Measure Twice, Cut Once

nehemiah wall_final

Nehemiah was broken over the complacency of the people of Jerusalem. They were living in ruins and they accepted it. They were willing to walk around the devastation instead of being concerned enough to do something about their situation.

  

I measure for a living. Yes, people get paid to do that. We’re called Metrologists. We love to measure, to understand how uncertain we are about a measurement. We actually have conferences where bunches of us get together to discuss our measurement issues. Slide rules, scientific calculators, calculus, strange words…It is a regular Nerd-a-palooza! It may sound like strange career, but it is a rewarding one. I’ve been doing this for the past 32 years of my life. I can measure. Well most of the time I can measure.

My dad could build anything out of nearly nothing. He could take scrap lumber and make the Taj Mahal. He was THAT good. Unfortunately that part of him skipped me. I can build stuff but not nearly on the scale or precision that my dad could build. He tried to teach me but it really didn’t stick to well. One thing he taught me that should have stuck but didn’t was the adage “Measure twice, cut once.” The idea behind that is to be sure BEFORE you cut that you want to cut at that point. I should put that into practice sometime.

There is a spiritual aspect to “Measure twice, cut once” that I think is overlooked far too often. It has to do with prayer. So often we rush into prayer for things we have no knowledge of. Now I realize that there are times when we can’t have a lot of knowledge. My thoughts drift to the persecution of the Church in certain parts of the world. We can’t know what exactly is going on but we know we need to pray. But here is the point: we do know SOMETHING about the situation. How often have you prayed without really being burdened about what you are praying about? Have you ever just said some words without a real burden for the reason for your prayer. Yeah, me too. So what is the cure for this lackadaisical attitude towards prayer? Lets take a look at someone and learn from him the importance of being burdened and how being burdened actually positively affects our prayer life.

In Nehemiah we see a wonderful example of a person who had this correct. He didn’t just jump to prayer – vainly reciting words about things for which he wasn’t concerned. No, as we will see today, Nehemiah, before he prayed, would know the situation so well that he would be burdened for that situation. It was out of that burden that Nehemiah’s prayers – and actions – would flow.

 

These are the words of Nehemiah son of HacaliahIt so happened that in the month of Kislevin the twentieth year,   I was in Susa   the citadel. 1:2 Hananiwho was one of my relatives,  along with some of the men from Judahcame to me,  and I asked them about the Jews who had escaped and had survived the exileand about Jerusalem. 1:3 They said to me, “The remnant that remains from the exile there in the province are experiencing considerable  adversity and reproachThe wall of Jerusalem lies breachedand its gates have been burned down! 1:4 When I heard these things I sat down abruptly,  crying and mourning for several daysI continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. 

So who is this Nehemiah guy?

We know from verse 11 that Nehemiah was the cupbearer to the king. As cupbearer Nehemiah had a great job: he had intimate access to royalty, political standing, and a place to live in the palace. It was a cushy job that provided everything he needed. And yet, when one of his brothers returned from a road trip to Jerusalem, verse 2 says that Nehemiah “questioned them about the Jewish remnant that survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem.” The word, “question” means “to inquire or demand” an answer. Nehemiah was greatly concerned about what  was happening in Jerusalem. He could have insulated himself if he chose to, but he didn’t. He sought them out and wanted to hear the first-hand report. You see Nehemiah was concerned about the problems in Jerusalem.

This is an important starting point. It’s so easy for us to stay not involved and unaware. Some of us don’t want to even think about stuff that’s going on in our own lives much less the lives of others in the Church. Even though Nehemiah had never been to Jerusalem, he had heard stories about it, and knew that his ancestors had been led away in chains when Babylon destroyed it. He was doing what Jeremiah 51:50 instructed the exiles to do: “…Remember the Lord in a distant land, and think on Jerusalem.”

As he thought on Jerusalem, he listened to the report in verse 3 that the survivors were in great trouble and disgrace, that the wall of Jerusalem was in shambles and that its gates had been burned with fire. As he tried to imagine the shame in the city of David, he could barely stand it. The phrase, “great trouble” meant that the people had “broken down and were falling to pieces.” Three words summarize the bad news: remnant, ruin, and reproach.

Nehemiah was broken over the complacency of the people of Jerusalem. They were living in ruins and they accepted it. They were willing to walk around the devastation instead of being concerned enough to do something about their situation.

Friends, nothing is ever going to change in your life, in the life of the church, or for that matter, our nation, until we become concerned about the problem. Some of us have become complacent about the way our lives are going. We’re living with rubble and it doesn’t even bother us any more. We don’t care to pray about our situation. And when we do pray, those prayers lack urgency and passion How sad. When we become so unconcerned with the state of our sanctification that we don’t engage it anymore, we are truly getting a little too comfortable in the rubble of life. This should never be!

Think about this for a moment: have we lost the walls that once surrounded our lives? I’m not speaking about the protective wall God places around us. No I’m talking about the walls that hem in our actions  – the walls that keep us away from the things that we should avoid, and in the things we should be in. How are you doing here? Are you reading things you shouldn’t read? Are you looking at things that that are impure? We do not need to experience immorality to say immorality is wrong.

When Nehemiah heard this report, he hit the ground and began to weep in verse 4,  much like Jesus did when he cried out in painful tears when he observed the hard hearts of those in Jerusalem (Luke 19:41). He also fasted. These are all signs of humility and show his deep concern for the problem of the desolation of Jerusalem.

Are you deeply concerned with your closeness to Christ? Or are you too comfortable in the rubble of your life? Have you taken steps to be more intimate with your Savior? Before you DO anything, pray. You know, its really hard to be intimate with someone when you rarely talk to that person.

Take time to be holy…take time to pray. 

 

 

God Keeps His Promises

 If God said it in His Word, you can believe it and rely on it.

 

While Nehemiah spends time in broken confession in vs 6-7, he doesn’t wallow in a prolonged introspective examination of his failures and those of his brothers and sisters. He owns what he did wrong and then he quickly expresses confidence in God’s promises in verses 8-10:

“Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my name.’ They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and mighty hand.”

 

In this part of his prayer, Nehemiah recalls the words of Moses about the danger of Israel’s apostasy and the promise of divine mercy. His words are a skillful mosaic of great Old Testament warnings and promises, with quotes coming from Leviticus, Deuteronomy, 1 Kings, 2 Chronicles and Psalm 130. What was the promise Nehemiah was getting at? It was twofold. First, if Israel disobeyed, they would be sent to a foreign land. That had been fulfilled. The second part was that when the captivity was over God would send them back to Jerusalem. They were still waiting for that to be fulfilled. Nehemiah prayed, “Lord, the first part is true. We’ve disobeyed and we’re in captivity. But Lord, you’ve made a promise to bring us back home and protect us there – and that has not happened yet.”

Nehemiah is saying that since God kept His promise to scatter Israel because of he apostasy, he has confidence that Israel will be regathered because God promised to do that when Israel repented. So Nehemiah is expressing utmost confidence not only in God’s promises but also in God’s character. If Nehemiah doubted God’s character he would not have prayed the way he did.

But what about us? How does this relate to our sanctification? 

 

God promises in Romans 8 to glorify each and every person He calls:

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.”

There is great comfort in knowing that the God who makes that promise to me is the One who will keep that promise to me. I have my part in  my sanctification but I can be sure that it will happen based on what God said through Paul in Romans 8. “How can you be so sure Mr. Bald Theologian?” you may ask. In Romans 8:28-30, all those things God talks about – HE “called..justified…glorified” are in the aorist tense in Greek. The aorist is the simple past tense. So if I’m not yet glorified (and who among us is!), then why did Paul use a aorist tense here? Well, it is a grammatical thing with Greek. When one wants to guarantee that a future event is going to happen, one uses the simple past tense. This use is called a “proleptic aorist” or “futuristic use of the aorist”.

Since our glorification is yet future and Paul (under inspiration) uses a past tense to describe it, we can be sure that we will be glorified one day. He who started a work in you will make sure it comes to completion.

 

Someone has calculated that there are over 7,000 promises in the Bible. The better we know the Word of God, the better we’ll be able to pray with confidence in God’s promises. 1 John 5:14 says, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” Are you as confident of God’s promises as Nehemiah was?

If God said it in His Word, you can believe it and rely on it. Nehemiah knew God would keep His covenant of love with his people. He also knew that, even though God did not need his help, he was ready to make a commitment to get involved.

Getting Real with God in Prayer

 We must be intense, honest, and urgent concerning our sin before our Holy God if we are serious about our sanctification.

Having been in the Marine Corps, I know about acronyms and abbreviations! There’s NavPers, Navair, HaveElex. There is also AWOP, AWM, MiniComp. We see acronyms all around us too. They’re in church life – WBC, MABC, NASB, KJV and so on. There are still more when we consider theological subjects. Ever here of TULIP? Theologically that does not refer to a flower! The point is that acronyms and abbreviations abound. But what does IHU mean? And how does that impact or even relate to my prayer life? Lets return to Nehemiah and see if we can discover the answer to these questions.

After becoming concerned about the problem, and expressing his conviction about God’s character, Nehemiah is now moved to admit his sin and the sins of his people in verses 6-7:

 

“Let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s house, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees, and laws you gave your servant Moses.”

 

It’s one thing to be concerned about a problem. To have a firm conviction about God’s character is important in one’s prayer life. It’s another thing to actually confess. Many of us never get this far. We might feel bad about our sins or be concerned about how things are going. Our theology may even be correct. We know things are bad and that God is good but we hesitate at this next step.   Nehemiah boldly asks God to hear his prayer, which literally means, “to hear intelligently with great attention.” I see at least three key ingredients in his confession of sin.

 

Nehemiah was

Intense

Overwhelmed by concern about sin and in awe of God’s character, Nehemiah gave himself to prolonged petition and intercession. He prayed day and night, spending every moment of time in God’s presence. This is very similar to Psalm 88:1 where we read, “O Lord, the God who saves me, day and night I cry out before you.”

 

Honest

Nehemiah made no attempt to excuse the Israelites for their sin and actually owned his part in their culpability. He surveyed the grim record of Israel’s past and present failure, and he knew that he was not exempt from blame. Notice that he prays, “I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself…we have acted very wickedly…we have not obeyed…” This is remarkable to me. It would have been easy for Nehemiah to look back and blame his ancestors but instead he looked within and blamed himself. It’s so easy for us to blame others, isn’t it? We need to learn from Nehemiah and confess honestly, “Lord, I am wrong. I not only want to be part of the answer, I confess that I’m part of the problem.”

 

Urgent

Nehemiah recognized that sin is not merely a stubborn refusal to obey certain rules, but is also a defiant act of aggressive personal rebellion against a holy God. He knows that they “have acted very wickedly.” He didn’t try to candy-coat his sin. He owned it and called it what it was.  He was emphatic about this to the point of urgency. How urgent is your confession of your sin to our God?

 

Trying to hide our sins from God is impossible. He knows all about them. When we confess our sins we are not sending a list of particular sins upward. If that was true, we would have a problem if we forgot one particular sin. No, when we confess we are agreeing with God that we are sinners. In fact, in the oft cited promise of 1 John “If we confess our sins… He will cleanse us of all unrighteousness” the word homolegeo is the word translated as “confess”. This word means to “speak the same word”. The idea behind this is to agree.

So when I confess my “sins” to God, I am agreeing with Him that I am a sinner and I affirm my faith in Him, His promises, and His word. We must be intense, honest, and urgent concerning our sin before our Holy God if we are serious about our sanctification.

 

Do you remember the publican and the Pharisee? Remember how the Pharisee listed his accomplishments? Remember how proud he was? Compare that with the publican who simply said “have mercy on me a sinner!” Jesus said then that the publican went away justified not the Pharisee. Our long list of accomplishments – regardless of how wrapped they are in spirituality, are useless  if we are dishonest with God concerning ourselves.

 

So how are you doing? Are you honest about your sin with God? Do you agree with God that you have sin in your life? Without this transparency – without this honesty, no matter how much we want to mature in Christ we won’t.

In Whom We Trust, To Whom We Pray

In whom do you trust? Do you trust in your judgment? Your knowledge? Your wisdom? When confronted with an issue – whether big or small – do you ask God to bless your plan or do you ask God to bless you with a plan?   Recently my wife and I received a major lesson about trusting in someone’s word.

We were approached by a representative of a company that sells very high quality meat. After a few moments of talking, this rep began his sales pitch. He was convincing. He built trust by identifying himself as a Christian once he discovered that we are Christians. Near the close of his presentation, he asked my wife “Can you beat $3.00 per pound for meat at the store?” Stunned by the price, my wife said “I can get that for chicken on sale.” We decided to buy a bunch of meat right then and there. It was a great deal we thought. Well it was a great deal but not for us.   We discovered that this place sells meat by the portion rather than by the pound. That makes a BIG difference. We discovered that we had bought meat at the great price of about $9.00 per pound. Even on my worst day, I can beat that price at the store. I had trusted my judgment. I had trusted my knowledge. We didn’t pray about it. We just took this man at his word. We learned a hard lesson: the only One we can truly trust with full confidence is God Himself. Everyone else, we need to, quoting Ronald Reagan, “trust but verify.”

 

We jump quickly in the spiritual realm as well. We are confronted with a problem and we are quick to try to figure out how to approach the problem. We come up with a plan (with some backup plans of course). We then seek to spiritualize it by asking God to bless our plans. We really do get the order of operations wrong here. Instead of asking God to bless our plans when we are confronted with a problem, we should be asking God to bless us with a plan. But before we even get to that point we need to be convinced that Gods character is such that He not only CAN answer us, but that He is trustworthy enough TO answer us.  Let’s continue in looking at Nehemiah and learning some lessons about prayer here in chapter one.

 

After Nehemiah becomes concerned about he issues surrounding Jerusalem, he next expresses his conviction of God’s character in verse 5:

“I said, “I beseech You, O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who

preserves the covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments…”

In this verse, the word translated “Lord” is the Hebrew YHWH – the covenant name of God. Nehemiah is appealing to the personal name God revealed to Moses. He is appealing to Him based on His covenantal relationship with Israel. Nehemiah is convicted regarding the character of YHWH. YHWH is in charge. YHWH will listen. YHWH will answer. Otherwise, why would Nehemiah even approach Him? What else does Nehemiah say about YHWH? He next refers to His Lord as the “God of Heaven.” He acknowledged that YHWH was beyond the earthly realm and above all other gods. He is the One who is above all others. He is the God of heaven, not just a god in heaven. Do you see the difference? Nehemiah again is convinced of the character of God. He is above all others.

 

Nehemiah continues by referring to God as “great and awesome”. Have you ever listened to yourself referring to things of this earth as “great” or “awesome”? The Hebrew word we translate “great” has the idea of great in magnitude while the word translated as “awesome” has the idea of great respect or reverence. How many things we flippantly refer to as “awesome” actually deserve to be revered? I would say none, other than God. Ouch, that one left a mark on me. God deserves to be honored, revered and feared by all because of who He is.

 

Finally, Nehemiah describes God as the one who “keeps His covenant of love.” Nehemiah is convinced about God’s character. God keeps His covenants. Nehemiah is convinced of this fact. God is truthful, faithful and can be trusted. Artaxerxes thought he was in charge. He thought he was something great. He had a high opinion of himself. And Nehemiah, his cupbearer (a fairly high political office), could have thought the same of Artaxerxes and himself. But, as we have seen here, Nehemiah esteemed highly YHWH. He thought of Him as the only One to Whom his prayers need to be directed.

 

So how are you doing with your prayer time with God? Is He the ONLY One who can answer? If He is not the only One, who else is able? When faced with difficult decisions, what is your first response? What is your last resort? My hope and prayer for you (and me) is that we would all learn to not only be convinced about God’s character, but to rely on His character to answer us with the perfectly correct answer to our prayers.

After all, the One in whom we trust is the One to Whom we pray.

Prayin’ in the Rubble

“we must make prayer our

first course of action rather

than our action of last resort”

 

I remember reading a bumper sticker once. It sounded so spiritual and good. It said “When all else fails, PRAY!” That sounds good doesn’t it? So, when we’re at the end of our rope, we pray. I mean, what else do we have to lose? But is this the right attitude? IF we wait until there is no other way out, is prayer in its proper place? I don’t think so. When confronted with life—meaning each day, every day, no matter the situation  —we must make prayer our first course of action rather than our action of last resort. In other words, am I concerned enough about being holy to pray first?

 

In Nehemiah we see a wonderful example of a person who had this correct. We’ll continue on for the next few posts looking at prayer in Nehemiah 1. By the end of this look at Nehemiah, we should have a handle on having an effective prayer life. Now, on to Nehemiah!

So who is this Nehemiah guy?

We know from verse 11 that Nehemiah was the cupbearer to the king. As cupbearer Nehemiah had a great job: he had intimate access to royalty, political standing, and a place to live in the palace. It was a cushy job that provided everything he needed. And yet, when one of his brothers returned from a road trip to Jerusalem, verse 2 says that Nehemiah “questioned them about the Jewish remnant that survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem.” The word, “question” means “to inquire or demand” an answer. Nehemiah was greatly concerned about what  was happening in Jerusalem. He could have insulated himself if he chose to, but he didn’t. He sought them out and wanted to hear the first-hand report. You see Nehemiah was concerned about the problems  in Jerusalem.

This is an important starting point. It’s so easy for us to stay uninvolved and unaware. Some of us don’t want to even think about stuff that’s going on in our own lives. Even though Nehemiah had never been to Jerusalem, he had heard stories about it, and knew that his ancestors had been led away in chains when Babylon destroyed it. He was doing what Jeremiah 51:50 instructed the exiles to do: “…Remember the Lord in a distant land, and think on Jerusalem.”

As he thought on Jerusalem, he listened to the report in verse 3 that the survivors were in great trouble and disgrace, that the wall of Jerusalem was in shambles and that its gates had been burned with fire. As he tried to imagine the shame in the city of David, he could barely stand it. The phrase, “great trouble” meant that the people had “broken down and were falling to pieces.” Three words summarize the bad news: remnant, ruin, and reproach.

Nehemiah was broken over the complacency of the people of Jerusalem. They were living in ruins and they accepted it. They were willing to walk around the devastation instead of being concerned enough to do something about their situation.

Friends, nothing is ever going to change in your life, in the life of the church, or for that matter, our nation, until we become concerned about the problem. Some of us have become complacent about the way our lives are going. We’re living with rubble and it doesn’t even bother us any more. How sad. When we become so unconcerned with the state of our sanctification that we don’t engage it anymore, we are truly getting a little too comfortable in the rubble of life.

Think about this for a moment: have we lost the walls that once surrounded our lives? I’m not speaking about the protective wall God places around us. No I’m talking about the walls that hem in our actions  – the walls that keep us away from the things that we should avoid, and in the things we should be in. How are you doing here? Are you reading things you shouldn’t read? Are you looking at things that that are impure? We do not need to experience immorality to say immorality is wrong.

When Nehemiah heard this report, he hit the ground and began to weep in verse 4,  much like Jesus did when he cried out in painful tears when he observed the hard hearts of those in Jerusalem (Luke 19:41). He also fasted.  These are all signs of humility and show his deep concern for the problem of the desolation of Jerusalem.

Are you deeply concerned with your closeness to Christ? Or are you too comfortable in the rubble of your life? Have you taken steps to be more intimate with your Savior? Before you DO anything, pray. You know, its really hard to be intimate with someone when you rarely talk to that person.

Take time to be holy…take time to pray.