Today our world is being carried on a rushing torrent of history that is sweeping out of control. While the United States is blessed by God is many ways and we do know His favor, many evidences of ruin and the effects of sin still remain: poverty, violence, addiction, crime, injustice, homelessness, gangs, family breakdown, division, strife, broken relationships, fear, isolation, hopelessness, and lives lived separated from God’s ways and His purposes. What was once the most prosperous nation that the world has ever seen has been steadily shrinking and is in a state of decline today. Today the world’s highest standard of living is not in the United States as it once used to be. Based upon the gross national product, the U.S. isn’t even in the top 12 list of the fastest growing nations of the world. America’s walls both morally and economically are literally crumbling before our eyes.
But this crashing down of walls is not a new 21st century problem. We see it happening throughout the course of history. Look at the example found in the Old Testament in the Book of Nehemiah. Israel was in serious trouble. The walls of Jerusalem were crumbling. The gates had been burned by fire. The gates of ancient cities were where most of the commerce of took place. The gates were also where the seat of government and leadership resided. With the gates burned with fire and the walls broken down, it was only a matter of time before the nation followed suit.
Nehemiah heard a report about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem which said that, “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 1:3). Nehemiah 1:4 recounts Nehemiah’s brokenness at the devastation of Zion. Jerusalem was not simply his home, the place where his father’s were buried (2:3); it was the footstool of God, the place where God sealed his name and dwelt with his people. So, when Nehemiah was told of its ruination, he was grieved beyond words. Nehemiah’s heart grieved for the brokenness of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1:4-11). In response to the cry of his heart, the Lord put a desire in Nehemiah to rebuild the ruins of Jerusalem. Nehemiah however wasn’t “just moved” – he was moved to the point of action. He prayed. He wept. He fasted. So many of us shake our head at what is going on in our nation, then carry on reading the newspaper, or turn the tv channel onto something more light, without allowing God to speak to our spirits causing us to respond in prayer and intercession and of course action. We pay lip-service to the thought, “Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.” We post it on Twitter and Facebook, but it needs to be more than just a saying. We have to breathe life into those words by taking action. Let’s look to Nehemiah’s passion to undertake the restoration and reformation of Jerusalem as a blueprint for how we can restore and reform America. Nehemiah was successful in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem because he didn’t just pray. Nehemiah made prayer a habit.
You might be thinking at this point, surely a person that wants to be used by God needs to do more than pray. But a person after God’s own heart doesn’t do anything until he or she prays. Here is something to remember: Wise people make prayer a priority; fools make prayer a last resort. That is a difference between wisdom and foolishness. Wise leaders, wise politicians, wise spouses, wise parents, wise children, wise pastors, …whatever you do, make prayer a first priority. Foolish people turn to prayer “when all else fails” instead of using it to “keep all else from failing“. Prayer is the hardest work God asks us to do. To modern, impatient, proud people today, getting on your knees in prayer seems like a waste of time. We want immediate answers. For every 100 men God can get to work for Him He can find 1 who will wait on Him and pray. This was not a waste of time; it was four months of preparation in the mind and soul of Nehemiah. This was four months of praying, weeping, studying Scripture and conversing with God. Prayer is the anvil upon which God fashions us into the kind of people He can trust with his power and use for his purposes. In one Peanuts cartoon Lucy sets up her psychiatrist booth with the sign “Psychiatry 5 cents”. Snoopy come up, sits on the patient’s bench for awhile, says nothing, and leaves.” Lucy comments, “You cannot do much when a patient won’t talk.” Our neighborhoods, our communities, our nation is full of people too busy to pray.
Nehemiah modeled the wisdom of making time to pray before doing anything else. There are nine different occasions in the book of Nehemiah where he uses prayer. Prayer was a habit for him. For example, In 2:4:Nehemiah did get a meeting with the kin. Before he has the king for permission to go to Jerusalem and rebuild the wall, the king asked, Well how can I help you?With a prayer to the God of Heaven. In Chapter 4:4-5 Nehemiah and his workers were enduring the criticism of jealous and fearful locals. What was Nehemiah’s recourse when facing persecution? He prayed. In Chapter 4:9, other nations surrounding Jerusalem began to get nervous when they saw the fortifications of the city improving. They threatened Nehemiah and his crews with military action. What was Nehemiah’s plan when his life was in danger? “They all made plans to come and fight against Jerusalem and throw us into confusion. But we prayer to our God and guarded the city day and night to protect ourselves.” The other passages where Nehemiah turns to prayer first also point to the idea that Nehemiah habitually prayed. He lived out Paul’s encouragement to believers in 1 Thessalonians 5:17: Never stop praying.
Nehemiah was just as busy as any of us are. He was a man of action. Nehemiah was an organizer, a motivator, and a manager. He liked to do things and to get things done. He built the wall around the city in 52 days. Yet, instead of immediately going out and doing something when he heard that something was wrong, the first thing he did was get alone with God. He didn’t form a committee to see about forming a committee to get things done. He got alone with God and prayed. This was the pattern of his life. Nehemiah was a real prayer warrior. Before he did anything important he prayed about it. Whenever he faced a crisis he prayed about it. Whenever he had an important decision to make he prayed about it. And, because of his close relationship to and with God – as shown by his prayer life – he was willing to risk everything in order to do what he believed God wanted him to do. He was a man of prayer.
Nehemiah went about praying each time in a specific manner. Nehemiah prayers a most powerful prayer and not only is it a model for praying for a nation, it is a supreme example of a model prayer for each one of us individually. God loves it when we pray back prayers from His words in the Bible. He also honors it when we claim those promises that He makes in Scripture. Nehemiah starts his four part prayer based upon the model prayer that Jesus gave in what many call The Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13. Just like this model prayer in Matthew, Nehemiah starts off with adoration, then moves to confession, claiming God’s promises, and lastly makes requests or supplications.
However, Nehemiah did not just pray and wait for God to move the mountains. He prayed and then acted. He picked up the shovel to help move the mountain in a manner of speaking. We see this formula of prayer and action in ever step Nehemiah takes. After telling King Artaxerxes about the perilous state Jerusalem and her people were in, the king asked Nehemiah what he wanted. Before Nehemiah answered, he prayed and then he took action by asking the king to send him to the city of Jerusalem where his fathers lie buried to rebuild it. When Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem, he made plans to rebuild the walls. He told the people of his plans and they agreed to start building. Some opponents of the rebuilding project began to mock and ridicule them when they heard of this idea. Sanballat began to say that the feeble Jews will not be able to restore the wall. They asked whether they will finish the work in day or whether they could bring back the stones to life from the heaps of rubble which were burned already? Nehemiah after hearing the insults prayed. He asked God to hear how they were despised and asked Him not to blot out their sins from His sight because they had thrown insults in the face of the builders.He prayed but he also continued building. This is prayer in the midst of action and action backed by prayer. Here no distinction is made between prayer and action to make one seem better than the other. Both are found to go hand in hand.The wall reached half its height for the people worked with all their heart. Then the enemies became angry and plotted together to come and fight against the city and create trouble against it. Again the people prayed. But they also posted a guard day and night to meet this threat. When the wall was almost complete the enemies tried to intimidate Nehemiah. They tried to lure him away from the work by sending him messages one after the other. Nehemiah understood that they were trying to weaken them by their false campaigns. He knew that they were trying to somehow stop the work so that the wall would not be completed. At this hour of need Nehemiah again prayed to God to strengthen his hands.God did indeed strengthen his hands. The wall was completed in fifty-two days. The enemies heard about it. The surrounding nations became afraid and lost their self-confidence. This so happened because they realized that this work had been done with the help of God.
One of the problems a lot of us have to day is that we are ‘all talk’ and no action while the rest of us are ‘men of few words’ and more people of action. Some of us pray all the time. Some of us go around doing good things yet never praying. This is where we are missing a balance so needed. We need to not compartmentalize prayer and action. The fact is that they are both separate and distinct; yet part of the same. Its like the yolk and white of an egg. Both are needed to make the egg what it is; yet each can be distinctly separated. Prayer without action is like never putting the vehicle into gear. The engine will keep on running without the car moving forward. On the other hand action without prayer is like trying to drive a car without fuel. It simply does not work. Prayer is the fuel that should drive our action of restoring America. Prayer and action go hand in hand.
If we want to restore America to her former greatness, we need to pray about it. We need to pray for our nation, for our leaders, and for her people. But, we cannot just pray. We need to act. Nehemiah was moved by what moved God. He was willing to go rogue. He was ready to get in the game, take risks, step out in faith, and give up personal comfort and security to be a solution to a problem that he knew God cared about – the plight of God’s people. What is important to note is that Nehemiah’s prayer as its recorded in the Old Testament probably evolved over a period of a few months. Its possible Nehemiah started out praying for this situation by saying something like “God you’ve got to do something about those people over there. Please help them.” He probably prayed like that for a few weeks and then felt God tugging at his heart. Perhaps he heard God say “Nehemiah aren’t you being a bit hypocritical? If you are so concerned, why don’t you get involved?” At some point during all of his initial praying, a little light went off in Nehemiah’s mind and he thought to himself, “I could be the answer to that prayer. Maybe God could use me to go rebuild the wall.” Then he is finally praying, “God give me success.” William Carey who founded the modern missionary movement used to say “Expect great things from God; do great things for God.” And that is really the choice we have today in America. We can look at how things are going and ask God to help us or we can change the way we are praying and pray for God to use us to help restore our country. We have to step up and be willing to be a solution to the problems that move God’s heart. To be the rogue prayer warriors our country needs, both action and prayer are required and both should go hand in hand.