6-Week Series: Against All Odds


Summary: How should we respond to the knocks we receive in life? What is the key to building the Church and Christian character? Answer: prayer! We look at the Nehemiah approach.

"Building the church, building Christian character" - Nehemiah 1

[Minister stands right up front with ’lollipop’ microphone in news reporter style]

"It has been described as one of the great tragedies and scandals of our time. The once proud city of Jerusalem still lies in ruins more than a century after it was devastated by the Babylonian army of King Nebuchadnezzar. All those years ago, the city was overrun and razed to the ground, and much of its population taken into captivity after Zedekiah, King of Judah, had rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, probably the most powerful man of his era.

Fifty years later, when King Cyrus of Persia controlled Babylon, a Jewish leader named Zerubbabel was sent back to Judah along with 42,000 others to re-build the country; but, when they started restoring the city of Jerusalem and its Temple, there was much opposition from other people living in the area, who bribed government officials to hinder the work. Nothing much happened then for fifteen years, until King Darius I permitted building to re-start and the Temple was at last completed. But the rest of the city was still in a mess, and that sorry situation has remained until this very day. But it’s not only the city walls that are broken down: the people of Jerusalem, too, are at a very low ebb and their future looks extremely bleak, unless something is done quickly. This is David Hughes for CNN, Jerusalem, in Judah."

[Minister returns to lectern and continues]

Back in 1984, Bob Geldof went home after a bad day at the office and turned the television on. The news was on and Michael Buerk was doing a filmed report from Ethiopia, where a disastrous famine was killing many thousands of people. Geldof later wrote, "I felt disgusted, enraged, and outraged, but more than all those, I felt deep shame." He knew he had to do something, but what could he do? He did what he could: he produced a record with all the top pop music acts of the time, called "Feed the world" which went straight to No.1; and he organised probably the most famous live music event ever, "Live Aid" at Wembley. Millions of pounds were raised to relieve the misery in Ethiopia.

Now, of course, Nehemiah didn’t really hear the terrible news about Jerusalem from the television – it came from his brother Hanani who had arrived in Susa from Judah – but I imagine that, like Bob Geldof, he too felt disgusted, enraged, and outraged, as well as the same sense of deep shame. He knew that the dreadful state that Jerusalem was in was deeply dishonouring to God, and the plight of the people pained him – he had to do something, but what could he do? Like Bob Geldof, he did what he could, he did what came naturally. We’ll look at what exactly he did do more closely in a moment.

Over the coming weeks, we’re going to be studying the Book of Nehemiah in depth, because I believe it has a lot to teach us about "Building the Church and Building Christian Character." This theme of "building" is, I believe, one which God wants us to focus on throughout this coming twelve months, and there is surely no better book of the Bible to help us do that than Nehemiah. And we start, this week, with chapter 1, which shows us that, at the foundation of the Christian life, should always be prayer; and, to impress that point upon us, "PRAYER" is the first brick in a wall which will build up over the course of the Nehemiah series. [Show brick with ’PRAYER’ chalked on it and place it where everyone can see it]

When Nehemiah receives the bad news about Jerusalem and its people, his first reaction is to weep, to lament, and to mourn over the continuing disgrace of the situation. And this was a godly reaction: remember how Jesus taught that "blessed are they that mourn, for they will be comforted" – Nehemiah recognised the shameful reality and responded with godly sorrow which drove him to his knees to repent and to intercede. So you see: when the going gets tough, the tough get praying!

And it’s clear that ...


It was an instinctive response. It is the first thing that the man, or woman, of God could and should do. For Nehemiah, it was just the most natural thing to do: to speak with the God of Israel, to express his concern about the people and city, and to receive God’s comfort and guidance. This immediate reaction suggests that Nehemiah was already in an established relationship with God – this was no one-off event, but part of a whole life of faith.

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