So far, we have learned about how our spiritual life exists much the same as the way that God has ordained our natural lives. In our hearts, in the core of who we are, is where everything that we say, do, and think are derived much in the same way as the DNA within the nucleus of a living cell. For this reason, we learned last week about the critical need for various walls and gates within our hearts to guard them and keep good things in and bad things out.
20 My son, pay attention to what I say; turn your ear to my words.
21 Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart;
22 for they are life to those who find them and health to one’s whole body.
23 Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.
This morning, we continue to gain insight and wisdom from the book of Nehemiah. Last week, we found Nehemiah in tears because of the great trouble and disgrace that the remnant in Jerusalem were facing due to the walls being broken down and the gates being burned. In the same way, we will find ourselves playing constant whack-a-mole with life’s troubles, never able to move forward in life if we do not guard our hearts.
This week, we’ll learn from Nehemiah the practical side of guarding our hearts. Nehemiah:
1. First fasted and prayed to seek God’s direction and favor (Neh. 1)
Before we begin to make any changes in our lives, we first must fast, pray, and seek God’s direction and favor. Fasting is an act that symbolizes our willingness to humble ourselves and sacrifice our own opinions and will and needs as we trust in God to reveal His will and meet our needs. Fasting gets our focus off of ourselves and onto God. We desire God to build the necessary walls and gates in our lives and not to build based on our own thoughts and opinions. After all, as Solomon wrote:
1 Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. 2 In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat— for he grants sleep to those he loves.
2. Examined the existing walls and gates (Neh. 2)
Again, before making any changes to the walls and gates of our heart, we first need to be aware of where the existing ones currently are and what state they are in. When dealing with issues of the heart, some of our walls have been built out of bitterness and unforgiveness toward others that need taken down immediately. Other walls or gates are weak and need strengthened so that the natural consequences of continuous unrepentance of others doesn’t continue to become our responsibility. Some gates need their security tightened up so that only the right people have access into the intimate places of our lives. Some other gates need their security loosened so that people can enter into our lives where necessary.
We need to be like David who cried out:
23 Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24 See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
3. Asked others to help (Neh. 3)
When it comes to the condition of our hearts, we have often setup such hardened walls that we’re blinded to our own need for change. The only way to know ourselves sometimes, is through the eyes of others. We need fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to love us enough to show us where we need to change and hold us accountable for these changes.
Nehemiah knew that the task of rebuilding the walls and gates of Jerusalem would take a great amount of time, resources, and lots of help. He simply could not do it on his own, but had to rely on relationships with others to make it happen. Making changes in our lives is no different and we need the help of others!
14 For lack of guidance a nation falls,
but victory is won through many advisers.Proverbs 15:22
22 Plans fail for lack of counsel,
but with many advisers they succeed.
4. Was ridiculed and challenged (Neh. 4, 6)
As Nehemiah began to rebuild the walls and gates of Jerusalem, he was ridiculed, made fun of, challenged, and threatened. Whenever we begin to guard our hearts and build walls and gates in our lives, we should expect no less. However, it is here that the workers realized that the ridicule came not from their hopeful future, but from their shameful and disgraced past.
There was so much rubble to clear out that the workers quickly grew weary. However, in order for us to build strong walls and gates that will leave a legacy for generations to come, we must first clear away the rubble of our past. This is possible by taking our past to Jesus and trading it in for His forgiveness and hope. If we continue to grab a hold of our rubble and try to build our future upon it, we are certain to fail. When we accept God’s forgiveness, forgive others, and forgive ourselves, Jesus clears us from our rubble-filled past and He becomes the solid rock and foundation upon which we can build upon for our hopeful futures.
As we do this, however, others will be quick to come along and remind us of that past and try to push it back into our present. Nehemiah’s workers quickly realized that the most difficult transition between their rubble-filled past and their awesome future would be right when they made the choice to partner with God and faithfully follow His plan for their lives. In fact, Nehemiah:
5. Faced the fiercest fights while building the walls and gates (Neh. 4)
Even though we are doing what is right by guarding our hearts and making these life changes, those around us affected by these new walls and gates won’t likely respond well. This is especially true when a wall or gate in our life keeps their mess out of our lives or gives someone less control of us. When we begin to say kindly say, “No”, not everyone will be OK with this. In fact, they will likely get angry and begin to fiercely fight with you and build an army against your new walls! You may get tired to the point of being tempted to give up, but don’t!
7 But when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the people of Ashdod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem’s walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry. 8 They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. 9 But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.
10 Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, “The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.”
11 Also our enemies said, “Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to the work.”
12 Then the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over, “Wherever you turn, they will attack us.”
13 Therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows. 14 After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.”
15 When our enemies heard that we were aware of their plot and that God had frustrated it, we all returned to the wall, each to our own work.
16 From that day on, half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armor. The officers posted themselves behind all the people of Judah 17 who were building the wall. Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, 18 and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked. But the man who sounded the trumpet stayed with me.
Although you will be met with fierce fighting and angered people building armies against you, stand your ground! Continue building the walls that God and your wise counsel has advised you to with one hand and fight off the enemy with the other. If God is for you and directing you, then the enemy will eventually be forced to retreat as you stand firm on Jesus Christ, your rock and refuge.
6. Experienced abundant lack (Neh. 5)
I would love to say that things immediately start to get better as these walls and gates are properly rebuilt, however, things got worse before they got better.
1 Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their fellow Jews. 2 Some were saying, “We and our sons and daughters are numerous; in order for us to eat and stay alive, we must get grain.”3 Others were saying, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our homes to get grain during the famine.”4 Still others were saying, “We have had to borrow money to pay the king’s tax on our fields and vineyards. 5 Although we are of the same flesh and blood as our fellow Jews and though our children are as good as theirs, yet we have to subject our sons and daughters to slavery. Some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but we are powerless, because our fields and our vineyards belong to others.”
6 When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry. 7 I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials. I told them, “You are charging your own people interest!” So I called together a large meeting to deal with them 8 and said: “As far as possible, we have bought back our fellow Jews who were sold to the Gentiles. Now you are selling your own people, only for them to be sold back to us!” They kept quiet, because they could find nothing to say.
12 “We will give it back,” they said. “And we will not demand anything more from them. We will do as you say.”
Then I summoned the priests and made the nobles and officials take an oath to do what they had promised.
14 Moreover, from the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, until his thirty-second year—twelve years—neither I nor my brothers ate the food allotted to the governor. 15 But the earlier governors—those preceding me—placed a heavy burden on the people and took forty shekels of silver from them in addition to food and wine. Their assistants also lorded it over the people. But out of reverence for God I did not act like that. 16 Instead, I devoted myself to the work on this wall. All my men were assembled there for the work; we did not acquire any land.
When we choose to do what is right, it always pays off in the end. In the immediate circumstances, however, we’re often tested in our trust in God as things seem to get worse instead of better. Nehemiah and his men kept themselves focused on the task at hand and refused government assistance that was due to him so that those living in the land of Judah, where Jerusalem was located, would not be burdened by the taxes necessary to pay for that assistance. In the end, God blessed that choice. Nehemiah:
7. Succeeded (Neh. 7-13)
Once the walls and gates had been completed, the city of Jerusalem sat large and spacious, but with only a few people living in it. As a result of Nehemiah’s perseverance and trust in God while doing the hard work of rebuilding the city’s walls and gates, God was able to bring His people back from exile into His promised land. Thousands of people returned to Jerusalem and could dwell safely. Sure, there was still work to do, but now the work could be done in safety and far more efficiently.
In the same way, whenever we have guarded our heart by building healthy walls and gates by the guidance of God and His word, we will be able to be a blessing to countless people. God will be able to bless us and enable us to be a blessing to others. Our lives will be a safe refuge for ourselves as well as our family and friends.
Now, we’re going to celebrate a Thanksgiving dinner together. It’s a reminder of that day of celebration that the people of Jerusalem enjoyed together after coming back out of exile:
2 So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. 3 He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.4 Ezra the teacher of the Law stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion. Beside him on his right stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah and Maaseiah; and on his left were Pedaiah, Mishael, Malkijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam.
8 They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.
9 Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.
10 Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
Today is a day to put our past, our grief, and our tears aside. Today, instead of grieving our past, we celebrate our future as we proceed into it together remembering that “the joy of the Lord is our strength!”