Summary: This sermon will focus on 7 winning life strategies when you’re faced with a God-sized problem
Revision: Winning Life Strategies
Nehemiah 2: 1-10
Two old men lived in the backwoods of the Ozarks named Rufus and Clarence. They lived on opposite sides of the river and hated each other. Every morning, just after sunup, Rufus and Clarence would go down to their respective sides of the river and yell at each other. "Rufus!" Clarence would shout, "You better thank your lucky stars that I can’t swim, er I’d swim this river and whup you!" "Clarence!" Rufus would yell back, "You better thank YOUR lucky stars that I can’t swim, er I’d swim this river and whup YOU!" Every morning for 20 years this happened. One day the Army Corps of Engineers came along and built a bridge. But the insults went on every morning for another 5 years. Finally, Rufus’ wife had had enough. "Rufus! I can’t take no more! Every day for 25 years you’ve been threatenin’ to whup Clarence. Well, that’s the bridge! Have at it!" Rufus thought for a moment and then said "Woman, I’m gonna whup Clarence!" He walked out the door, down to the river, along the river bank to the bridge, and walked about halfway over the bridge, then turned and ran screaming back to the house, slammed the door, bolted the windows, grabbed the shotgun and dove under the bed. "Rufus, I thought you was gonna whup Clarence!" "I was, woman, I was!" he whispered. "What in tarnation is the matter?" "Well, I walked halfway over the bridge and saw a sign that said, “’Clearance, 13 feet, 6 inches.’ He ain’t never looked that big from the other side of the river!"
Well, have you ever hesitated at an opportunity? Something ever caused you to pause because it was a whole lot bigger than you thought it was? Nehemiah was living in Persia’s capital city, Susa, the most powerful place in the world at that time and through his brother, Hanani, he learns Jerusalem’s walls have been flattened, the gates have been burned, the temple has been destroyed and the people are completely demoralized. It’s been 80 years since the destruction of Jerusalem and not a thing has been done to rebuild it. Nehemiah sees the need, and hears God’s tug on his heart to rebuild the walls of the city. But that’s like one person being called to rebuild the levees around New Orleans.
Today, we’re going to focus on 7 winning life strategies when you’re faced with a God-sized problem. First is preparation. As we learned the first week, preparation precedes progress and for Nehemiah, that means prayer. Before he can ever tackle this huge problem of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, he must first go to God in prayer. A seminary professor of a systematic theology class included a HUGE amount of material on the midterm exam. Tension in the room built, people were sighing and gasping aloud as they realized how much material they had covered and were expected to recall. The following week, the professor tossed the graded papers on her desk and announced, "Class, after I left here last week, the Lord spoke to me. He said, “Thanks, professor. I haven’t heard much from some of those people recently.” When our problem is bigger than us, it should move us to pray as it does Nehemiah. Nehemiah makes prayer a priority by stopping everything he is doing and focusing on God in a time of fasting and prayer. He prays passionately and he prays consistently. He also enters into confession to God for the sins in his life and the times he and Israel have rebelled against God. In all this, God begins to prepare Nehemiah for the task which lays ahead. Before you act and before you make a decision, first go to God in prayer. Prayer gives us perspective; it widens our horizons, sharpens our vision, strengthens our relationship with God and eases our anxieties.
In our Scripture today, Nehemiah not only shows us we are to have consistent and entended times of prayer but he also shows us us prayer precedes his daily actions. When the King asks: “What is it you want?”, before answering, Nehemiah prayed to God. This had to be a short prayer because it happened between the time the king asked his question and Nehemiah’s answer. Nehemiah sent God an “Instant Message” prayer. He obviously didn’t have the time to drop to his knees or even bow his head. If he had done that, the king would have suspected treason. Many of us do these IM prayers throughout our day. But notice this, his emergency prayer was backed up by four months of fasting and intercession. You and I can pray at any time, in any place by sending up a brief prayer to God but it has to be grounded in a deeper, more regular prayer life which has connected us to the Father and His will. I believe this is what Paul meant when he challenged us to “pray continually.”