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Series:  Up Against A Wall - Part One

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
March 9, 2008

Please turn with me to Nehemiah - chapter 1.  This morning we’re beginning a two part series from the book of Nehemiah.  A mini-series.  Looking at the first two chapters.

As you’re turning let me share some of where we’re going with this series to which we’ve given the title “Up Against A Wall.”

There’s a story - maybe you’ve heard this - a story about a man driving a U-Haul truck down the road.  Every time he came to a stop he would get out - run around the truck pounding on it’s side - jump back into the truck and drive to the next stop.  Where, he’d get out and do the same thing all over again - running around pounding on the sides of  the truck.

A police officer was following this man - following along in his patrol car - watching this go on for a while - stop - run around - pound.  Watching this go on for a while.  Finally, when he couldn’t stand the curiosity anymore - he pulled the driver over and asked what he was doing.

said the truck driver.  “You see I’m carrying 2 tons of canaries in a 1 ton truck.  So I have to keep at least half of the canaries flying or the truck will break.”

Life is like that sometimes.  Isn’t it?  We’re trying to keep the canaries flying.  With disaster pressing down on us we’re trying to keep it all together and just keep moving forward.

Put another way.  In the original Star Trek series - when they would beam down to the planet - what happened to the guy wearing the red shirt?  Toast.  The only guy who you knew wouldn’t survive.  (cartoon)

We get put on this planet and the impossible is asked of us.  With everything against us - don’t get creamed.

More often than not we come up against what are walls in our lives - what are seemingly insurmountable obstacles - in our marriages and families and where we work - or not having work - or where we go to school.  Walls can be habits we can’t seem to get free of.  Baggage that we’re dragging around from the past.

Walls are unreasonable.  Often unbearable.  Painful as we keep banging up against them.  Are we tracking?

How are we suppose to handle
these walls?  How do we move forward.  How can we keep going when so often inwardly we’re crumbling and just can’t face another day?

Nehemiah was a man like us - who was called by God to do a seemingly impossible job against tremendous opposition - the situation desperate - the odds stacked against him. 
What we’re looking at today and next Sunday is what Nehemiah did.  What we can do to move forward - not just sort of survive - or just get by -  but how we can move forward victoriously - even making a significant difference in the lives of those around us.

Nehemiah 1:1: 
The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah.  Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, while I was in Susa the capitol, that Hanani, one of my brothers, and some men from Judah came; and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped and had survived the captivity, and about Jerusalem.  They said to me, “The remnant there in the province who survived the captivity are in great distress and reproach, and the wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates are burned with fire.”  When I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.

That’s a lot to take in.  Let’s pause and get a grip on the background of what’s going on in Nehemiah’s life.

Under kings Saul, David, and Solomon - Israel had become a significant nation - a major military and economic power.  Saul got things going - under David the nation came together as a people - then with Solomon and all his wealth and wisdom - the nation really hit a new height of prosperity.  It was the golden age of Israel’s history.

Towards the end of Solomon’s life, we know from the Bible, that Solomon compromised with the world - he lived in sin - and led the nation into sin
- led God’s people away from God and all that God had been blessing them with.  And so, God judged Solomon and God judged the nation.

1 Kings 11:11,12 says this: 
So the Lord said to Solomon, “Because you have done this, and you have not kept My covenant and My statutes, which I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you....Nevertheless I will not do it in your days for the sake of your father David, but will tear it out of the hand of your son.”

Which happened.  When Solomon died the kingdom divided in two - ten tribes went to the north and became the Kingdom of Israel - two tribes remained in the south around Jerusalem and became the Kingdom of Judah - a nation divided - hating each other.  Even while they were being attacked by other nations - they fought between themselves.  Spiritually - economically - politically - however we look at it - within a short period of time they went from this high plateau of
God’s blessing and great success to complete ruin.

In 722 B.C. Assyria invaded and captured Israel.  Then in 586 B.C. the Babylonian’s finished off Judah in the south and carried off the people into captivity.  When the Babylonian’s got to Jerusalem they leveled it.  They burned the Temple.  They tore down the wall around the city.  They set fire to all the fortified buildings.  They destroyed anything of value.

Imagine Hiroshima after the atomic bomb was dropped - utter devastation.  This beautiful city - the pride of Israel - this city that the Bible uses as a symbol of God's dwelling place with mankind - where God’s glory and blessing were displayed to the world - now is in ruins.  The armies of Babylon marching home with the treasures and their captives.

Some 140 years later - Nehemiah is in Susa - in southwestern Persia - the winter capital of the Media-Persian Empire.  Hanani - one of Nehemiah’s brothers and some others have come back from Judah - and Nehemiah asks them what’s happening in Jerusalem.
  How are the people there - those that escaped capture?  What’s going on in the city?

There’s a part of this that we can relate to.  If you’ve moved away from home - and most of us have.  Or, if you’re been overseas - maybe in the military.  When someone comes to visit we ask,
“How are things back home?” 

There’s an even deeper feeling here.  Jews in the Diaspora probably had never been to the motherland.  But it was a place that people talked about.  Memories had been passed down from those who had been there - stories and images passed down to the next generations.  Even removed by exile and generations - it was the spiritual and cultural heart of the nation.  A place people longed to go to.  Physically Nehemiah is in the land of his birth.  But his heart - his soul - is in Jerusalem.

A group has returned from the homeland.  Nehemiah is in Susa asking what’s happening in Jerusalem.  How are the remnant of our people living there?
  Even with the internet - this global village we live in - seeing something on a monitor isn’t the same has hearing it from a live person. 

Hanani tells him,
“Its not good.  The people are in misery.  They’re suffering in every way you can imagine.  The city is defenseless against its enemies - the wall is broken down and its gates are wide open.”      

Nehemiah when he hears the report is knocked off his feet.  He sits down and begins to weep and mourn for days. 
After all that’s gone on - the conquest - the exile - now this.  How does one take all that in?  How can a person respond to that kind of loss?  There’s no obvious answer.  Only frustration - the sense of hopelessness - the sadness - emptiness.   

Jerusalem is a picture of where we often live our lives. 
As we pass through our community we see people who’s walls have been broken down - maybe through neglect or opposition.  We, too, often come up against situations and people which knock us off our feet - disease - a spouse - a boss - work - destructive habits - name it.  We come against it like an impassable wall - we see no way to go on - no way to go under - to go over - or around.  How do we go on?

When Nehemiah was knocked off his feet - the first place he went was
- where?  to God.  Verse 4:  When I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.

This may come as a surprise to some of you - but I can be pretty uptight about things - pretty intense at times.  When I hit a wall
- usually my first response is frustration - to get bent out of shape - a few choice words not well thought through. 

Someplace - as I’m reacting to things I start trying to
figure out how to solve the problem - to figure out who or whats to blame - to work out a plan - to fix it.  Work the problem.  Take steps to move forward.  Which more times than not often causes more problems.  Have you been there?

Nehemiah reminds us - whatever our problems
- the solutions come when we first go to God in prayer.  Grab this:  Up against a wall - Our First Priority Is Prayer.  Say that with me, “Our first priority is prayer.”

That almost sounds like a spiritual platitude.  Doesn’t it? 
“If you have a problem go pray about it.”  (cartoon)  Somehow we fall into the trap of treating prayer way too lightly.  Thinking that if we're praying about something we’re “just praying” and not doing anything that really carries much weight. 

5 to 11 are what Nehemiah prayed to God.  Nehemiah is purposeful - direct - focused.  Given the circumstances - the wall - this prayer is not a spiritual platitude.  This is the heart of a man doing business with the living God.  There are four parts to his prayer that we need to see as crucial for us as well. 

First:  Nehemiah Praises God
.  Say that with me, “Nehemiah praises God.”

Nehemiah 1:5: 
I - Nehemiah - said,  “I beseech You, O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who preserves the covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments,”

Several years ago I was on my way from San Francisco to Damascus and ultimately Lebanon and I had layover in Amsterdam.  After a 11 hour flight and thinking about another 5 hours of flying I was tired.  I was hungry.  So I got some food at one of the restaurants there in the airport - sat down at a table - started to eat and collapse a little bit.

Which is when my mind started working.  Little encouraging thoughts.  Like - do you realize that you’re about to fly to a country that hasn’t always been the most friendly to Americans?  Hopefully your friend will show up at the airport - otherwise what are you going to do?  Do you realize that you’re about to cross the border into Lebanon - at night - with no visa - into a country that - at that time - Americans were not suppose to go to. 

Do you ever have those experiences where your fears and anxieties start to build in intensity?  Like a whirlpool pulling you down?

I started thinking about all the horrible things that could happen.  Not that any of them were reasonable.  What if something happens to you here.  You’re hours away from your nearest relatives.  You’re all alone.  Think about how out of control you really are.

I started to stress.  I can’t handle this.  I’m not going to make it.  I was having trouble breathing.  Like there was this huge weight on my chest.  I began to think,
“I’m going to die here.”  Anxiety is a very lonely - scary - place to be.

Any of you ever been there?  Think about the stress points in your own life.  The walls.

What I’ve learned from experience - having gone through this before - what I’ve learned is that the only thing I can do is to start praying - taking everything that I’m feeling and thinking - and bringing it to God in the name of Jesus.

To praise God for who He is - His majesty - His power - His awesome sovereignty.  To review God’s past graciousness and mercy - His deliverance.  To praise God for all that He - the sovereign God - has  done and is doing in my life.

When we come to God in praise - we’re not just coming in prayer to a man - or an idea - or a philosophy - with some wishful thinking and good thoughts.  When we come to God - and lift up His name - the Almighty - the Sovereign - the Omniscient - God who is enthroned in Heaven - awesome and beyond comprehension -
coming and praising God it puts everything else in perspective.

Who is the greatest ruler on earth compared to God?
  Who is greater than the Lord of lords and the King of kings?  What situation - what wall - is stronger than God?  What boss?  What spouse?  What disease?

Nehemiah begins with praise.

:  Nehemiah Confesses.  Say that with me, “Nehemiah confesses.”

Verses 6:
 “Let Your ear - God - now be attentive and Your eyes open to hear the prayer of Your servant which I am praying before You now, day and night, on behalf of the sons of Israel Your servants, confessing the sins of the sons of Israel which we - notice the “we” - how Nehemiah includes himself with his people - which we have sinned against You; I and my father’s house have sinned.  We have acted corruptly against You and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses.”

Nehemiah’s confession is not just about what God’s people did 140 years ago
.  Its not about the moral decay and spiritual adultery that continually infected God’s people - that was a part of the life of God’s people from the very beginning when God chose them to be His people.  Nehemiah’s confession isn’t about how they all sinned and got everyone else into this mess.  How unfair it is that Nehemiah has to live in exile.  Nehemiah is praying about his own part in that sin.

This is tough.  When we’re in conflict with another person - our usual response is to
what? blame the other person - to justify ourselves.  To think of a long list of ways in which the other person is the root of the problem.  The wall is all about other people - their issues - their stupidity - their sin.

Recently I was reading an article by a pastor who claimed that 100% of the married couples that come to him for marital counseling do so because they’re looking for a legitimatized way out of their marriage.  After 20 plus years of pastoral ministry - from my own experience that’s not a 100% true.  But it is mostly true.  Overwhelmingly true.

It is amazing to me how many times a spouse will come and say something like,
“I know I have my faults.”  As if that half-hearted admission is suppose to establish credibility or excuse the tirade of blame they’re about to pour out on their husband or wife.  It takes two to have a marriage and two to have a divorce.  But, rarely will the offended spouse say, “I was the cause of the divorce.  I bear blame for this.”

At work - in the church - in politics - name it - they’re the stubborn ones - they won’t change.  But we rarely honestly consider our part in the problem.

It takes openness before God - laying our hearts open for inspection - for God to point out where we fall short - where we need to change - to place ourselves where God has authority to work in us and through us - for Him to do what it takes to move us beyond the wall.  We need to leave the attitude behind if we’re going to follow God forward.

Nehemiah goes to God and says,
“I'm guilty.  I confess.  I’m part of the problem.  Change me.  Work in my life so that I can be a part of the answer.”

part of Nehemiah’s prayer.  Nehemiah Claimed God’s Promises.  Say that with me, “Nehemiah claimed God’s promises.”

Verse 8:
  “Remember the word which you - God - commanded Your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful I will scatter you among the peoples; but if you return to Me and keep My commandments and do them, though those of you who have been scattered were in the most remote part of the heavens, I will gather them from there and will bring them to the place where I have chosen to cause My name to dwell.’ - Jerusalem -   They are your servants - God - and Your people whom You redeemed by Your great power and by Your strong hand.”

Nehemiah knew his Scriptures.  In the middle of his prayer he quotes God’s word - from Leviticus 26, God’s promise to judge and scatter Israel if they turn to sin, (Leviticus 26:14 ff.) and from Deuteronomy 30, God’s promise to restore the nation from its exile. (Deuteronomy 30:1-5 ff.)

Nehemiah says,
“Lord, we’ve disobeyed and you were true to your promise.  We’re judged and scattered.  But, Lord, You also promised to restore us and protect us.  I’m claiming that promise.”

Sometime - especially when you’re up against a  wall - stop and make a list of God’s promises.  Someplace in that list you
ll find at least one promise - probably a whole lot more than that - you’ll fine at least one promise that you can claim in your situation.  Have you done that?

God doesn’t flippantly hand our promises.  God makes promises to us purposefully to meet every situation and need that we have in life.
  To meet those needs according to His plan for our life.

We can claim these promises:

“Come unto Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest”
(Matthew 11:28)  That's a promise.

“Seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things
- everything we need for life - now and forever - all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)  That's a promise.

Jesus said,
“I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20) - whatever the circumstance Hes always with us.  What a promise.

Praying through God’s promises helps us to get on the same page with God.  To begin to see the larger picture of what God is doing.

In Luke - chapter 21 - in the days before Jesus was crucified - Jesus is teaching His disciples about the end times - kingdom rising up against kingdom - great earthquakes - plagues and famines and all kinds of terror inducing things going on in space.  Jerusalem being sacked yet again.  God’s people carried off into exile yet again.  Christians betrayed even by their own family members.  Christians being persecuted - martyred.  People are going to be living in terror.  They’re going pass out in fear.  Overwhelming tribulation.  Horrific events that so many Christians fear going through. 

Jesus tells His disciples,
“When these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.  You’re going to see the Son of Man - Me - coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”  (Luke 21:27,28).

It is a truth repeated over and over in Scripture.  When things look - to us - to be lost and hopeless - God is about to do something spectacular - miraculous.  Up against a wall we need to claim the promises of God - to lift our heads - to look with expectation for what He will do.  To get on the same page as God.

Fourth - Nehemiah
Brings His Request To God.  Say that with me, “Nehemiah brings his request to God.”

Verse 11:
  “O Lord, I beseech You, may Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant and the prayer of Your servants who delight to revere Your name, and make Your servant successful today and grant him compassion before this man.”  Now I was the cupbearer of the king.

What Nehemiah is asking for here - is to be successful in bringing his plan before King Artaxerxes - the ruler of the Medio-Persian Empire.  Its a bold - courageous prayer.  It comes from lips of Nehemiah who reveres God’s name.  He’s praying,
“God cause me to be centered in your will so that I will be successful because you will be compassionate and make me successful.”

Next week we’ll talk about what Nehemiah’s plan actually
was.  But, its important for us to begin this week - as Nehemiah does - with the priority of prayer - to get focused on God - to open ourselves up to Him - to get on the same page with Him - to request what is in alignment with His will.

Does anyone know who Nick Vujicic is?  Nick is a guy from Australia - in his mid 20’s - who’s had a few walls - obstacles to go through.  God is using Nick in a ministry that has given inspiration and hope to a tremendous number of people.  What you’re about to see is a video giving a glimpse of Nick’s life.  Its about 6 minutes long.  So get comfortable.


Jesus was passing by the Temple and there was a man there who had been blind from birth.  Jesus’ disciples asked Him,
“Who sinned?  Sin is the reason for the wall.  Someone messed up - this man or his parents.  Something is drastically wrong.  That’s why he’s been born blind.”

Do you remember Jesus’ answer - as He moved to heal the man? 
“It wasn’t that this man or his parents sinned.  He was born blind so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”  So that God would be glorified through him.  (John 9:1-12)

The point of us watching this video about Nick is not so that we can be impressed with how a man with no arms and no legs can overcome obstacles.  But, to demonstrate an attitude - a priority.

Life isn’t about the walls we come up against.  Life is about God bringing glory to Himself through us.  Up against a wall the priority of prayer brings us to that place where God will use us for His glory.




Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible®, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.