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What The Church Must Do

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“So they strengthened their hands for this great work.”—Nehemiah 2:18

While I am taking this text, it is my thought to emphasize some of the practical truths that lie on the surface in the first five chapters of this wonderful book. Nehemiah was a man whose life was a perpetual testimony to the faithfulness of his God. He lived a long way from what we term “means of grace,” but as someone remarked years ago, when we are farthest from the “means” we may be nearest to the thing itself. It isn’t the means, but grace that is sufficient.

We learn from Josephus that Nehemiah was walking about the walls that surrounded the winter palace of the king when he heard some Hebrews talking on the outside of the wall. He was astonished to find that one of these was his own blood brother. These men had recently come from Jerusalem, and on inquiring as to conditions in the city of the king, Nehemiah learned some things that made him glad, but there were other things that made him very sad. Four months later the king, whose cupbearer Nehemiah was, observed his sorrowful countenance and asked for an explanation. Nehemiah lifted his heart to God in one of those little flash messages, that it is our privilege to send when suddenly faced with some great need, and he received an answer to his prayer that appealed greatly to the heart of that heathen monarch.

“Why should not my countenance be sad,” said Nehemiah, “when the city, the place of my fathers’ sepulchres lieth waste and the gates thereof are consumed with fire?” To the heathen kings nothing is more sacred than the sepulchres of their fathers. The king immediately responded to the request of Nehemiah that he be released for the great work he desired to accomplish in Jerusalem. You know the story, how with men and money he returned to the city of his fathers and after looking into the whole situation, called the elders of Israel, told them his story, “and they said, Let us arise and build.” Then follow the words of my text, “So they strengthened their hands for this great work.”

I want to consider with you what they did by way of strengthening their hands for that great undertaking, for what they did then the church of Jesus Christ needs to do now.

Prevailing Prayer

First of all, they strengthened their hands by earnest, prevailing prayer. The whole enterprise was born of prayer, as you will observe. It was in the month of “Chisleu” (December) when Nehemiah heard the Hebrews talking on the outside of the wall. It was four months later in the month of “Nisan” (March) that the king asked him why he was sad of countenance, and we learn from these first two chapters that in the interim he prayed and fasted before the God of heaven.

Now there are features of that prayer that I think we sometimes overlook, but they are to my mind very important. It was secret prayer. “Neither told I any man what my God had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem” (Nehemiah 2:12). May I suggest to you that if you will take the Bible, beginning in Genesis and coming right through, you will find that prevailing prayer in every instance is secret prayer. Not prayer meetings, not a half dozen praying together for the same thing. I love the prayer meeting like any other pastor. How it rejoices our hearts when the membership of the church gathers to the Lord’s house to wait upon Him. But to my mind, the great need of the church today is intercessory prayer. This can only be offered in secret. When Jacob was left alone he prevailed and had power with God and with man (Geneses 32:24ff). In the wonderful prayers of Moses when he got into the very presence of God, you find in every case he had to leave behind his seventy elders and Joshua the son of Nun, and meet God face to face with no one else night. When you come to the New Testament of one Man more than any other it has been said, “He went out a great while before it was day”; “He tarried all night in prayer”; “He went a little way farther and fell on His face and made intercession with strong crying and tears, and sweat as it were great drops of blood, and was heard in that He feared.”

Oh, brethren, these are wonderful words. They are almost mysterious words, but surely they teach the importance of prayer in a way that no other Scriptures do. If when Jesus, the holy, spotless Son of God went about His earthly ministries must needs pray like this, surely we need to say with the early disciples, “Master, teach us to pray.” Paul speaks of “intercession with groanings which cannot be uttered.” There is such a thing as agonizing prayer, but this prayer is not for the public ear, but just for God alone. That is why secret prayer is so important. Have you noticed in the 5th chapter of James where prayer is given as a sort of recipe for all sorts of trouble that Elijah is cited as an example of this ministry? He prayed that it might not rain. He prayed again that it might rain. These are the two instances in his life that the Holy Spirit stresses in emphasizing the power and place of prayer. You observe that He did not say one word about Elijah’s public prayer at Mount Carmel when the fire fell upon the altar. That was a spectacular event, and seemed such an easy thing, just standing looking up saying, “Lord God of Abraham, Isaac and of Israel, let it be known today that thou art God in Israel, that I am Thy servant, and that I have done all these things at Thy word.” But back of that public prayer were hours of waiting upon Jehovah in secret. Somewhere upon Mount Gilead before he ever appeared to Ahab, on his face “he prayed and he prayed again” until the conviction was born into his very soul that a great judgment would come upon Israel and turn that nation back to God. So sure was he of these things that he dared to face that monarch with a declaration that there would be neither dew nor rain on the earth for three years and six months.

Again he prayed that it might rain. Detailed account of this intercessory prayer is given us in 1 Kings 18:42–46. What I want to notice is that it was secret prayer. I am sure if you take the history of the great revivals that have come to the church during the last two hundred years you will find that while there was preaching and singing, back of these ministries there was the intercessory prayer.

We are told of a man that followed Charles Finney about the country who never appeared in his public meetings. All the while that great man of God was preaching this dear saint (whom I believe was a cripple) was shut in a room upon his face praying for the outpouring of the Spirit upon the public gathering. Back of Moody and Sankey, in their great revivals of fifty years ago, were men and women of God who tarried in the secret place for the outpouring of the Spirit upon the public assembly. Enter into thy closet and shut the door. Pray to thy God in secret, and He Who hears in secret will reward thee openly.

You will observe in our study of these chapters in Nehemiah that this band of faithful workers had obstacles to surmount, and enemies to meet. They were ridiculed, but all this opposition was met in the same way. “Nevertheless, we made our prayer unto God,” says Nehemiah. This is how the early church met her difficulties and enemies, and this is why the early church triumphed gloriously.

Facing Facts

They strengthened their hands by looking the needs squarely in the face. We are told that Nehemiah went about the city at midnight to “the gate of the valley, even before the dragon well, and to the dung port, and viewed the walls of Jerusalem,” even unto the “king’s pool” and he found it all covered with rubbish. So great was the need that his heart burned with desire to meet it. One of the poets has told us that “Evil is wrought for want of thought as much as want of heart,” which is another way of saying that if we would only think, if we would only face conditions as they really are we would feel bound to meet the need even at great cost to ourselves. “Where there is no vision the people perish.” “The God of this world,” says Paul, “hath blinded the minds of those that believe not lest the light of the glorious gospel should shine unto them.” But Satan hath not only blinded the eyes of sinners, but it seems to me that he has blinded the eyes of saints to the great need of the hour. No man with the love of Christ in him can think of the state the world is in at the present hour, and especially the church, without being moved to the depts of his very soul. “When Jesus saw the multitude he was moved with compassion.” He beheld the city and wept over it. Certainly what we need is to see things today as He sees them, and I am sure if we do we will also be moved with compassion.

A few years ago I read an editorial in a daily paper regarding the death of a great man who had just passed on to be with the Lord. It was something to this effect:

One night fifty years ago a young physician who was greatly interested in a little mission work on the east side of London, England, was turning out the lights and locking the doors of the building at the close of a meeting which had just been held. He observed a little boy about twelve or thirteen years of age hiding in the corner, and he called for him to come out as he was going to lock the door. To his surprise the boy answered:

“Please let me stay here. It is nice and warm in here and it is cold outside tonight.”

“But you must go home to your mother,” said the doctor.

“I have no mother; I have no home,” the little fellow replied.

The doctor did not believe the boy, and took him home with him for further questioning. On enquiring where he would sleep other nights the little fellow said, “Sometimes down here in a bin; sometimes under the bridge.”

“Are you all alone?” asked the doctor.

“Oh, no,” said the little fellow. “There are lots of boys sleeping down there that have no homes or mothers.”

This was a greater shock. The physician did not believe him and decided to put him to the test, so he said: “We will go and see these boys that are sleeping in the bin.” The little fellow went with him gladly. After passing through a narrow street they came to a hole in the wall, and, pointing in, the say said: “There they are. That is where they are sleeping.”

The doctor struck a match and looked in, but could not see any one. “Why,” he said, “there are no boys here.”

“Oh, I guess the cops have been here,” the little guide replied. “Come on through, I will show you where they are.”

Like a cat he went through the opening, the doctor following somewhat slowly. On reaching the open air he observed the boy climbing the corner of a low building, a kind of “lean-to.” Assisted by the boy, the doctor managed to climb up to the roof, and there he beheld the sight of his life. A cold November sky above, a tin roof beneath, and thirteen boys sleeping spoon fashion. One boy at the end of the line, twelve years old, was holding a little four-year-old brother in his arms to keep him warm. Said the little guide as he poked him in the ribs: “There they are. Shall I wake ‘em up for you?”

“Oh, no,” said the doctor, “don’t wake them up, but you come with me.”

That night the doctor awoke to a need, and with only a few shillings in his pocket and faith in the Almighty God, he undertook to meet it. The editor added, “During the last fifty years over eighty thousand boys have had the opportunity of being Christian men because that night the doctor had a vision.”


In studying the great work that Nehemiah began we learn that everybody did something, some not nearly as much as others, but they each did what they could (see chapter 3). That is all God expects any man to do. He never asks a man to give him five talents if he only has two, nor does he ask you to give two if you have only one. He asks you for all. If we have only five little barley loaves and two small fishes if we will give it all to Him, He will bless it and use it to feed the hungry multitude.

You will observe here that the writer not only gives the ruler of Jerusalem and his daughters credit for going to work upon the wall, but we are told that one man built next to his chamber, and another over against his house. It suggests to my mind that the one fellow was an invalid. His house was built against the wall, and it may be he just built the window sill in. Another fellow may have built just a little bit around his own door. That is all they could do, and the Spirit puts it on record. I believe today God is using everybody that is usable, and every honest effort, however small, will be recorded and some day will be rewarded.

Burying The Hatchet

You will find if you read the 5th chapter that there were some hindrances within the camp, differences that had to be straightened out, restitution had to be made before the great victory came. Moved by the stirring appeal of Nehemiah, they wiped the slate clean and it came to pass that the wall was finished. There is a great deal that one might say on this last point, for we all have been made painfully conscious of the fact that the work of God was seriously retarded by the divisions caused through bitterness, jealousy, and malice. How these grieve the Spirit! How these hinder God’s blessing coming to the poor lost world! Some of us have had the joy of bringing together these factions, and seeing old sores healed, and it has always worked out the same way—great praise in the congregation, and blessing on the unsaved.