Text: Nehemiah 1-2 | Listen to Message
We say we want to see God move in our generation like He has in times past, bringing the fresh wind and fresh fire of spiritual renewal to our churches and cities, but how often do we live as if these are anything other than just words? More and more research is warning us that the Christian Church in America is rapidly dwindling – and much of that research suggests it’s because complacent, convenience-driven, consumer “Christians” are discovering they’re ultimately happier when they spend their time, their energy, and their money elsewhere.
But something else is happening that should not be ignored. Even as nominal Christians fall away, millions of passionate Christians are earnestly praying for a movement of the Holy Spirit whereby He leaves us utterly revived, renewed, and transformed by grace. They’re longing to be used by God as channels, as “sparks,” of spiritual renewal. And I’m writing to those of you who’d say, “Hey, that’s me!
Nehemiah in the Old Testament was that kind of channel, that kind of spark. He was a cupbearer to the king of Persia – the most powerful man in the world. But he gladly left his position of prominence and surrendered his life to the Lord’s work of igniting a spiritual renewal amongst his people.
Within the early pages of Nehemiah’s story, we discover 7 sparks of spiritual renewal that are applicable to anyone who wants to see God do this through you:
In spite of his position of power, honor, and authority, Nehemiah cared about other people. He was grieved to discover that his people were living in disgrace and distress. And he cared enough to do something to help them.
You want God to ignite a renewal through you? Repent of your self-absorption and your apathy, and ask Him to fill you with love and compassion for others. Stop seeing people as stereotypes and caricatures you can write off, and start seeing them as image bearers in need of grace.
Nehemiah displayed his contrition two ways: first, by magnifying the greatness of God, and second, by magnifying the greatness of his sin. “O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love . . . we have acted very corruptly against you” (1:5, 7).
You want God to ignite a renewal through you? Don’t make light of either the One you’ve sinned against or your sin. Confess the greatness of both. Grieve at the magnitude of your sin in light of the magnanimity of your Savior.
When he humbles himself before God, you see Nehemiah’s commitment to the Word of God, prayer, and the glory of God’s name. He doesn’t appear to care at all about money, fame, or personal comfort. He was all in on knowing, trusting, and boasting in his great God.
You want God to ignite a renewal through you? Commit your life to knowing God through the study of His Word. Commit your life to depending on God through a habit of passionate prayer. And commit your life to defending His glory rather than your own.
Nehemiah prayed courageously, pleading with God, “You’ve got to help us, Lord, for we are your people by redemption.” He also exhibited courage toward the people who had the power to do him great harm. Asking King Artaxerxes for a leave of absence to go rebuild the city he ordered not to be rebuilt (see Ezra 4:7-24) was risky at best – and could’ve easily appeared treasonous. But Nehemiah’s trust was in the Lord.
You want God to ignite a renewal through you? Pray courageous prayers, then go and act courageously. Let God fill you with Gospel boldness, which is neither obnoxious brashness nor self-preserving timidity.
When Nehemiah got to the city of Jerusalem, he acted like a student instead of an expert. He went out at night and circled the city to inspect the walls and gates from the outside. He wanted to discover the city’s weaknesses from the enemy’s perspective so that he could offer real and strategic solutions.
You want God to ignite a renewal through you? Be a student. Ask questions. Be humble enough to admit that you don’t know what you don’t know. Exhibit winsome curiosity that allows you to learn and grow.
Nehemiah was absolutely confident in both God and in his vision for renewal. This wasn’t arrogance, for his conviction had everything to do with God and nothing to do with his own abilities. So on the one hand, he’s able to acknowledge the challenges and opposition that lie before them, but on the other hand he acknowledges the presence and power of God.
You want God to ignite a renewal through you? Believe that God is who He says He is, that He’ll do all He’s promised to do, and that He wants to use your surrendered life to accomplish something good.
This is the tricky one because Nehemiah never names the name of Jesus. But we’d be reckless to suggest that you can spark a spiritual renewal apart from Christ simply by being a compassionate, contrite, committed, courageous, curious, confident person. Renewal happens only when hearts change – and only God can transform hearts from the inside out.
So let me invite you to think about the story we’ve read so far:
A man risks his life to leave the palace life where he sat at the right hand of the king of the world, travels to and identifies with sinful people who don’t even know him, accepts a blue collar job in construction, and becomes the instrument of God’s redemption and mercy to those people.
Sound familiar? Of course it does – because it’s ultimately the story of how Jesus came to save the world! But Jesus wasn’t merely a good man; he was the Son of God. And he didn’t travel the 1,000 or so miles from Susa to Jerusalem; he made the trek from heaven to earth. And he didn’t risk his life to save sinners; he gave his life on the Cross!
So, one last time . . . You want God to ignite a renewal through you? Look to Jesus, the True and Greater Nehemiah! Look to him in faith as God’s Servant who came to set people free from sin and brokenness by renewing individual hearts and by restoring the kingdom of God. Pray to him earnestly that His Spirit might cause a movement of renewal in our day. And work in faith, and in his strength, for that very renewal.