Lessons from the book of Nehemiah
I. Preparation for Revival
Revival starts with awareness ... awareness leads to a burden ... a burden leads to petition ... a petition produces action ... and action will lead to revival. " And all the wall was joined together unto the half thereof, for the people had a mind to work" (Nehemiah 4:6).
There was a day when Nehemiah was carefree and happy. He was the king's cupbearer. He was highly esteemed and dependable. Things had gone well with his "business" and he was set for life. He had no cares beyond doing a good job and pleasing his employer.
Then awareness came in the form of news from Jerusalem. It was disturbing news that totally unsettled Nehemiah. The smile left his face, and a burden overwhelmed him. How could he keep a good job and live at ease when his brethren were suffering and the work of God was in ruins?
The carefree CUP BEARER became a BURDEN BEARER!
II. Perils in Revival
A. Perils from without
Revival is never easy. Neither is it without opposition. There are always those who doubt and resist change. So it was with Nehemiah. Sanballat, and Tobiah the Ammonite were greatly displeased. They wanted things to remain as they were, and they did everything in their power to stop the rebuilding of the wall.
First they tried ridicule. "What do these feeble Jews?" (Nehemiah 4:2). It didn't succeed. The work went on.
Next they plotted organized resistance (Nehemiah 4:8). That didn't work either, for Nehemiah armed the people and watched night and day.
So Sanballat and Tobiah turned to rationalization. "If you can't lick 'em, join 'em." They sent messages inviting Nehemiah to confer with them. But Nehemiah knew they were wanting to hinder rather than help. "I'm doing a great work," he said, "and cannot come down!" How clever the devil is! He would divert our energies and burden to other "worthy" causes. There are always more things that need to be done than there is time, money, and strength to do them. The church has to choose its priorities. The great commission is the "great work." We are doing it, and we "cannot come down!"
Sanballat's last effort was to spread rumors ... hoping to make Nehemiah fearful. He passed the word around that Nehemiah was rebelling against the king. Nehemiah didn't fall for it. "Someone is trying to kill you ... hide in the temple," was the next rumor. Nehemiah would have none of it. "Should one such as I hide? ” He who walks in the will of God need have no fear.
B. Perils from within
But all the opposition did not come from his enemies. Perhaps the greatest detriment to revival comes from "within."... from unbelieving, uncommitted and uninvolved "believers."
There were those who would have been glad to see Nehemiah fail and be able to say, "I told you so." These kind look at the magnitude of the task and the weakness of the workers and say, "It can't be done" (Nehemiah 4:10).
Preoccupation with problems keeps believers uncommitted. Food problems ... money problems ... and land problems hindered the work in Nehemiah's day and they do the same in our day (Nehemiah fifth chapter).
Then there were those who refused to put their necks to the work (Nehemiah 3:5; 6:17-19). They were "nobles" who were "friends" of Sanballat and Tobiah. Ten times they came to "warn" Nehemiah that his enemies were about to attack (Nehemiah 4:12). Uninvolved people never help. They are tale-bearers and discouragers of those who are trying to get a job done. They do more harm than the enemies on the outside.
But perils from without and perils from within did not deter Nehemiah. "So the wall was finished... " (Nehemiah 6:15), “and the enemies and heathen "were much cast down in their own eyes" (Nehemiah 6:16). The opposition stopped.
When the struggle ceases, the most dangerous time for revival comes. We will now talk about perpetuating revival.
III. Perpetuating Revival
How do you keep a revival from being "over”? Why do we have to look back to the days when God first poured out His Spirit? Why can't revival be constant? The answer is, "It can ... but there are five conditions if it is to be so." The five conditions are 1. Struggle, 2. Sound doctrine, 3. Separation, 4. Sabbath, and 5. Support.
The awareness and the burden that accompanied revival in the first place must continue. You can't have on-going revival without ongoing awareness of need and an ongoing burden. Without a burden the people perish and the revival is over.
Once the wall was built, there was a temptation to "let down" ... and to "take it easy." The failure of many revivals is failure to "follow up." The revival is not "over" when the preaching stops. It has only begun. A completed campaign is not a measure of finished work. The measure of finished work is a "completed people."
"As soon as they found rest they again did what was evil" (Nehemiah 9:28). Rest was the enemy. Struggle never hurts the church. While we do not seek struggle, neither should we settle for an "us four and no more" attitude. We dare not concentrate our efforts on the garnered grain and cease to look on the fields where the whitened grain is ready for harvest. It is when our eyes get off the fields that the revival is "off'!
So struggle is good. It keeps the flame of revival burning.
2. Sound Doctrine
The second thing that assures an ongoing revival is sound doctrine. Once the wall was built the people asked for a reading of the Word of God (Nehemiah 8:1-3). When the meaning of the Word was given, their understanding led to tears as they realized how they had failed (Nehemiah 9:1-3). But their tears turned to joy as they accepted the truth and determined to live by it. The "joy" in the much-quoted Scripture, "The joy of the Lord is your strength" (Nehemiah 8:10) ... is not a joy unrelated to the Word of God. It is a "covenant" joy ... the joy of knowing you are obeying the Word and will of God. To walk in the Word is to walk in revival.
Nehemiah found two intolerable things that were being done. First, they tolerated an Ammonite in the house of God (Nehemiah 13:49). The law forbade a non-Jew from participating in Temple worship. Nehemiah threw Tobiah out. His presence had destroyed the people's will to obey the Word. The rooms for the offerings were occupied by Tobiah. The temple is no place for an Ammonite. We cannot afford to open our doors of membership to unbelievers ... no matter how prestigious they are ... or whose relative they are. Our churches must always be open to those who need God, but we must not harbor sinners who want to come in with their "baggage."
The second intolerable thing Nehemiah dealt with was intermarriage with the heathen (Nehemiah 13:23-28). The Bible is very explicit on this. "Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers." There can be no ongoing revival if we compromise. This is not a cultural thing. It applies to all nations and races. Separation from the heathen is absolutely necessary to ongoing revival.
4. Sabbath (Nehemiah 13:15-22)
We know that the early Christians worshipped on the first day of the week ... the day of the resurrection. So we are not talking about the keeping of Saturday rather than Sunday. "There remaineth therefore a rest to the children of God" (Hebrews 4:9) refers to rest from personal struggle against sin. The baptism in the Holy Spirit gives us power for service ... but it also brings us the power to live a holy life and to be Christlike.
(Note ... "As soon as they found 'rest' they did that which was evil," is a different matter. In that case, "rest" was bad and the "struggle" was good. But when we enter into God's "rest" from the "struggle" against sin, then "rest" is good.) Many a Spirit-filled believer has failed to let the Holy Spirit do in them what He came to do. It is a Sabbath of rest they do not keep. And, because they expend all of their spiritual energies on themselves, they fail to see revival in others.
It is significant that there was a great revival of giving when the Word of God was read. Much of their trouble came when they began to live selfishly and withheld their first fruits and tithes (Nehemiah 10:35-39).
Let us not make light of the key to revival. It is not by chance that the churches that prosper spiritually are the churches that keep God's commands concerning tithing.
Note the emphasis on giving in chapter ten. The people all brought the first fruits of their crops and trees. This was not a tithe. It was an offering. Not only that, they brought the first born of their sons, of their cattle, of their herds, and of their flocks to the Lord. Above all this, they brought one tenth ... a tithe ... of their crops to the Levites.
Everyone was to do it... the Levites included. Their covenant with God was, "We will not neglect the house of God" (Nehemiah 10:39).
Not only does the Old Testament speak of tithing. Jesus spoke of it. He said we should do it. Paul said, "Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live from the gospel" (1 Corinthians 9:14). He referred to the Levitical system of tithing. He said, "Even so hath the Lord ordained." What further proof do we need of God's will concerning tithing? Without tithing a revival will be "over" as soon as the preaching is "over." Tithing is a part of sound doctrine.
Awareness will lead to burden ... burden to petition ... petition to action ... and action to revival. The devil will seek to put a stop to revival by ridicule, resistance, rationalization and rumor. But the five things that will keep revival going are struggle, sound doctrine, separation, sabbath, and support.
Let's take a lesson from Nehemiah!