Nehemiah’s Prayer

Nehemiah’s Prayer

(Neh. 1:5-11)

Warren E. Berkley

As soon as you meet this man, Nehemiah, you discover what may be the most important thing about him:  the rich activity of his trust in God illustrated by his prayer in Nehemiah chapter one (Neh. 1:4-11).

He lived in the capital city of Susa in Persia around 450 B.C. While serving as cupbearer of King Artaxerxes he heard the bad news that the people back in Judah were suffering in the ruins of Jerusalem.  Nehemiah’s first reaction was not political action, organizing a protest, abandoning his job, or getting drunk.

“As soon as” he heard this, he “sat down and wept and mourned for days.” He fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.

He prayed: “O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. Remember the word that you 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 your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’ They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayers of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” (Neh. 1:5-11).

Nehemiah knew Who he was praying to. This was no obligatory remark, “our thoughts and prayers” are with the suffering people of Judah. He spoke to the God he had known all his life, and in addressing God, he shows his personal familiarity with Him. He was praying to the great and awesome God of heaven, with full confidence in His power to hear, to respond and to guide the work that was ahead.

Nehemiah knew the situation wasn’t God’s fault. He put the blame on the people (including himself) who “acted very corruptly,” in their disobedience to God’s commands given through Moses. Nehemiah knew the history of the covenant and was aware of what had gone wrong. Someone said one time, “…might as well tell God the truth when you pray. He knows it before you start praying.”

Nehemiah knew the people belonged to God. He said, “They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand.” After this prayer was offered, Nehemiah would recruit, organize and mobilize a huge number of people to rebuild the walls. He went into that project knowing the people didn’t belong to him, they belonged to God.

Read Nehemiah chapter one and learn how to react to bad news. Determine to read Nehemiah’s prayer and see the mature faith he brought to that conversation with God. And the dependence on God and devotion to God that governed him after his prayer.

Here was a man who did not act without prayer but did not pray without acting.

That One Pearl

Yesterday I preached from Matt. 13, The Pearl of Great Price (see Matt. 13:45,46).

          “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a

                    merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when

                    he had found one pearl of great price, went

                    and sold all that he had and bought it.”

Shouldn’t it occur to us, the merchant in this story wasn’t just looking for any pearl. It wasn’t like a quick shopping trip or treasure hunt, where you find something that resembles the best, and you take it, saying to yourself, “Ok, that was easy.  This will do.”

That’s what people do about religion. While there may be something better, they settle. To open the Bible and read and study and search and find, is an extended use of time and energy. Why not just find something that looks like the real thing?

Yet this merchant – whose efforts are commended – did not settle for a duplicate, the artificial or something to just “get by.” His quest was directed to “ONE PEARL OF GREAT PRICE,” and when he found it, he gave “all” he had to receive it.

Kingdom blessings offered by God through Christ cannot be duplicated by man, and any artificial “pearl” cannot deliver what the authentic promises. In your quest to find God and serve Christ, diligently read and use what the Bible says. Then when you see clearly what is offered and required, give all your life to have it. Be thankful and committed.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn Quote

From his Templeton Lecture, 1983

“More than half a century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.”

Since then I have spent well-nigh fifty years working on the history of our Revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous Revolution that swallowed up some sixty million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.”

https://www.solzhenitsyncenter.org/notable-quotations

Luke 14:12-14

What Does Luke 14:12-14 Mean?

Warren E. Berkley

“Then He also said to him who invited Him, ‘When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor your rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” Luke 14:12-14

Like any other passage in the Bible, this one cannot be understood or applied if contextual information is ignored. The scene is Jesus in the house of one of the rulers of the Pharisees. Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath and challenged the religious experts regarding their enforcement of the Sabbath (based on human tradition). Jesus observed how the guests “chose the best places,” and in response to this practice He “told a parable” to them. The point of the parable was: “For whoever exalts himself will be abased, and he who humbles himself will be exalted,” (see all of this in Luke 14:1-11).

Beginning with verse 12, be sure you don’t miss who Jesus was speaking to! “Then He also said to him who invited Him.” This took place in “the house of one of the rulers of the Pharisees.” Jesus observed the guests and their motives (see verse 7). He also witnessed the host and his motives. Luke gives us this information. It is apparently useful and necessary in understanding the teaching and making any application. When we read the opening of the paragraph, “when you give a dinner or a supper,” we ought to understand that as Jesus speaking to the Pharisee who hosted the feast. This is what Jesus said “to him who invited Him.”

Jesus admonished the host: “Do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor your rich neighbors.” If we had only this prohibition, we might be tempted to conclude that nobody should ever entertain or feed their friends or relatives, nor share their table with someone classified as “rich neighbors” (economic discrimination). This conclusion would come in conflict with other teachings we know to require that we afford care and hospitality toward others, without discrimination (Rom. 12:20; Heb. 13:2; 1 Pet. 2:17, etc.).

Hence, this is not just a stand-alone prohibition! It has context. Remember, Jesus has observed the motives of both host and guests; the teaching springs from this scene! Apparently, the host invited guests to this feast with selfish expectation of his own future social advantage. That’s the meaning of the phrase, “lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid.”

I believe Jesus spoke this saying to an audience who needed to be admonished about their motives (both in hosting and attending a feast). The guests were guilty of choosing the best places to exalt themselves (read vss. 7-11). The host was guilty of inviting people, with selfish expectation of his own future social advantage. He invited people expecting future favor (“lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid”).

To stress the lesson this host needed to learn, Jesus stating the opposite; the greater motive: “But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” Jesus is not forbidding us to feed or entertain our relatives, friends or neighbors; nor is He recommending social/economic discrimination. He is stating the case against the kind of “hospitality” which finds its purpose in expectation of personal favor (hoping your guests will return the favor; reciprocating).

W. Clarkson well states the matter in Pulpit Commentary: “THE CORRECTION OF A COMMON FAULT. Jesus Christ did not, indeed, intend to condemn outright all family or social gatherings of a festive character. He had already sanctioned these by his own presence. The idiomatic language, ‘do not, but,’ signifies, not a positive interdiction of the one thing, but the superiority of the other.”

But may the lesson not be lost on us! To seek the best places; to exalt ourselves; to offer hospitality and blessing to others, with the motive and anticipation of our own social or financial gain is short-sighted and misses the purity of the generosity of the Lord. Our good works should, everyone, be motivated by the greater, eternal reward. There is recompense far higher than the earthly benefits of throwing a party for our own temporal advantage.

Gratitude

Gratitude, in Phil. 1:3-11

Warren E. Berkley

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment,10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. – Phil. 1:3-11

One of the attractive attitudes God wants to see in His people is gratitude. It should not be a challenge to nourish, cultivate and express gratitude, when you consider how richly God has blessed us. Especially, when the gift of His Son and the revelation of the gospel is seriously and personally encountered, gratitude should be a natural product of such consideration.

In this passage and its’ historical context, Paul – with each thought of the Christians in Philippi, reacted to those thoughts with gratitude to God. He was thankful to God for the good brothers and sisters he knew in Philippi. The text conveys to us the impression, Paul could not think of these people without saying thanks to God, over and over.

This ought to be real for us. Each time we remember people who serve God and encourage us, those memories should lead us to gratitude. That gratitude can cleanse us of unconstructive memories and temptations to bitterness. “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you.”

This good-memory-gratitude was not a singular thought or an occasional thought. “…always in every prayer of mine for you all, making my prayer with joy,” (v.4). Paul had developed – through Christ – this healthy attitude of thankfulness to God for good people. It was a constant with him. Once this good-memory-gratitude is created within us through the discipline of God’s Word, it becomes a part of us, not just something we do occasionally. It is a pattern. Thoughts of good people cause us to be thankful to God.

In Paul’s experience with the Christians in Philippi, he remembered specific gestures and actions of their kindness toward him. “Because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” A friend sticks closer than a brother; relationships that are based on fellowship with God continue to the end. The Christians in Philippi had helped Paul, to the best of their ability, throughout his life’s work. This enriched his joy, strengthened his sense of closeness with them and was the basis for continued, unbroken gratitude toward God. When you find Christians who help you – not just once – but are always there, ready to help and encourage and enrich your life – stop now. Thank God for those folks. And tell them that you thank God for them.

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Paul was certain. He wanted the Christians at Philippi to be certain of this: God doesn’t start something in people that is good, then walk away or just stop! When you obey the gospel, God begins a good work in you. As you continue to live in a manner worthy of the gospel, God continues that work (see Phil. 2:13). As we trust in God and let that trust find expression in obedience, we can say what Paul said: “I am sure!” We have this blessed certainty, that what God started in us when we were baptized – is continued to perfect completion – so long as we live in a manner worthy of the gospel (Phil. 1:27).

Paul’s certainty of faith led him to add: “It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.” What a good example of a refreshing, peaceful and joyous relationship in God’s family. No matter what happened to Paul, what risk or danger or location, the Christians in Philippi stood by him as they partook with him in the grace of God. It was right for Paul to have these warm feelings about these people, considering the specific interchange of their good relationship. This is one of the reason why Christians should never seek isolation from other Christians. We need each other. We help each other. We encourage one another and foster long term relationships of value, pleasing to the Lord.

“For God is my witness, how I yearn for you with the affection of Christ Jesus.” It was not ordinary, worldly sentimentality. Paul’s attachment to these people was “with the affection of Christ Jesus.” That is to say, Paul’s affections were learned and modeled after the Perfect, Jesus Christ.

What did Paul want for these Christians in Philippi? He wanted their already valuable love, to “abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment.” When we have true Christian friends, we never want them to stay the same or stagnate! We want them to grow, to abound, to do better and help us do better. Love, as God defines it in His Word, is something within us that is guided by the knowledge and discernment of the Word. I pray this for you and ask that you pray this for me – that we might abound in love, but “with knowledge and all discernment.”

“…so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.” Everything before this verse (v.10) lead to this. That is to say, gratitude to God for good people; praying that good people become better, etc. – all of this is “so that” we may all be daily approvers of what is morally excellent. Ultimately, “so that” we may be “pure and blameless for the day of Christ.”

Where did David take it?

I’m back writing for my blog, perhaps not daily. I took a few days to get caught up. I want to resume posting something here to help me and I hope you.

I’m doing some reading and work in Psalms lately. In this captivating work of divine origin, there is such a balanced variety. There is history, prophecy, vivid portrayals of enemies of God, rich statements of trust, commitment, hope and frustration. Yes. Frustration. You know what I mean. David encountered pain and frustration. The Holy Spirit enabled him to write that. We identify with it.

But where did David take it? When deeply hurt and frustrated, where did David take it?

“For God alone my soul waits in silence; from Him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress: I shall not be greatly shaken.” Psalm 62:1,2.

I’ll preach on that next Sunday. It must, however, me more for me than just something to preach and for you to read or hear!

Do It Now

Alexander MacLaren > Quotes > Quotable Quote

“No unwelcome tasks become any the less unwelcome by putting them off till tomorrow. It is only when they are behind us and done, that we begin to find that there is a sweetness to be tasted afterwards, and that the remembrance of unwelcome duties unhesitatingly done is welcome and pleasant. Accomplished, they are full of blessing, and there is a smile on their faces as they leave us. Undone, they stand threatening and disturbing our tranquility, and hindering our communion with God. If there be lying before you any bit of work from which you shrink, go straight up to it, and do it at once. The only way to get rid of it is to do it.”

― Alexander MacLaren

Part 3 – Zeal without Knowledge

(Zeal Without Knowledge Rom. 10:1-3)

PART 3

Their Condemnation: They were not submitting to God’s righteousness. Strange how people think sometimes. Here are people who believe in God, say they want to obey God and they demonstrate sincerity, zeal and passion for God. But instead of submitting to God’s plan, they come up with their own plan; their own creed; they write their own doctrine! Instead of obeying God, they obey men. Instead of respecting and obeying the Word of God, they respect and obey the doctrines and commandments of men.

This was their condemnation. Instead of submitting to God and participating in the righteousness He offers in Christ, they devised their own religion, with their own rituals and traditions, insisting that everybody submit to their system (see Acts 15:1).

But zeal did not justify their disobedience. Their sincerity and passion did not excuse their ignorance and disobedience.

And I believe there is something very basic here, and this is something that crosses over all dispensational lines and applies to every one of us à We cannot save ourselves by ourselves! We cannot solve our own problem (sin). We cannot perform or work our way out of sin and into heaven, without submitting to God’s plan (Rom. 1:16,17). There are two things we must have – and these two things are not of human origin: (1) The blood of Christ to forgive us, and (2) All the instructions from God about what we must do to have the salvation purchased by that blood! It is essential for us to trust, surrender, believe and obey God, to be personal recipients of His grace in Christ. We cannot save ourselves by ourselves; we need the blood of forgiveness, and we need God’s instruction to guide us to the blood!

Displays of emotion and zeal do not compensate for ignorance or disobedience! Our zeal must be directed by the wisdom of God’s instruction in the gospel.

You see, it is possible to be sincere, zealous and even militant and passionate about God and religion, and yet be wrong . . . and lost! How could this happen? By not submitting to the righteous plan of God.

Finally, I want us to think about the order of things: Knowledge, Submitting to the righteous plan of God, and then Zeal! Knowledge – Submission – Zeal.

If you know what God’s Word says – and you submit to God’s word in your heart and life – your zeal is grounded where it should be!

Contrary to this pattern or order – what often happens in modern religion is this. You become involved with some denomination, or attached to some preacher – – you find your excitement, your emotion and zeal in this. You develop a team spirit and zeal that is human in origin.

The zeal is there, but it is not according to knowledge. If you know what God’s Word says – and you submit to God’s word in your heart and life – your zeal is grounded where it should be!

Our plea to you is not to criticize your zeal, but to ask you to examine the basis of your zeal! Is your zeal according to knowledge?