From A Mess To An Enduring Message
By Carter Conlon
"It came to pass in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the citadel, that Hanani one of my brethren came with men from Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped, who had survived the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem" (Nehemiah 1:1–2).
Nehemiah, now living in Persia, was asking the messengers who had come, "What is the condition of the testimony of God among his people in Jerusalem?" And the messengers answered him, "The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down and its gates are burned with fire" (Nehemiah 1:3).
The wall in Jerusalem was broken down. In other words, that which marked the separation of the people of God was down. It would be the same as somebody in our generation crying, "Oh, God, what has happened to Your church? She used to be separate and holy; she used to pray and believe for miracles. But now why is there no line of demarcation? Why is the divorce rate as rampant in the church today as it is in the rest of the world? What happened to the fear of God in the nation?"
"So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven" (Nehemiah 1:4). Here we have a picture of when the call of God begins in somebody's life. It is when people like you and me finally say, "God, I cannot sit back any longer doing nothing. It is not right that Your name is held in reproach. It is not right that I should be living for myself while our children are being thrown into the river of confusion."
Now keep in mind that Nehemiah had a good job. As cupbearer to the king, he was living in a foreign palace with access to the court. He had it made! But one day this report came and suddenly the Spirit of God began to move on an ordinary man to do something extraordinary for the kingdom of heaven.
"And I said, 'I pray, Lord God of heaven...You who keep Your covenant and mercy with those who love You and observe Your commandments, please let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes be open, that You may hear the prayer of Your servant which I pray before You now, day and night, for the children of Israel Your servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel which we have sinned against You. Both my father's house and I have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against You, and have not kept the commandment, the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant, Moses. Remember, I pray, the word that You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, 'If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations; but if you return to Me, and keep My commandments and do them, though some of you were cast out to the farthest part of the heavens, yet I will gather them from there, and bring them to the place which I have chosen as a dwelling for My name" (Nehemiah 1:5–9).
Nehemiah not only heard God calling him to make a difference, he also accepted responsibility for the situation. He did not blame somebody else, unlike today when everyone is blaming somebody. Nehemiah said, "My father's house and I have sinned against You because our lives are not making the difference they should. Inasmuch as I am not part of the solution, I am part of the problem."
Similarly, if our nation is perishing, it is time for you and me to accept responsibility for it. It is time we say, "God, this is because of Your house, which I am a part of. We have not stood the way we ought to."After all, in the Book of Acts, one hundred twenty disciples stepped out of the Upper Room, and Rome eventually bent its knee to Christ. Yet we can have twenty churches on every block today and still not affect our community. We must take responsibility for what we have become as the people of God. If the city perishes, it is because we have not been the fullness of the testimony of God that we are called to be.
What did Nehemiah do next? He began to pray that God would give him favor in the sight of this foreign king.
"Then the king said to me, 'What do you request?' So I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said to the king, 'If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers' tombs, that I may rebuild it.' Then the king said to me (the queen also sitting beside him), 'How long will your journey be? And when will you return?' So it pleased the king to send me; and I set him a time. Furthermore I said to the king, 'If it pleases the king, let letters be given to me for the governors of the region beyond the River, that they must permit me to pass through till I come to Judah, and a letter to Asaph the keeper of the king's forest, that he must give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel which pertains to the temple, for the city wall, and for the house that I will occupy.' And the king granted them to me according to the good hand of my God upon me" (Nehemiah 2:4–8).
Nehemiah prayed for two things: protection on the journey and provision for what God called him to do. When I was a young believer and felt the calling of God, I would constantly pray, "I recognize that I will be going into a spiritual conflict. Lord, protect me from everything that would come to discourage me. Protect me from every weapon of hell that will be formed against me and my family. And give me the provision I need, for I do not have what it takes to do this." It is still my prayer to this day. And I have found that God truly delights in giving us what we need.
WHEN THE MOCKERS COME
As Nehemiah headed out on his journey, he encountered mockers who said, "Well, even if he starts to build something, if a fox goes up on it, he will break down their stone wall" (see Nehemiah 4:3).
Once again, Nehemiah turned to prayer. "Hear, O our God, for we are despised; turn their reproach on their own heads, and give them as a plunder to a land of captivity! Do not cover their iniquity, and do not let their sin be blotted out from before You; for they have provoked You to anger before the builders"(Nehemiah 4:4–5).
When you set out to serve God and make a difference, do not be surprised when the mockers come. They may come in different forms. Some will directly accuse you of pride; others will be demonic. A voice may come to you to say, "Who do you think you are to believe that God will use you? What kind of testimony do you think you are going to build?" And some of the mockery will come from your heart. "Am I really on a journey? Has God really spoken to me? Is my life actually going to make a difference?"Yet Nehemiah did not succumb to the mocking voices. He prayed, "God, turn their reproach on their own heads" (Nehemiah 4:4). In other words, "Do something through my life that will cause these evil voices to gnash their teeth and mourn before You when they see what You have done through me!"
A LASTING TESTIMONY
Fifty-two days later, after battling through waning strength, accusations of false motives, and even threats of physical harm, the wall was complete. It was a miracle! "It happened, when all our enemies heard of it, and all the nations around us saw these things, that they were very disheartened in their own eyes; for they perceived that this work was done by our God"(Nehemiah 6:16). Even the enemies of God had to admit that His hand was upon Nehemiah and those who helped rebuild the testimony of God in the earth. In other words, God sent an awakening! I pray He will do the same in our generation.
Later, in chapter nine, a new kind of prayer arises. The whole chapter consists of a chorus of praise for the victory. You, too, will have a "chapter nine" in your life if you get up today and say, "I am going with God. I want my life to count for His name's sake—first for my family, then for the community, for the nation, and maybe even for this world."
And then at the end of his life, we find Nehemiah praying another prayer: "Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and do not wipe out my good deeds that I have done for the house of God, and for its services"(Nehemiah 13:14). In other words, "Don't let me be forgotten. Don't let the things that You have used me to accomplish disappear when I do. Don't let the wall be broken down again. Let it stand." Of course, we know God answered his prayer, for we are still talking about him thousands of years later.
"Remember me, O my God, concerning this also, and spare me according to the greatness of Your mercy" (Nehemiah 13:22). He was essentially saying, "Don't let me fail at the end. You have used my life to do great good for your kingdom's sake. Let it be an enduring message of the grace of God."
He then prays one last prayer. "God, remember me, and let others be provoked to do good"(see Nehemiah 13:31). It is as if God said, "Done! Everything you have asked me for, I have given you. You were just an ordinary guy doing an ordinary job in an ordinary place, yet suddenly you heard Me calling you to do something extraordinary. You got up, and I gave you favor with the king. I protected you and I gave you provision. I kept you from fear. I did a work that could only have been done by My hand. I took you to a mess, through a mess, and at the end I gave you an enduring message."
Can you hear this same call of God today? It starts with a stirring in your heart that leads you to pray for something impossible that only God can do. Keep in mind that Nehemiah was a cupbearer, not an architect. Yet he ended up building a wall and leading people.
Remember, when the call first came to him, Nehemiah got on his donkey and headed to the mess and just surveyed it. Some of you are surrounded by a mess—in your community, your family, maybe your own life. Nehemiah spent a day just riding around on his donkey, looking at the mess. And then God gave him a plan. Likewise, God will give you a plan. He will begin to speak to your heart about what He wants to do. For some of you, it will involve an environment bigger than your own home—perhaps you will reach your community or even your nation.
You are God's answer for this generation, and there is no limit to what God can do through a willing heart!
This newsletter is an edited version of "FROM A MESS TO AN ENDURING MESSAGE," a sermon given on November 18, 2018 in the sanctuary of Times Square Church in New York City. Other sermons are available by visiting our website at tsc.nyc. You are welcome to make additional copies of this sermon for free distribution to friends. However, for all other forms of reproduction or electronic transmission existing copyright laws apply. This sermon cannot be posted on any website or webpage without permission from Times Square Church. Unless otherwise noted, all scripture references are from the New King James Version.