Dark Horses – Nehemiah


Well, good morning Eastside. Oh, that’s pretty good. You’re about to be trained after all of these years. Unbelievable. But so good to see you. I’m super excited about today. We’re launching a brand new sermon series called Dark Horses. And a Dark Horse, by definition, is a little-known individual who succeeds against all odds, and they do something great, and they accomplish something great. Now, if you really want to know what a dark horse is, look back to last weekend to the Kentucky Derby, right? I mean, the dark horse won the race. It got into the race the day before. Was like a 90-to-1 odds to win the Kentucky Derby. And Rich Strike won the Kentucky Derby. 

Now, if you think about Dark Horses, there’s something inside of all of us that resonates with Dark Horses. I mean, it’s a little-known person who’s unlikely to succeed that accomplishes great things. Think about Rocky. Think about Rudy. Think about the Gladiator. Think about the Patriot. I mean, when we see these movies, and we walk out of those movies, what happens to us? There’s something that’s inside of us that is moving us to the core, and it’s an inspiration to do something great. And I think that inspiration comes from God himself. And when we leave those movies, we ask ourselves this question, Could God do that in me? Could God use me? And the answer is what? Yes. Because what does God specialize in? He specializes in using very ordinary people to do great things in his kingdom. 

And in this series, we’re looking at different Dark Horses throughout Scripture that were very ordinary, very common individuals. And God did something unique in and through them. And today, I want to tell you a story about one of the great Dark Horses of all time. And he’s in the Old Testament, and his name is Nehemiah. Now, many of you may or may not be familiar with Nehemiah. Nehemiah was not a pastor. He was not a priest. He was not a king. He was not even verified on Instagram. He was just a very ordinary, common individual. And his job was that he was a cup bearer for the King of Persia. Now, you may not know what that means, but what that actually means is that he would taste the King’s wine, and he would taste the King’s food before the King would drink the wine or eat the food. Because back in that day and age, if you wanted to assassinate the King of that day, you would poison their food.

So Nehemiah was the taste test before the King received any of the food. Now, as we begin to look at Nehemiah’s story, it begins with some bad news. Now, Nehemiah is a displaced Jew. He is in Persia. He’s a thousand miles away from Jerusalem. Jerusalem is a very significant town in the history of the Jews. And the reason why it’s significant is the capital of their religion. It’s a place of distinction. And so Nehemiah received some really bad news about the city, about the the the capital of the Jews. That was really, really disturbing to him. It actually knocked the wind out of him.  

Look with me at Nehemiah 1:2-3. It says this “Hanani, one of my brothers, came to visit me with some other men who had just arrived from Jerusalem” or from Judea. So they made the trip all the way to Persia, a thousand miles away. “I asked them about the Jews who had returned there from captivity and about how things were going in Jerusalem. Next slide. And they said to me, ‘things are not going well for those who returned to the providence of Judah. They’re in great trouble, and they’re in great disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem has been torn down, and the gates have been destroyed by fire.'” The people had been able to go back to Jerusalem, but when they went back, everything was destroyed. Everything was absolutely a pile of rubble and destruction.  

So have you ever heard of Solomon’s Temple? Well, it was destroyed. It was flattened. It was burned. The walls around the city of Jerusalem were in shambles as well. Not only that, the gates that people would go in and out of the city of Jerusalem had been burnt to the ground. And these 50,000 Jews who lived in the city of Jerusalem, they lived there with no hope, no jobs, no direction, no vision, no government, no nothing. They were absolutely had lost all hope. 

And so here’s the question that I want to answer today. What do you do when you don’t know what to do? What do you do when you don’t know what to do? What do you do when you see a great need before you? And how do you go about accomplishing it? What do you do when you see something that breaks your heart? How do you go about doing that? What near my gives us a blueprint on how to go about accomplishing something great that breaks your heart. And so there are five things you may just want to write these down.  

The first thing that happens that Nehemiah shows us is that you sit down and you cry, is that you sit down and you cry. You embrace the emotion. You embrace the moment. You embrace that thing that breaks your heart. Look what it says in Nehemiah 1:4. It says this what Nehemiah says When I heard this, what did he hear? He heard about the shambles of the city of Jerusalem. He heard about the hopelessness of his people. He says, When I heard this, what did Nehemiah do? What does it say? Is that a sat down? And what did he do? And he wept. He cried. It crushed him. It broke his heart, even though Jerusalem was a thousand miles away.  

So here’s the thing. When Nehemiah received this news, Nehemiah couldn’t go home and sit on his couch and recliner and watch ESPN for the rest of the evening. He just couldn’t do that because his heart was moved. He couldn’t go home and get on social media, take out his phone and do selfies and post them and put two. Blessed are blessed to serve. He couldn’t do that hashtag at all because why? His heart was moved. His heart was impacted by what he heard from his friends who came to visit him.

And so I want to ask you a question this morning. What breaks your heart? What is it that when you see a need, it moves you? It tears you up. It disturbs you. It causes you to lose sleep. What is it that breaks your heart? I mean, it could be literacy, illiteracy that people are not able to read or to write, and that somehow or another grips your heart. For some of you, it’s the kids that fall through the cracks, and they fall into foster homes, or they’re in the system. And you think, well, maybe I can reach out and rescue them. For some of you, it’s global poverty. You think about the kids that died from the lack of food and the lack of clean water. For some of you, it’s those are controlled by alcohol or some other stuff, substance. You’re just moved by all of that. For others of you, the thing that moves you is people that’s been abused, especially as children. For some of you, it’s your family members, it’s your loved ones, it’s your friend. It’s a neighbor who is far from God. And you want him or her to come and experience the love and the grace and have an encounter with the living God. And that’s what breaks your heart. 

Folks, listen to me. What breaks your heart, and let it move you. Let it crush you, let it wreck you. And then listen to me. After you sit down and cry, then you have to take the second step. And the second step that Nehemiah took was this. You kneel to pray. Now, Nehemiah not only allow it to impact his heart and wreck his life, he decided that he was going to pray. Now, look what it says in Nehemiah 1:4-6, “In fact, for days.” Now, notice this Nehemiah didn’t pray for a day. He didn’t pray for two days. He didn’t pray for a week. He didn’t pray for two weeks or three weeks, or four weeks. And if you go ahead and read the rest of the text, Nehemiah prayed for four months. Notice what it says. He says, in fact, four days, literally for four months, “I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven. Then I said, ‘Oh, Lord, God of heaven, listen to my prayer and look down and see me praying. Night and day for your people of Israel.'” Now, Nehemiah took his request, took the thing that broke his heart. He took it to God. Why did he take it to God? Because He knew that God specializes in doing the impossible. Is that Nehemiah did it consistently. He did it day after day for four months. And why did he do that? Is because Nehemiah didn’t want his game plan. Nehemiah wanted the game plan of God. He wanted the heart of God to prevail in his life and in the solution for the city of Jerusalem. 

Now, some of you are dealing with situations in your life right now that look like a pile of rubble, and you really don’t know how to go about doing it. I mean, you look at your marriage, you look at your relationship, you look at your significant others, and there’s been mistrust. There’s been betrayal. And you go on, how in the world can we ever reconcile? How can God ever restore this? How can God ever redeem this relationship? How can we ever be on the same page? Or maybe some of you are so deep financially in debt that you’re wondering how in the world can we ever get out of this? And the only way that you can get out of it, my friends, is that in this feeling of being overwhelmed is that you have to sit down and you have to cry. Do you kneel and pray? And your prayer has to be, God, not my plan, but your plan because it’s your plan that’s got you where you’re at at this moment. 

And this is the reason why we’re going to go on a 21-day of prayer. We’re not going to do a four-month prayer, but we’re going to do a 21-day of prayer. And what I’m going to ask you to do, I’m going to ask you to go on this 21 days with me. And here’s what I would like for you to do, is I would like for you to text your name to my cell phone number. That is my cell phone 859-661-5373. And for the next 21 days, I’m going to send you a verse, a prayer and a word of encouragement, and a prayer request. And so I’m just going to send your short text message every day for 21 days.  

And here’s the reason why I’m doing this, is because I believe that we’re going to meet God in a deeply profound way over the next 21 days. I believe that God’s going to heal some broken. Relationships. I believe that God is going to strengthen some souls that are weary this morning. I believe that God, over the next 21 days, is going to plant dreams and visions in the hearts of his people that they will rise up and do great things in the Kingdom of God. 

And so what did Nehemiah do? He first of all, when he found something that broke his heart, he sat down, and he cried. He embraced the emotion. He embraced the moment. The second thing that he did is that he knelt and he prayed. And the third thing he did is that he stood up and he acted. He stood up and acted. Nehemiah takes the cup of wine. He takes dinner to the King. And as he enters into the King’s presence, Nehemiah’s heart is heavy. His face is downcast. And the King is a pretty observant king. And the King looks at Nehemiah, and he goes, “Why are you so sad? Why are you so downcast?” And Nehemiah replies, And look what he says. Nehemiah replies. And Nehemiah 2:3. He says, “Long live the king.” He says, “King, how can I not be sad for the city where my ancestors are buried is in ruins, and the gates have been destroyed by fire. And the King asks, ‘Well, how can I help you?'” Well, look at the next slide. Here’s how Nehemiah responds. He says, “With a prayer to God of heaven.” Now notice what Nehemiah does. Nehemiah doesn’t go. Hold on a second. Let me go to my prayer closet and talk to God about this. He doesn’t say, let me go outside and catch a breath of fresh air. Come back and give me the answer. What does he do? He sets up a flare prayer right there in the moment. He goes, God, in this moment, Father, give me the words to say. Give me the right things to ask for.

And, folks, listen to me when you’re in a sticky situation. All you have to do is, in that very moment breathed, there were two prayers to God. And God will give you the words that you need in that moment. Notice what he says. He says, “‘If it pleases the king and if you’re pleased with me, your servant, send me to Judah to rebuild the city where my ancestors are buried.'” He says, In essence, my family and friends, they’re in desperate need. They need my help. I need to go to them. Now, look at verse six. “The King, with the queen sitting beside him, asked, ‘How long will you be gone? When will you return?'” Now, notice this. Nehemiah does not stutter. Nehemiah doesn’t go. I don’t know. Notice what he says. “After I told him how long I would be gone, the King agreed to my request.” Now, think about this, folks. The King of Persia is a nonbeliever. He’s not a cross follower, but he greets the requests of Nehemiah because, why? Because of his character. Because of his work ethic. Because of his attitude.

And since Nehemiah was on the role and the key was granting his request. You know what Nehemiah does next? He goes, What’s the heck? You know, I’m just going to ask. And he says to the King, and by the way, could you help me with one more thing? And the King says, Yeah, for sure. What do you need? And Nehemiah pulls out his list from the Home Depot that he needs. Like, I need drywall, I need nails, I need power tools, I need concrete, I need wood, I need plywood. I need all of this. And the King goes. The King goes. Absolutely. I will grant you all the materials that you need. But guess what else I’m going to do for you, Nehemia? I’m going to give you a police escort with you and all the materials so that it will get there safely to the city of Jerusalem.  

Now, when I was reading this and studying this, I started to ask myself the question. Do you ever get surprised by the way that the Lord answers your prayers? If you’re a praying person and you pray, God will surprise you by the way that he answers your prayers. See, some of you have a burden about something. Some of you have wept. And some of you. You’ve prayed about it. But now comes the time that you must stand up and act. That’s what Nehemiah did. Nehemiah didn’t just say, I have this burden. I’m wrecked, but I prayed to God. But God let him to do something. And some of you, you need to start a life group, is that this is heavy on your heart and that it’s time for you to stand up. It’s time for you to go. You know what? I need to have a meeting with my current life group leader. I need to meet with my life group leader and my life group coach. And I need to explain to them that God is leading me and my spouse to launch a new life group. And you have to do so. You have to stand up and act for some of you. You want to learn a new skill. You want to learn a new behavior. Guess what? It’s time for you to sign up for class. It’s a time for you to buy some books and start reading. It’s time for you to do maybe a YouTube series. Maybe it’s time for you to start listening to a podcast. For others of you, It’s time for you to get a fresh start spiritually. And how do you do that? You go outside into the atrium, and you go to our people lounge, and there’s people out there that will help you to do that. 

Some of you, you’re here, and you just want to get a date with the girl. Guess what? I’ve got great news for you. You’ve come to the right place today. I’m going to help you to get a date with the girl. Okay, here’s how you get a date with the girl. The first thing that you need to do. Men, listen to me. Go out and buy a shirt with a collar. That’s the very first thing that you need to do. Okay. The second thing that you need to do is take a bath. And the third thing that you need to do is get rid of your PlayStation 4 and go and sell it. Okay? Just get rid of it. And the last thing that you need to do is that you need to go to Target. You need to go to Target. You need to go to Target because women go to Target all the time, and they pick up things that they don’t need. And that’s where you need to go to because you have a chance with them picking you up even though they don’t need a guy in their life right now. So you’re welcome for that. Okay. You can pass that wisdom along. Some of you need to.  

So we just need to be honest about some things. You need to sit down, and you need to cry. And after you get through crying, you need to kneel and to pray. And then you need to stand up, and you need to act. And the fourth thing that you need to understand, and this is what Haven even talked about a few moments ago, you can expect opposition. You can expect opposition. You need to understand is that when you step out, opposition steps in. When you step out to do something for good, great for God, guess what? Satan is going to be there every step of the way.  

Look with me at Nehemiah chapter four. It says, “Sanballat,” and Sanballat was a Samaritan leader, so he was against the Jews altogether, “was very angry when he learned that we were rebuilding the wall.” So you remember Nehemiah comes to Jerusalem, he has a vision. He says, Let’s rise up. Let’s rebuild the walls. Let’s rebuild the gate. And they say, Let’s do it. And the opposition comes. “He flew into a rage talk” talking about Sanballat, “and he mocked the Jews, saying in front of his friends and the Sumerian army officers, ‘What does this bunch of poor, feeble Jews think they’re doing?'” So they’re just ridiculing Nehemiah and the Jews. 

Look with me at verse three of chapter four. There’s another guy that comes on to the scene, “Tobiah, the Ammonite, who was standing beside him, remarked, ‘that stone wall that they’re rebuilding would collapse even if a fox walked on top of it.'” Now, just think about that. Here are his symbolic. Here’s to bind. What are they doing? They’re mocking the nation of Israel, the Jews, and Nehemiah. Now, folks, listen to me whenever you step out to honor God, spiritual opposition steps in. And some of you, this is very true in your life right now for some of you. You decided to come back to church for the first time in a long, long time. You’ve been watching online and all the way to church this morning. You had a knockdown, drag-out fight in the car all the way here, and used cursing all the way here to get the church to worship God. But for some of you, I’m not asking for testimonies of reasons, so none of that. For some of you, you know what? It’s time you made a decision. I’m going to be a difference-maker. I’m going to start. Serving around Eastside. And you served last week in E-Kids, and you serve the two-year-olds. And as you were serving the two-year-olds, the two-year-old that you were looking after in the first 15 minutes decides to puke his or her Froot Loops all over you. Right. You know, oh, my goodness, I’m trying to do a good thing. And the two-year-old just puked all over me.

Or maybe. Maybe this is the big one that happens all the time. You decide you and your spouse decides that you’re going to get out of debt. You ever done that? You put your first $50 over into savings. And then the next day. You have a 1500-dollar breakdown to your automobile. You see how when you start to do something great for God, and it can be, that is greatness starting to get out of debt. You’re going to slay debt. And then, all of a sudden, Satan brings this car repair that says, no, this is impossible. See, some of you you’ve shared with a friend or family member that you feel like the God’s calling you to do something great. And maybe you’ve experienced this. You share what God has laid on your heart. You know what they do to you. As soon as you share what God places on your heart, what do they do? They knock you down. They go, who do you think you are? You’re not worthy to do that. You can’t do that, God can’t use you. 

Some of you have the desire to be foster parents, and you tell a friend, your friend says to you, you can’t be a foster parent. You can’t even control the kids that you have. How are you going to help some other kid? For some of you feel like that you’re called to launch a life group, and you tell your best friend, you tell somebody, your life group, that God’s leaving you to start a life group. And they go, Who do you think you are to launch a life group? You don’t even know where the book of Nehemiah is. You cannot find the book of Nehemiah. 

Folks, here’s the thing about this. Whenever you step out to do something for God, Spiritual opposition comes in, and they will tell you that you’re not educated enough, that you’re not good enough, that you don’t have the abilities, that you don’t have the credentials. They tell you that you’re too old, that you’re too young. They will just tell you over and over that you’re not capable. But folks, listen to me. If God is calling you to serve, if God is calling you to have a spiritual conversation, if God’s calling you to be a witness, if God is calling you to lead or to launch a life group or to tithe, or to start serving or whatever God is calling you to do, you need to understand that you will always have critics and you will always have people who hate you. 

In fact, I want you to look at the screen. The Sanballats of life are the critics, and the Tobiahs are the haters of your spiritual walk with God. And folks, you can know for sure that you’re on the right path when you have spiritual opposition. See, folks, look at this next quote on the screen. Dark Horses become Dark Horses because their commitment to a God-ordained cause is greater than their craving for comfort. Let me say that again. Dark Horses become Dark Horses because their commitment to a God-ordained cause is greater than their craving for comfort. 

The critics were relentless with Nehemiah. Look with me at verses two and three of chapter six. “So Sanballat and Gresham sent a message asking me to meet them at one of the villages in the plain of Ono.” Can I just say something to you? If one of your enemies wants you to come and meet them in the city of Ono, you say to them, Oh, no, I’m not going. Okay, that’s all you have to do. “But I realized they were plotting to harm me. So I replied, but sending the message to them, ‘I’m engaged.'” In what? What does it say? “‘I’m engaged in a great work, so I can’t come. Why should I stop working to come and meet with you?'” And you have to understand that on five different occasions, they tried to get Nehemiah to come off the ladder and to meet with them. And Nehemiah says, I’m not having anything to do with this. 

Look with me at verses 15 and 16. “So on October the second, the wall was finished. In just 52 days after we had begun. When our enemies and the surrounding nations heard about it, they were frightened, and they were humiliated.” Now you will know why they were frightened and humiliated. I want you to look at the next slide, the scoreboard if you would. They took 92 years since the city wall was destroyed. It took 92 years. The people were stuck there in Jerusalem with the walls torn down, the gates on fire, the years of failure, 92 years of broken dreams 92, number of days to rebuild the wall, 52 days. All the naysayers, all the haters, all the critics, all the Debbie Downers, all the surrounding nations. When they saw that the nation of Israel had rebuilt the walls and the gates of Jerusalem in 52 days, they knew that they had God to help them.  

Go back to the previous verse. If you don’t care for me, they said, Look at this. “They realize this work has been done” What does it say? “The help of our Lord.” And folks, you need to understand that they accomplished something great because they had the help of the Lord. So what did the nation of Israel do? What did Nehemiah do? He did something very simply. He sat down, and he wept. And then he kneeled, and he prayed. And then what did he do? He stood up in the act. And then what happened? You can expect opposition. But number five is that he gave all glory to God and God alone. 

You see, folks in the nations around them knew that God had helped them. They noticed that Nehemiah knew that God was there. Nehemiah knew that it was God who opened the heart of the King. Nehemiah knew that it was God who opened the doors for him. It was God who placed the burden on Nehemiah. It was God who was there in the beginning. It was God who was there in the middle when they had all these setbacks. And it was God who was there in the end. And when it was there in the end, they gave him all the glory, all the honor for what he accomplished.  

And folks can as you say something to you. I don’t know about you, but I want people in this community. When they hear about Eastside, when they hear about Eastside, they understand that it’s not Virgil. It’s not the staff. It’s not the leaders. I want them to understand is that God helps them. God made the difference. It’s because I want them to look at me, and they want to say, you know what? I know that it wasn’t Virgil Grant who did it because I knew Virgil Grant back in high school and back in college when he did all the bad things in life. I know how jacked up, how dysfunctional he was back then. And if God did anything through Virgil Grant or anybody through Eastside, because I know all of those people that are there and this jacked up, that it had to be God because there was nothing good inside of them.

See, folks, I want God to get all the glory and the honor and the reason why we go through this process. The reason why we allow the things of God to break our hearts and to wreck our lives, and to destroy us in a good way is because God wants all the glory. God wants to prove himself to each and every one of us. You see, folks, some of you, there’s something that breaks your heart. But it just breaks your heart. You’ve never prayed about it. You never stood up, and you never acted. You’ve never encountered opposition. You’ve never been able to give God the glory because you haven’t done anything with it. And this is God’s call. This is God’s invitation for you to step out and allow God to display his glory in your life and in your ministry and see friends. It doesn’t matter where you’re at on the journey. God says I’ll never leave you. God says I will never forsake you. God says that I will always be with you every step of the way. That you can count on the fact that God is going to be with you if you decide to take this journey.

But here’s the thing. You have to begin. What is it that is breaking your heart? What is it that is disturbing you? What is it that’s wrecking your soul? What is it that when you see the injustice, it just makes you inferior? Make you furious. Makes you mad. Angry. That’s the thing that God wants you to rally around. And so this morning. I just want to encourage you. Allow God to break your heart. 

Take this 21 days of prayer journey with us. Send your name. Text me your name. 859-661-5373. Starting tomorrow, you’ll receive a daily text for the next 21 days. Would you pray with me, please? So, Heavenly Father, we humble yourselves before you today and ask that by the power of Your Spirit that you would equip and enable us as your people in your church, to do the great work you’ve called us to do. Let our hearts break for what breaks your heart. May we pay attention to the divine burdens that you put in each one of our hearts? And for those your feelings start or discourage right now, give them commitment and courage to stay in the game and to know that they will reap the harvest if they don’t give up. God, thank you for hearing our prayers. We look forward to the 21 days of prayer that are ahead of us. May we all take advantage of this opportunity to meet with you, to hear from you, to be empowered and led by you and God as a church. We ask you to use us for the great work you’ve called us to do in this world. For the name of Jesus, we prayed in his name, Amen.