will be served by the work, and God’s hand will be on the workers
Nehemiah gives a testimony
He tells them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, in his life in exile and the important job he had been given
He tells them
of the words that the king had spoken to me, how God had persuaded Artaxerxes to release him from his duties, to do this important work in his own land

It is good to have people in our churches come forward with individual insights and revelations given in prayer
But for anything to happen, the church community needs to sense a collective purpose, and have faith that this is God’s purpose

In the next few weeks we’ll see how the story unfolds
And how Nehemiah’s story still speaks to our church today
Particularly how we see the relationship between the faith we proclaim in our worship, and the life of the community outside

18 February 2018, St George’s, High Heaton

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