Summary: There will always be obstacles and opposition when we attempt things for the Lord. But if we commit it to Him, we will achieve His will.
In 1975, Steven Spielberg shocked America with his classic film, Jaws.
Following the story line of Peter Benchley’s novel, a mammoth great white shark terrorized Amity, a fictional New England coastal village.
Newspapers in 1975 reported an actual decline in beach tourism during the popular run of this movie.
To this day, the bass tones of John Williams’ score from the movie strike terror in the hearts of America’s moviegoers.
But 1975 passed, and we returned to the beaches.
Then 1978 brought the return of the shark to poor Amity ... and the ad for Jaws 2 warned ... "just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water...."
Something about the Jaws 2 rings true.
I am not thinking of great white sharks attacking humans ... which actually happens very rarely ... which ought to help some of you feel better unless you are the rare case.
But I am thinking of the " just when you thought it was safe" motif.
So often it seems that just when our lives seem to be going well, disaster strikes.
Just when everything seems to be going well, divorce, or disease, or de-inlaws.
And these ups and downs are not limited to the personal level.
We also experience them on a world-wide scale.
Communism declines, the Berlin War crumbles, and South African apartheid is on the ropes.
But, "just when we think it is safe ...," Saddam Hussein invades Kuwait and we are quickly plunged into war.
Nehemiah knew the "just when you thought it was safe" syndrome all too well.
Remember how well everything was running for him in chaps. 2 & 3.
The king had blessed his venture and had provided supplies.
The people had rallied around him and had begun to work energetically.
Then Nehemiah experienced his version of Jaws 2.
Suddenly, he is confronted with opposition,
not only from his enemies but even from his own people.
Sanballat and Tobiah appear once again with their familiar tone of scorn.
Sanballat mocked the Jews in a voice that must have been full of animosity and spite.
If he were living today, he might have said:
"Who do these Jews think they’re kidding? Be serious! They’re going to rebuild the wall from all that junk? They’re crazy!"
Tobiah the Ammonite added his little blessing,
"A little fox would break down whatever they build."
The passage implies that Sanballat and Tobiah mocked the Jews not only for personal pleasure, but also to discourage the builders.
Nehemiah responded with fervent prayer.
"O God, get revenge on them! Let them be overthrown! And, Lord, don’t forgive their sins! Give it to ’em!"
Have you ever prayed like that?
If your honest you have.
That’s quite a prayer.
In fact it is one that has caused considerable problems for preachers and commentators.
Like individuals in some of the Psalms (Ps. 21), Nehemiah prayed in an aggressively hostile manner.
He was neither polite nor kind.
So how are we to understand this prayer?
And what can we learn from it?
Once again, we must remember that this passage shows us how Nehemiah prayed, not necessarily how we should pray.
It illustrates; it does not instruct.
As Christians we know of Christ’s call to love our enemies and of his death for them, we need to be careful when our prayers begin to sound like this one.
Nevertheless, two aspects of Nehemiah’s prayer deserve our attention ... and even emulation.
First, notice that Nehemiah prioritized prayer.
When mocked, he did not shout back; he turned to God.
Now I have to confess that in times of conflict and criticism, prayer does not always top my list of responses.
How tempting it is to respond by plotting a counterattack, or to forget planning altogether and instead, launch into a defensive tirade.
Nehemiah may have spoken in an un-neighborly fashion, but at least he did so in conversation with God, not with Sanballat and Tobiah.
Second, Nehemiah prayed honestly.
He told God exactly what he wanted, with startling candor.
He didn’t mince words.
He was not trying to win an award for etiquette for his praying.
What a contrast to our carefully-edited prayers that say nothing offensive or embarrassing.
But our pretense of civility does not fool God, for He looks upon our hearts.
Moreover, by screening everything we say in prayer, we miss the vitality and transforming power of honest conversation with God.
As a pastor, I talk almost daily with people who feel disappointed with God ... who wonder ...
Why has God let me down?
Why hasn’t God helped me to get a job?
Why didn’t God save my marriage?
Why is he letting my father suffer?
They vent their anger in tears and desperate voices, yet in prayer they mask their discouragement and anger, saying stoically, "Lord, let your will be done."