Building prayer buildings
BUILDING PRAYER BUILDINGS (NEH 1:1-11)
7 principles for powerful prayer:
Be zealous for God’s glory
Get to know God’s character
Identify with God’s people
Pray God’s Word
Recognize God’s power
Remember your adoption as God’s children
Ask for specific things
BUILDING A PRAYER BUILDING (Neh 1)
Supremely practical person. I tend to have a “fix it” approach to life. Whatever the problem, you can trace the cause and fix it. All problems are of 2 kinds:
1. there are the physical, practical problems which are solved by planning and project management and problem solving.
2. Then there are spiritual problems which are beyond human planning and problem solving. These are God-sized problems which can only be solved by God’s power and intervention.
So my approach is generally – get busy with the former and leave God to take care of the latter.
Example: Build a wall
So when it comes to building a wall, for example. Say you need to build a wall around your property. How do you go about that? Under my approach, you don’t call a prayer meeting and fast and pray. You start digging the foundations, you contact some building contractors and go to the hardware to order the bricks and cement. And you don’t pray about doing any of those things, because why pray about them when you know what you have to do and you can do what you have to do.
I think most people sitting here this morning actually approach life and its problems in exactly the same way as I do. We relegate God over to one area of life, one kind of problem and we get on with the rest of our life on our own. I know that, because I know that the fruit of this way of thinking is prayerlessness.
We pray so little because most of our time is consumed with the many things we can do and should do. We pray so little because most of our problems are practical ones which are solved by practical solutions not by prayer. We pray with little fervency because we have planned and prepared so much that we’ve basically got this problem covered whether or not God intervenes. We do our best to avoid doing anything that we cannot do without God, but every so often we find ourselves needing Him and despite our best efforts we are forced to ask Him for help and so we call a crisis prayer meeting.
Put simply…. we would spend much more than 10 minutes a day praying if we didn’t have this practical approach to life. We would have much more than 1 hour prayer meeting a month and we would have much more than a quarter of our membership at our prayer meetings if most of you didn’t have this same practical approach to life.
So I thought the best way I can convince you that this approach is hopelessly wrong and fundamentally flawed is to open the Scripture and take a very practical life problem, like building a wall and show you how much it ought to be undergirded by and saturated in prayer.
Turn in your Bibles to Nehemiah 6. Read Nehemiah 6:15-16
There’s a little bit more going on here than building a wall around my property.
· Israel rebelled against God and after years and years of warning were finally exiled to Babylon and the Temple was destroyed and the city of Jerusalem was ransacked and foreigners settled there.
· They spend 70 years in captivity until the Babylonians were defeated by the Persians and some of the Jews were allowed to return to Israel and re-establish the worship of Yahweh. The temple was rebuild under Ezra, the sacrifices re-established, but the city still lay in relative ruins and unprotected.
· When Jeremiah heard this, he had a desire to do something about it – somehow to remedy the situation and rebuild the walls.
But what lay between Nehemiah and the fulfilment of this vision – was not mere bricks and mortar
· He would need to get permission from a foreign ruler to rebuild the walls. This could be seen as an act of rebellion.
· He would not only need permission, but be given the kings blessing along with financial resources needed to fulfil the task.
· He would need to raise a cohort from among the Jews to return with him. This generation of Jews had grown up in Babylon and built homes and established businesses there. They were comfortable and many were not particularly excited to return to a derelict city to try rebuild their lives all over from the rubble.
· He would face opposition, significant opposition from the locals who had settled in Jerusalem and didn’t want these exiles to come back and re-establish themselves.
· At times they would have to build with a sword in one hand and a trowel in the other and they would have to take shifts to guard the walls at night so that what they had built wouldn’t be broken down while they slept.
There were formidable obstacles to the fulfilment of this vision.
This is the conclusion of the matter – God would use this one man to rebuild the breaches in the wall in such a short time that even Israel’s enemies would have to acknowledge that this had not been accomplished by the planning and project management skills of any man.
· This very practical task was accomplished in such a way that it had great spiritual impact for Israel and their witness among the nations.
· There was indeed a God and He was working with Israel.
So this is the end result – a God-sized task accomplished so self-evidently by God’s power, so that God is glorified among the nations.
Is that not what we want to happen through our lives? We don’t want to just build walls, or fix machines, or plant gardens, or run a business or a home – we want people to look at our lives, even the enemies of God, to look at our lives and say – there is a God and He is working through these believers to show His power and His glory.
So let’s go to the start to see how and why this had been possible. Before the foundation of the walls were laid, a much more significant foundation was laid by prayer. We don’t accomplish tasks like this because we don’t pray like Nehemiah prayed.
7 problems that underpin our poor prayer lives
Read Nehemiah 1:1-11
7 problems that underpin our poor prayer lives
1: We are not burdened for God’s glory (1:4)
When Jeremiah heard about the state of Jerusalem, it grieved him. For him, the story of Jerusalem wasn’t just the story of a once great city, now lying derelict. He saw this through the lens of Scripture, which gave him a biblical perspective. Israel was God’s people, the Temple His footstool, the sacrifices the only means of approaching Him and the city the throne from which God would rule over the nations. As he says in vs 9 this was the place where God himself had chosen to take up residence and God’s residence was in a shambles….
· God’s own name and reputation was tied up with the welfare of the city, as was the welfare of His people. This was a matter of national pride, but much more than that – this was God’s own promises which awaited fulfilment and God’s name which needed to be vindicated and His glory which needed to be put on display.
He wept, mourned for days, fasted and prayed – not about something which effected his life or comfort personally but about something which effected God’s glory and God’s people.
When last have you wept and mourned and fasted for days because of some difficulty you heard was going on in a local church in another country?....Have you ever felt anything this deeply unless it’s been your own glory and comfort and reputation and wealth and safety and health as stake?
Nehemiah said, “Oh Lord”or as the NASB renders it “I beseech thee” – there is passion here and conviction. He is not rattling off a rote prayer in order to appease his conscience and get his Q.T out of the way. This is coming from the heart! This is prayer from the depth of His heart. This is the passion and emption of His prayer and it comes from the conviction he feels, the burden He feels for God’s glory and God’s people.
This is the first problem with our prayer lives – we are not burdened for the glory of God above all things!
2: We do not know God’s character (1:5)
Behind the passion lies His theology, His view of God. A description of the God He knows and is praying to.
Illustration: Speak to Megan
When I speak to Megan, I’ll often start my sentence like this, “Gorgeous, would you mind picking me up.” That’s who she is to me. I almost never just say “Megan” I normally say, “Shoes, or gorgeous, or something along those lines.” Other people know her as Megan, but she has some names, or descriptions which reflect what she means to me. We have a relationship and the way I speak to her reflects that relationship.
· Lord = Yahweh – the unique personal name of Israel’s covenant God.
· God of heaven was the more general way that the persons would refer to God.
· The great God, the big God,
· The awe-inspiring, fear inspiring God – says something about the effect that God’s greatness has on those who know Him – it inspires fear and worship and reverence.
Then he moves on to speak about how God relates to His people.
· He is a covenant making, covenant keeping God. That describes the God of the Bible – He is a God who reveals His character and will through covenants. It’s His nature to make covenants and His glory to Keep them.
· And He is a God of covenant love, of unconditional love. God sets His love on His people and His love is unmerited, and unchangeable. It’s as constant as the sunrise, as vast as the galaxy and deep as the ocean. That is what this Hebrew term “gesed” means – you are the God who has shown us steadfast, unconditional, faithful love – covenant love.
· He is a God of relationship, who draws people into a covenant relationship with Him – where in response to God’s love – we love Him back and yield to His authority in joyful obedience to His law.
In one sentence Nehemiah is showing that He knows this God who He is praying to. He knows His character and His ways, He knows His Word and what God has revealed about Himself and He knows Him personally and intimately.
When we pray, we are not praying to “the unknown God” like the Athenians of Acts 17. Our prayer expresses our theology and our prayers will never be greater than our theology.
That’s the second problem underlying our poor praying – we don’t know the God to whom we are praying.
3: We do not identify with God’s people (1:6-7)
If we are going to accomplish great things through our prayers that accomplish much for God’s glory – then our concerns have to move beyond our petty self-interest.
We have to care about what God cares about which means we have to identify with God’s people.
Nehemiah had not been a part of the generations of Jews who had been guilty of ignoring God’s prophets, disobeying His word and worshipping false idols. He was a righteous man, who even in his generation was grieved over Israel’s disobedience and faithlessness.
He would have had every right to look at his privileged position, and the blessings that had come his way and say – by my own goodness and wisdom and giftedness I have obtained all of this. He would have had every reason to look at the state of Jeruselem and say, “This is God’s judgment on their disobedience, they are getting what they deserve.”
That is not what He does. He identifies with God’s people, he feels their pain, he identifies with their guilt,
· Vs 6 he prays on their behalf.
· He confesses their sin, as OUR sin.
· He knows that he has personally sinned and fallen short of God’s glory – I have sinned.
· When he prays, He prays as a fellow Israelite, a fellow sinner – as a family member asking God’s help for his brothers and sisters.
Application: CorproRate prayer meetings
This is why we have corporate prayer meetings – because we need to be with God’s people, identify with God’s people, be burdened with what burdens them and join with them in seeking the welfare of His people.
When we pray for God’s church –we better come before God having the same love for His people as Christ who laid down His life for them and took their sin upon Himself and bought their freedom with His blood.
In corporate prayer we stand with God’s church and develop a common identity and a common burden. We enter into God’s own burden for His beloved bride. That’s the third problem with our powerless prayers – we don’t really identify with God’s people.
4: We do not seek God’s will (1:8)
Nehemiah is a student of the Word. He can remind God what He has said, what He has promised. He is quoting from portions of Deuteronomy here. This is not trying to twist God’s arm to do what He doesn’t want to do. This is showing that we take God at His Word, that we take what He has said seriously. God you said….
God we have been scattered because you said, if we disobey you will scatter us – but God that is not all you said. You also said, if we repent and return, you will restore…..
God loves it when we take Him at His word, when we pray His word and remember His promises – that is the definition of faith = taking God at his word.
Let’s not quote Bible verses to God out of context to try make him do what He never said He would do. But if we really take the time to study and understand what God is said, then we can know His will which means we can do His will through our prayers. Nehemiah had his finger on the pulse of what God had been planning to do all the time.
Read Dan 9:1-7….16-19
Does this prayer sound familiar? Daniel understood from the words of Jeremiah – what God had purposed to do and when he had purposed to restore Israel and that moves Him to serve God’s purposes through his prayers. It wasn’t just Jeremiah – all of God’s people were praying you will be done on earth as it is in heaven. When Jeremiah came to work and to build – His work was underpinned by fervent prayers of God’s people before the first brick was laid.
1) We are not burdened by God’s glory, 2) we don’t know God’s character, 3) we don’t identify with His people, 4) we don’t know His Word.
5: We underestimate God’s power (1:9)
When you bump a very precious vase off the table and it shatters into a thousand pieces – what do you have left? A thousand worthless pieces of fine china and the massive task of finding each shard and sweeping it up and putting it into the dustbin. And weeks later, you still find lost pieces lying all over the place behind pieces of furniture.
What you don’t do, is try to put that vase back together. Maybe if one piece breaks off you will try, but definitely not if it shatters into coin size pieces.
What Nehemiah expresses here is great confidence in God’s power – though you shatter and scatter your precious people to every corner of the world – yet you are able to bring them back – more than that, your promised to do so…
So often, we pray as if we were asking another person to answer our prayers. We try to make sure that it’s not too difficult for God to answer because deep down we think of God as limited in power or at least more inclined to answer our prayers if they are not too difficult for him.
Nehemiah doesn’t pray that way – He says God, you have promised that if we return to you, you will return to us and re-establish us in Jerusalem. You can see how in Jeremiah’s mind, the current condition of Jerusalem is out of sync with God’s revealed will – so he has great confidence that God is willing and able to answer him.
6: We forget our privileged position (1:10)
God’s glory is bound up in the welfare of His people and Jeremiah expresses why in vs 10….read.
· Jeremiah is not merely asking for a successful building project. It’s not about the wall, its about the people and its not about any people but specifically about God’s people.
· And Jeremiah knows that God cares deeply for this people because He purchased them, He redeemed them from slavery in Egypt and worked great miracles on their behalf to effect their deliverance.
God purchased the church for himself with the priceless blood of His own son. We do well to remember that when we pray on behalf of other believers. We don’t have to convince God to act on their behalf, to seek their welfare. It’s a given that God is always seeking the best for His beloved bride – and He wants us to love her as much as He does. Which is exactly why He binds us together into one body, makes us members one of another and wants to draw us into weeping and mourning and fasting and praying for her welfare…
When we pray, we pray as Christians, in Jesus name. That’s not a little formula we tack onto the end of our prayers. That expresses our identity – we have the great privilege of coming before God as representatives of His beloved son – as the people whom God purchased by His own blood.
If that doesn’t give us a hearing with God – nothing will.
7.We do not ask for specific things (1:11)
Then finally Jeremiah gets down to a very specific request. He was cupbearer to the king. This was a very important position in the empire. He would taste the kings food to make sure it wasn’t poisoned. The cupbearer was in more intimate acquaintance with the king than any other government official and had the trust of the king. It’s amazing that a foreigner would have risen to this important position but such is the providence of God. Nehemiah evidently understood that this was God’s doing.
In those days, a king was to be feared. You didn’t enter the kings presence unless asked or you could be killed. If you upset the king or asked for the wrong thing you could be killed or thrown into prison. Jeremiah is going to ask the king if he can have a leave of absence to go and help rebuild the city walls of a foreign nation who had historically been an enemy of the empire. This was at the very least a career limiting move and a potentially life threatening one….
So here he gets really specific – grant me favour today, with this man, with this meeting, with this task that I’m about to undertake – bless it and ensure that it is fruitful.
Notice how he hasn’t separated the practical realities of his life from the spiritual ones. These are all intertwined. Prayer is not a substitute for action, for doing what was in his power to do – but he understands that though he can ask, he can’t move the kings heart to make him favourably disposed – that’s God’s domain.
So he gets very specific in his prayers. We often pray very general and vague prayers and there’s nothing wrong with that – but sometimes we need to get down to the specifics as well – down to the level where we know for sure whether this request was answered or not.
God we need a pianist, for the music team by next week with a grade 6 music ability….
Jesus and James said, “You do not have because you do not ask.” In other words, there are things that God would be delighted to give, if only we ask with faith and with the right motives.
This is not the only prayer in Nehemiah, the whole book is laced with prayers throughout. This was a very practical, physical project and one which Jeremiah went about with careful planning and project management and which took a great many manhours to accomplish. But I hope you can see how the manhours were underpinned by prayer hours. By the steadfast conviction of Jeremiah – that unless the Lord builds the house, we labour in vain, unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman guard in vain (Ps 127).
That unless we pray and seek God’s help – we are destined to fail.
Do you believe that? If we are not diligent in prayer, we are more likely to fail than if we are not diligent in planning and preparing and managing the projects we undertake.
God could have built the walls without Jeremiah and his companions. He crated the universe in 6 days by merely saying the word. But God has purposed to work through His people – as we work with Him with our hands and with our prayers.
So let’s state these 7 principles for powerful prayer in the positive:
· Be zealous for God’s glory
· Get to know God’s character
· Identify with God’s people
· Pray God’s Word
· Recognize God’s power
· Remember your adoption as God’s children
· Ask for specific things
Armin Gesswein: “We must never get away I from the fact that when Jesus built His Church He built a prayer meeting. What the Church needs today is not more or better machinery, not new organizations or more and novel methods, but men whom the Holy Ghost can use – men of prayer.
When Christ ascended into heaven all He left behind was a prayer meeting. The early Church didn’t have a prayer meeting; the early Church was the prayer meeting. In fact, in the early Church every Christian was a prayer-meeting Christian. –Armin Gesswein
· Everything by Prayer, Fred Hartley, page 12