Praying for the Nation
Nehemiah is a Jew living in the Persian Empire during the reign of Artaxerxes as part of the Babylonian Exile. He was the king’s cupbearer which was a privileged position. In late November of 445 B.C., Nehemiah received a discouraging report from his brother about the physical condition of Jerusalem. “Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem. They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.” (Nehemiah 1:2–3, NIV84).
Nehemiah is broken-hearted about the condition of his country, its capitol and its people. Initially he mourns for several days. In time his mourning turns to confession and eventually to action. His prayer is a model of praying for the nation.
I. THE ABYSMAL CONDITIONS OF GOD'S PEOPLE AND CITY CAUSED NEHEMIAH TO GRIEVE FOR THEM
- “When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.” (Nehemiah 1:4, NIV84)
- when Nehemiah learned about the condition of his country, he did four things
- He sat down and wept
- He mourned several days
- He fasted
- He prayed day and night
A. CHRISTIANS NEED TO BE MOURNING AND WEEPING OVER AMERICA
- in recent decades we have seen the waning of our influence upon global affairs
- some historians have suggested that our nation has reached and perhaps passed the zenith of her power and prestige in the world
- only time will tell if that is true or not
- if the might of America becomes a dim star among the nations of the world ...
- ... it will not be due to a shortage of natural resources
- ... it will not be because constitutional democracy is inadequate
- ... it will not be because our military power is ineffective
- if America burns itself out like a supernova only to become a dwarf star in the firmament of past great nations and empires, it will be because a people who once acknowledged God have grown morally and spiritually lethargic
- King Solomon reminds us in Proverb 14:34 that as surely as righteousness exalts a nation, sin debases a nation and brings it down
B. THE GREAT SINS OF AMERICA ARE DESTROYING THE FOUNDATIONS OF AMERICA
- the United States is still a bastion of the faith, but it is also the home of Hollywood
- I've always hated sounding like a prophet of doom & gloom
- there are still a lot of things right and good about America
- there are still many Godly people in our nation who are living out their faith in the public square and are unashamed to say, “Jesus is Lord!”
- but let us never be presumptuous in assuming that God needs America or owes us anything
- let us always assume that America needs God, and that we owe God everything
- a potentially harsh captivity or judgment awaits us if we do not repent of our national sins and return to the God who raised this nation up
- “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people,” (Proverbs 14:34 NASB95)
- there is the sin of abortion
- thanks to seven men who served on the Supreme Court four decades ago, abortion-on-demand is now a “right”
- our nation values the convenience of the pregnant mother more than the continued existence and development of the life or potential life that she carries
- since 1973 over 50 million innocent babies have been killed and tossed into the surgical scrap bucket—most for the simple reason that they were inconvenient
- does this cause you to mourn and weep for America?
- there is the sin of financial exploitation
- better known as the lottery—or what I like to call the tax on stupidity
- strapped for cash in a bad economy, states have increasingly turned toward the exploitation of their citizens by using them as a means-to-a-financial end
- states and municipalities have turned into carnival barkers hawking gambling as the panacea to budgetary woes knowing that their snake oil only addicts the unwary buyer to their product and makes the state dependent on the citizen’s willingness to be exploited
- ILLUS. The result is that at least 3 million Americans are addicted to gambling, and another 5 million are considered problem gamblers—just one step away from addiction. 672, 000 American college students and 35 millions of teens are addicted to gambling. And it’s not merely a “man’s problem” since 50% of these people are women.
- our culture is saturated with sexuality
- ILLUS. Sex is used to sell everything these days. The most recent Hardies commercial promoting their Memphis BBQ Burger is so suggestive that it boarders on being pornographic.
- ILLUS. By the time he is 27 years old—the age when most men get married in our society—the average young man has had nine sexual partners. For women, the average age of marriage these days is 26. By then, the average American female will have had five sexual partners. The result of sexual licence and promiscuity is that Sexually Transmitted Diseases are at epidemic proportions in America and the majority of babies born in America are now born outside of marriage. Among white women, 34% of first children were born outside of marriage. Among Hispanics, 53% of first children were born outside of marriage, and among black women it’s an astounding 80%.
- both legal and illegal narcotics are turning our citizens into junkies
- ILLUS. Illicit drug use is on the rise across the nation, spurred mostly by increased marijuana use. Marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug, with 7 percent of the population admitting to regular use. There are an estimated 8,120,045 chronic tokers out there.
- ILLUS. Licit drugs are also becoming addictive drugs for many. Among college students, Ritalin abuse is becoming an ever-increasing problem.
- ILLUS. Research shows that 1 out of every 16 people who take a social drink will become an alcoholic. Most people – especially teenagers think – “It’ll never happen to me. I will always be able to control my drinking. I’ll never be the one out of sixteen who becomes an alcoholic.” Let me ask you a question: “How many of you would every get on a plane if you knew it had a 1 in 16 chance of crashing?”
- today in America 1 out of every 3 marriages ends in divorce
- so many persons who think divorce a panacea for every ill in a marriage, then they get divorced and discover that the remedy is worse than the disease
- does this cause you to mourn and weep for America?
- there are some abysmal moral conditions in America
- do they cause you to weep and mourn?
- more importantly, have they sent you to your knees in intercession for the nation?
- ILLUS. We need to pray as the Scottish reformer, John Knox prayed. He begged God, "Give me Scotland or I die."
II. THE AWESOMENESS OF GOD CAUSED NEHEMIAH TO ASK FOR AN AUDIENCE WITH GOD
- “Then I said: “O LORD, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commands, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. ... ” (Nehemiah 1:5–6, NIV84)
- Nehemiah was used to being in the presence of one of the greatest kings on earth
- he knew what it was to have an audience with the king
- now, in verse five, he comes before the King of kings to plead his nation’s cause
- before doing so, he does three things
- acknowledge God's greatness and awesomeness
- acknowledge God's faithfulness and love to those who love and obey Him
- ask for God's ears to be attentive and His eyes open to the prayer of His servant
- before we spend time pleading with God for His benefits and mercy, we must spend time praising God for his faithfulness and loving kindnesses
- in prayer we approach the unapproachable because God exists in perfect faithfulness and love
- yet these very qualities give hope, and they gave Nehemiah the courage to ask God to listen and respond
- “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16, NIV84)
III. THE AWFULNESS OF SIN CAUSED NEHEMIAH TO CONFESS THE SINS OF THE ISRAELITES
- “ ... I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s house, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.” (Nehemiah 1:6–7, NIV84)
- the awfulness of our sins should cause us to do the same as Nehemiah
- Nehemiah confessed win in three areas
- he Confesses his own sins, the sins of his family, and the sins of the nation
- he Confesses the wickedness of the people toward God
- he Confess their disobedience of the commands, decrees and laws given to Moses
- we need to understand that sin is the root cause of America’s problems
- ILLUS. Depending on what special interest group you're listening to, you will get an astonishing array of answers as to what has gone wrong with America. The Environmentalists will tell you that human beings are the problem. The Feminists will tell you that men are the problem. The Multiculturalists will tell you that Western Culture – primarily Christianity – is the problem. The Psychoanalysts will tell you that sexual repression is the problem. The Educationist will tell you that ignorance is the problem. The Socialists will tell you that economic injustice and private ownership of property is the problem. And each of these sub-groups has its own idea of what must be done to fix our problems.
- a secular worldview teaches that man—given enough time and resources—will fix all the world's problems
- the universe is dependent at every moment on His providential governance and care
- a biblical worldview teaches that man's fundamental problem is sin – all the world's woes and problems flow from that reality
- if the biblical worldview is correct, then man has a God he is accountable to and God has a will that we must seek, and God has revealed an unchanging moral standard of right and wrong that we must submit to and God has an opinion about everything that we must discover
- if we really believe that we and our families and our nation is accountable to God we will confess our sins before God and seek his forgiveness
IV. THE ATTENTIVENESS OF GOD TO HIS PROMISE TO FORGIVE AND RETURN THOSE WHO HAD BEEN PUNISHED CAUSED NEHEHMIAH TO BE BOLD IN HIS REQUESTS
- “Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’” (Nehemiah 1:8–9, NIV84)
- Nehemiah asks God to remember His covenant promise with the people of Israel
- yes, if they are unfaithful—and they had been—God had said he would scatter them among the nations
- that is exactly what had happened
- however, if they were repentant and obedient to His covenant promise, God would restore the exiles to their homeland
- God is attentive to judge sin
- God is attentive to redeem those who repent
- God’s promise is that if His people—not all people, but His people—will repent and turn from their wicked ways, that He will hear and he will heal
- “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14, NIV84)
- many biblical commentators insist that his was a specific promise to Israel alone
- it may be that it was a promise made to Israel, but I am not convinced that it was specifically for them alone
- in this passage God calls on us to do four things
- get humble
- seek God
- if we will do those four things God will respond three ways
- He will hear
- He will forgive
- he will heal the land
- I am convinced that the economic distress, moral decadence, spiritual lethargy, and political partisanship that has been described by some as the ‘new normal’ is the judgement of God upon the nation
- one of the types of God’s judgment is simply to give a person—or even a nation—over to the sins they love, and to let them reap the consequences of their rebellion and disobedience
- some refer to this as Abandoning Wrath—where God simply removes His restraining grace
- God’s sentence upon America is “OK. Have it your way”
- the result is that we are now witnessing the affects of our choices as a nation
- as Nehemiah new, repentance and obedience is a way back to God’s restoration and mercy
V. THE ACTION OF NEHEMIAH RESULTED IN HIM GOING TO JERUSALEM TO AID IN THE REBUILDING OF THE NATION
- “In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before; so the king asked me, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.” I was very much afraid, but I said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my fathers are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” The king said to me, “What is it you want?” Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my fathers are buried so that I can rebuild it.” (Nehemiah 2:1–5, NIV84)
- Nehemiah’s prayer led him to do something concrete in rebuilding the nation of Israel
- he left the land of his captivity and went home to Judah
- once there, he exercised the authority given to him by the king to rebuild the city of Jerusalem
- Christians must pray for the nation, and we must participate in the life of the nation
- The Action of Nehemiah Resulted in Him Going to Jerusalem to Aid in the Rebuilding of the Nation
When I was quite young, my parents and another couple took all us kids down to Florida on vacation. They thought we should have the experience of seeing and playing in the ocean. I don't remember much about the trip because we were only five or six at the time. I do remember the splendor of the scene: The vastness of the blue waters stretching to the horizon, the sky reaching down to meet the sea and the smell of salt air. But the scene the morning after we arrived is the one which vividly stands out in my mind. We woke up to see – and smell – stinking, rotting ocean vegetation and assorted dead fish and crabs strewn along the shore. The residents said it was an annual occurrence at that time of year. They called it "the ocean turning over." It is the ocean's way of purifying and purging itself of unwanted matter and casting its refuse onto the beaches. It is a necessary phenomenon for the life of the ocean.
There is nothing our nation needs more than a great "turning over!" We desperately need a purifying and purging of the sinful ways that are wrecking havoc on the soul of our nation. God's people are the last, best hope for that turning over.