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We continue with our series on Nehemiah, a profile of a man who achieved greatness in the service of God and the idea is let's look at his life. What did he do, what kind of man was he? Something perhaps we can incorporate into our lives to grow spiritually, to achieve or attain greatness. In our first lesson, we learned that the marks of personal greatness for the kingdom of God are far different than what people do to be great in the world.
In the world we confer greatness on those who are famous or wealthy or perhaps they're skilled in some thing or another, or they're extraordinarily successful. In our study, we have seen that to be great in the kingdom of Christ, one needs things like obedience to God's word.
Or to develop the virtue of humility. Or service to God's kingdom, those are the type of things you know that we calibrate to see if someone is great in the kingdom of God. And so in our last lesson about Nehemiah we added the element of prayer and said that sincere, respectful, honest, intelligent, specific and patient prayer is also a hallmark of one who is great in the kingdom of God.
People who are great in the kingdom are people of prayer. And the thing about prayer is that you don't know very much about a person, how they pray because aside from the few public prayers we have here by some of the individuals that do that, we don't see the prayer life of other people. But God sees the prayer life of other people and in the end of course we know he's the one who makes the determination of who is great and who is not in the kingdom. So this idea was demonstrated, this idea of prayer being one of the aspects of those who are great in the kingdom, was demonstrated in Nehemiah's life which we reviewed last time.
He was the slave of a foreign king who held the Jews in captivity. Several groups of Jews had been released over the years in order to return to their homeland, in order to rebuild the temple and the city of Jerusalem. We learned that the nations that surrounded the rebuilt city were opposed to this construction and they tried to shut it down. A delegation of Jewish leaders was then sent to Nehemiah asking him to intervene with the king. They complained that the protective wall around the city was destroyed and because of this they were vulnerable to attack from individuals and nations around them. Nehemiah, we then studied Nehemiah, goes to God in prayer for help. And his prayer is answered as the king permits him to return to Jerusalem, to rebuild the wall and provides him with all the supplies needed to do the job. There was a prayer that was answered, not just answered in full but beyond what Nehemiah had anticipated.
So today we're going to add one more quality seen in those who are great in the kingdom and that is effective service. Effective service, those who are great in the kingdom of God serve in that kingdom effectively.
So Nehemiah showed his faith and his maturity by going directly to God in prayer when faced with a challenge. No dithering, no handwringing, no worrying, no whining, immediately he goes to God in prayer because he knows that that's where the answer is. That's where the strength is going to come from. That'll be the source where the solution for his problem will be found. And once God answered his prayer however, Nehemiah demonstrated that he could also work effectively to take advantage of the blessings. God provides for us but there's a part for us to play as well. So as we pick up the story of Nehemiah and his return to Jerusalem in Nehemiah 2, we'll see that Nehemiah had a strategy. Effective service goes beyond asking for blessings and opportunities.
When they come, a person has to provide effective service to turn these things into a reality. And so the next section will demonstrate the five aspects of Nehemiah's approach to the task that produced effective service.
So first element of that, he had a plan. He had a plan of what he wanted to do. We read in verse 11. So I came to Jerusalem and was there three days and I arose in the night, and I, and a few men with me. I did not tell anyone what my God was putting into my mind, there's the plan. Into my mind to do for Jerusalem and there was no animal with me except the animal upon which I was riding. So I went out at night by the Valley Gate in the direction of the Dragon's Well and on to the Refuse Gate, inspecting the walls of Jerusalem which were broken down and its gates which were consumed by fire. Then I passed on to the Fountain Gate and the King's Pool but there was no place for my mount to pass. So I went up at night by the ravine and inspected the wall. Then I entered the Valley Gate again and returned. The officials did not know where I had gone or what I had done. Nor had I, as yet told the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials or the rest who did the work.
Alan Redpath in his book, "Victorious Christian Service" says that a failure is not a person who fails to achieve his goals.
No, a failure is a person who has not established any goals or plans whatsoever. That's a failure. You know God never leaves his servants without a plan. We always have a plan. Noah had a plan for the ark.
Moses had a plan for the tabernacle. A very exact plan as a matter of fact. You know if you read in Exodus chapter 20 all the way to chapter 34, you have the details of the plan with the beginning of each chapter, God giving him more and more details as to the you know, the way he was to build the tabernacle. I mean down to the smallest detail.
In Exodus 35 verse one to 39 verse 43 we read that the people and Moses do exactly what God says. You know 14 chapters, just giving him the plan and then a whole bunch of chapters we see Moses implementing that plan and so in the same way Nehemiah had a plan from God concerning what was to be done.
And the point here is to be great in the kingdom we must be ready to put God's plan into action, not our own plan. That's always a mistake I think that believers tend to make. They have a plan and they're very zealous about putting into practice but many times it isn't God's plan.
You know it's our plan. Secondly, Nehemiah mobilized everyone to the task. He was a good organizer. Verse 17 and 18 we read, then I said to them, "You see the bad situation we are in, "that Jerusalem is desolate and its gates burned by fire.
"Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem "so that we will no longer be a reproach." I told them how the hand of my God had been favorable to me and also about the king's words which he had spoken to me.
Then they said, "Let us arise and build." So they put their hands to good work. So chapters three verse one all the way to 32 explains how Nehemiah organized the work to be done by all of the people together.
There was a fellowship of purpose and there was a complete participation in the effort. We don't have time to read all of that but I'm just saying, this was what we, this is what we read when we read this passage.
Each we find out that each person rebuilt the wall nearest his own home and because of this was motivated to do a good job. I mean if you don't build the wall you know properly and you know, and strong and according to plan you know, in front of your own house, that means your house is in jeopardy.
Never mind the guy next door or the guy down near the other gate you know. You have some self interest there. You want to build it strong in front of your house so you can be protected and so that was the idea.
Everybody had you know, had a, what do they say, a dog in the race? Everybody had something invested to carry out the plan properly. In the kingdom there are no lone rangers. To be great means to be connected to everyone else.
That's very important. Nehemiah did more than distribute the work. He distributed a sense of ownership and responsibility to all of those who were working the plan. A third thing that we see about Nehemiah's effective service he had the plan, he mobilized everyone to buy into the plan and he himself worked hard.
I mean building a wall was hard enough work but Nehemiah faced opposition to his efforts which made the task that much more difficult. So we read in chapter four it says, now it came about that when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became furious and very angry and mocked the Jews.
He spoke in the presence of his brothers and the wealthy men of Samaria and said, "What are these feeble Jews doing? "Are they going to restore it for themselves? "Can they offer sacrifices? "Can they finish in a day? "Can they revive the stones from the dusty rubble, "even the burned ones?" Now Tobiah, the Ammonite was near him and he said, "Even what they are building, "if a fox should jump on it, he would break "their stone wall down.
" And so they were mocking, they were mocking them as they worked. You know they were faced with a kind of psychological warfare. Their pride was being attacked. And then we continue to read in verse four, Hear O God how we are despised.
Return their reproach on their own heads and give them up for plunder in a land of captivity. Do not forgive their iniquity and let not their sin be blotted out before you for they have demoralized the builders.
So we built the wall and the whole wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work. Oh I love that, that preaches so well. The people had a mind to work. Their response to these attacks was to bear down.
They didn't back off, they just you know, they leaned in as we say today. They bore down on the task. Nehemiah didn't whine or complain to God, he refused to be frightened. He refused to be discouraged.
They weren't just busy, their hearts were poured in to the project. This was important, this was their lives, this was their future. Their future was at stake. So, in the pursuit of effective service, there is no substitute for hard work.
I mean, we apply that to service in the kingdom of course but doesn't this work for any enterprise? You know, some of us have built new homes. I'm looking at someone right now. Is there hard work involved? Absolutely, not just the contractor and the tradesmen that are working.
Even the, you know, the individual who is contracting the work, they work hard too. Everybody works hard. If you want to succeed at a project, there's always hard work. You know VBS, we're having VBS here.
We always have a very successful VBS. The kids have fun, lots of people but there is so much hard work that goes into VBS. It wouldn't be a success without the hard work of so many, so many people. You know, a project, a task, many times it's inconvenient.
It's discouraging to the mind and the body. Sometimes very expensive but hard work is irreplaceable. There's nothing else to substitute for hard work. And so, Nehemiah was the leader, he was commissioned by the king.
He could've sat back and just you know, just bring me the daily reports of your progress you know and I'll review those. No no no no, he was on the frontline with the individuals who were doing the work.
Another thing about Nehemiah and I really admire this in him. He worked without fear. In verse seven to 14. Now when Snaballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repair of the walls of Jerusalem went on and that the breaches began to be closed, they were very angry.
All of them considered together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause a disturbance in it. But we prayed to our God and because of them we set up a guard against them day and night. Thus in Judah it was said, "The strength of the burden bearers is failing.
"Yet there is much rubbish and we ourselves "are unable to rebuild the wall." Our enemies said, "They will not know or see "until we come among them, kill them "and put a stop to the work." When the Jews who lived near them came and told us 10 times, "They will come up against us from every place "where you may turn." Then I stationed men in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, the exposed places and I stationed the people in families with their swords, spears and bows. When I saw their fear, I rose and spoke to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people.
"Do not be afraid of them, "remember the Lord who is great and awesome, "and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, "your wives and your houses." Nehemiah worked without fear. When their enemies mobilized to attack them, Nehemiah reminded them whose side they were on.
I mean the difference between them, not the size of their armies but who they were fighting for. And who their leader was. In the final verses of 15 to 23 we see the people responding to his call not to be afraid.
And remember who their protector was and that was God himself. All great servants of God had this in common. Elijah, David, Paul the Apostle, they were unafraid of their enemies. They were undaunted by their tasks because they were confident that their protector and their supplier was God himself.
What does Paul say? Excuse me, what does Paul say in Romans 8:31? If God is for us, who can be against us? It's easy to say that in a vacuum, in a class. It's not as easy to say that when you're facing trouble, when you're facing a bankruptcy in your business or extreme health issues.
It's not so easy to say that in those circumstances but even though it's not so easy to say that in those circumstances, it is nevertheless true. It is nevertheless true in those circumstances that if God is for us who can be against us.
No matter how difficult the circumstances, this remains, this remains a truth. Another thing about Nehemiah, he finished. He finished the task. Just building the wall was tough enough but as I said, Nehemiah had a lot of obstacles and distractions.
In chapter five, again we don't have time. We're doing a kind of a survey of the book here but in chapter five we see a dispute arise among the rich and poor Jews because the poor were unable to pay for their debts that they owed to the rich.
And so Nehemiah encourages the rich people to forgive the debts of the poor so that the work can go on. In addition to these local problems he's still responsible to the king for governing the territory and he mentions that he personally out of his own purse is supporting 150 people at his table.
You know we'd say today he's got a lot of balls in the air, a lot of irons in the fire. And then in chapter six, chapter five. Then in chapter six we read about his enemies trying to stop the construction by applying political pressure by denouncing him to the king.
And there's also a plot to kill him. There's pressure to make him compromise his work by exchanging an abandonment of the work for a guarantee of peace. Extortion, covered over as a peace offering. You know, we'll leave you alone and you can live in peace, just stop building the wall.
Well that was no trade was it. That was a false promise. So all of these problems happening at the same time and in the midst of this, a key verse, verse 15 in chapter six. Verse 15. So the wall was completed on the 25th day of the month of Elul, in 52 days.
They finished it, they finished the wall. Nehemiah did not focus on the obstacles. He focused on the wall and he finished it in 52 days. What a great lesson that is for us. For all of us. Things happen, life happens.
Satan puts things in our ways. We don't realize they're distractions. We start focusing on the obstacles. We start focusing on the problems instead of focusing on the task. The task at hand of course is to live faithfully.
That's the task we've been given. We haven't been given the task of running our businesses, that's not the task we've been given by God. The task we've been given is to live faithfully, that's the task we've been given by God and the plan is here, this is the plan.
We know how to do that here. Nehemiah teaches us by his example that if we stay focused on the task, the Lord will provide the solutions to the problems. The great danger when we focus on the obstacles is that we forget about the one who is providing for us.
So this was quite a feat here when you consider that this wall surrounded an entire city, not just a backyard and that it was wide enough to ride a vehicle on it, and high enough to post lookouts. Great servants of God glorify him by finishing, not just by starting.
It's not effective service if you don't finish. You've got to finish what you start. So, we'll stop in our you know, passages that we're looking at here and let's do a couple of modern day applications.
Nehemiah added effective service to an already strong prayer life. His service included certain key elements. He was careful to follow God's plan. He included everyone in the service of God's plan because he was put in charge, not only of a task but of people.
He worked hard, he worked without fear. And he focused on the task, not the obstacles. His effective service also serves to educate us today on how to effectively minister and serve the Lord and thus be considered great in the kingdom and it's okay to strive for this.
To be great in the kingdom, this is a pleasing thing to God. He doesn't punish us because we strive to be great in the kingdom. He even tells us how to be great in the kingdom. So if he tells us how to do it obviously it's something that we can aspire to.
So what then does effective service in today's church look like? Well, today's servant works God's plan. You know some will ask, well what plan is that? God hasn't appeared to give us a special plan. Well today's servants work the plan given by Christ, the same plan that will remain until he returns.
For example, in 2 Timothy 3:16, all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching and reproof, for correction, training in righteousness. Here God tells us where to find the details of the plan.
The teachings we need to teach and the way that we can examine ideas to make sure that they square with God's word. The way that we are to live in order to be pleasing to God. The plan is in the book.
In 1 Timothy chapter two verse four he says, God who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. Well, what does God want? Well, Paul is very explicit here. He said God desires, what does he desire? That all men be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth and he goes on to say the truth that Jesus Christ is the son of God.
So he tells us what the plan is. We're to bring to all mankind the knowledge of the truth of Christ. That's the plan and then in Matthew 28 Jesus came and spoke to them saying, "All authority has been given to me "in heaven and on earth.
"Go therefore, make disciples of all nations. "Baptizing them in the name of the Father, "the Son and the Holy Spirit." Tells us how to accomplish the plan, how to perpetuate the plan. That's the task.
That the church seek and save the lost has always been God's plan and will remain God's plan until the end. Now I know there's more to it than simply proclaiming the Gospel. You know there are teaching classes, there's counseling, there's all kinds of things that work into this but this is the main plan.
Secondly, God's servants today. What does he want? Well he wants us to work together. Paul encourages the church to work together. In 1 Thessalonians 5:11 he says therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you are doing.
Everyone in some way is serving someone else. No heroes, no one man shows, no solitary Christians, no system where we pay the minister to serve everybody. it's one of the big problems in small churches that just, you plant young churches and as they're growing they get the idea that the minister is there.
We got the guy who serves. He's the minister, that's what we pay him for. We pay him to serve us. You know, that's really kind of backwards you know? We pay him to teach us how to serve together. That's a little more accurate.
So each servant has some kind of service to render. Ministers are there to coach, to each, to give examples. In our Christian lives we should be experiencing three things. Our service to others, their service to us, and a felt concern about the overall welfare of the church.
The church doesn't quote, belong to the elders. The church you know, we are the church. We belong to each other and all of us belong to Christ. You know the Jews working with Nehemiah were concerned about the entire wall, not just the part closest to their house.
It was their wall, just as it is our church. It's not my church or the minister's church. As servants we work together to build it up and any weak part is a concern to all because all of us are affected.
Today's servants work hard. A lot of people become Christians but few Christians actually become effective in service because they don't like to be inconvenienced. They don't like to be asked to sacrifice.
We get a lot of lip service but very few put their backs to the work. It requires effort to battle sin effectively. It requires effort to worship effectively and on a day like today just getting to the building is an effort, is a task.
It requires effort to pray effectively, to give effectively, to serve effectively. All of this requires effort. The result is that we have many people serving with their lips and only a few serving with all their hearts and hands and their pocketbooks.
You know one of the major reasons why various religious sects are growing faster than the church, than the church is growing is because they work harder at spreading false doctrine than we do at spreading the Gospel.
Come on, we know that. Seed is seed, if you work harder at sowing weeds than sowing wheat, you're going to get more weeds. Simple as that. Today's servants, work God's plan, work together, work hard, are not afraid.
The results of sin and the threat of death are all around us. Every day, even in our own lives and in our own families. Satan uses every device to frighten us into thinking that God has abandoned us for some reason or we're not worthy somehow.
Or the task is too great or we're too small or we don't have enough to do the job or our enemies will win or they're right and we're wrong. The list of discouragements and threats go on and on and on but the promise of God to his servant remains the same today as it was then.
What does God say? Jesus himself, he says "I am with you always, "even to the end of the age." In Philippians 4 Paul says, and my God will supply all your needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
God promises to be with us and provide everything we need to do the job. What better guarantee can we ask for? I mean what else does he have to do? I you know, when things get rough or something is difficult, you know, and I start getting a little panicky, you know, I start to doubt, I look back and I ask myself, now just how many days in my life did I not have any food to eat, none.
How many of those days have I experienced? How many days in my life did I have to sleep on the sidewalk because I had no covering, no shelter? I had to sleep outdoors because I had no, how many days have I suffered? How many days has my wife suffered that or any of my children or any of our grandchildren? Have any of them had any days like that where they had no food, no clothing, no shelter, no prospects, was there a day even? And the answer comes back to me, no.
The answer is zero days. There have been zero days in 72 years where I had no food, no clothing, no place to live. Zero days. What makes me think that today is going to be any different? God's great servants are not afraid because the one who protects and provides and promises is God himself.
We may be bruised and scarred, even die in battle but the victory is secured so we should never ever fear and then of course, great servants today are finishers. Finishing, that's what great servants strive to do.
Noah finished the ark. Moses finished the journey. Solomon finished the temple. Nehemiah finished the wall. Jesus finished his work on the cross. Peter and Paul finished their mission by bringing the Gospel to the world.
Why, why did they finish? Because they stayed focused on the finish line, not the obstacles. Because they knew that starting was easy and finishing was difficult. They knew this going in and they accepted the difficulty as the price to pay for finishing.
And because they knew that the prize, heaven, being considered good and faithful servants, being great in the kingdom, they considered the prize, this prize, only goes to the finishers. Not the starters.
A lot of people who start, they don't get the trophy. The crown you know, the crown of life, that only goes to those who finish and so effective servants finish what they start and in doing so, are rewarded with greater opportunities for service.
So Nehemiah shows us some of the elements that go into effective service. Of virtue necessary to be great in the kingdom. Hopefully we've seen how these principles can be applied to our own service to the church today.
Finally I hope that we've also seen the relationship between effective service and greatness in the kingdom. Effective service leads to opportunity for greater and more dynamic service in the kingdom of God.
Greater service enables one to bear more fruit to the glory of God and this makes one great in the kingdom and that's what we all should be, you know, striving for in life. To be great in the kingdom.
Nehemiah shows us that effective prayer and effective service are necessary to reach that goal. All right, so that's the third lesson in our series. Next time we're going to look at, or the title of the next lesson will be the reward for greatness.
We're going to examine the reward for being great in the kingdom. All right, so that's our lesson for today. I thank you for your attention.