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“On the Ropes” // Nehemiah 1:1-11

socialmedia@cityrise.org February 6, 2022 sermons, Uncategorized, cityrise, Crosspoint Church - Bellaire, david and denise glenn, houston, Nehemiah, Roger Patterson, West U Baptist,

The following is a manuscript of the sermon presented by Dr. Roger Patterson on Sunday February 6, 2022 at our West U Baptist Church campus. To view the sermon in full, check out the link below.

Welcome to week 4 of Fight For It. Today we are going to look at what are we to do when our backs are up against the ropes and we are taking a beating.

You see, there are moments in every fighter’s life when he wonders if he will make it to the next round. His back is against the ropes, he is in a defensive position, and it seems his opponent can do whatever he wishes to him. It’s here, what he really believes about who he is and what he is about comes to the surface. It’s when his back is against the ropes that he can either take the beating or fight back.

When Nehemiah heard the report of the walls of Jerusalem lying in ruin, he found himself on the ropes. This report nearly dropped him to the mat. His heart ached. His soul longed for a fix. He knew that his heart had been captured for something greater—the call to rise-up and fight for God’s city.

Transition: Last week, we talked about not waiting to the end of the fight to lift our hands. This week, I want us to see what we are to do when we are wrecked by a burden and our backs are against the ropes.

Let’s look together at Nehemiah 1:1-4.

Nehemiah 1:1-4

The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah.

Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the citadel, that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.”

As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.

Do you hear the fight forming in Nehemiah’s heart? These fights come to us as burdens. They wreck our lives. When God is about to move in a family, in a church, or in a city, He often brings a collision full of burdens and lays them right at our feet. God says, “Hey, I want you to do something about this mess.”

Have you ever been weighed down like this? Have you ever been overwhelmed by a need so big that you don’t know even where to begin? It’s here you realize you are on the ropes and taking a beating. When this happens, what are we to do?

When you are on the ropes…

  1. Define Reality

 I. When you are on the ropes… Define Reality

Leaders define reality. They don’t shy away from it. They don’t run from it. They face it.

Here was Nehemiah’s reality:

  • Devout Jews prayed for the peace of Jerusalem. As you see Nehemiah’s prayer in Nehemiah 1, you see he loved God and revered his word. Thus, Nehemiah would be familiar with the Psalms of Ascent and the commendation of Psalm 122 to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. But how could one pray for a city’s peace if the walls were torn down? Notice Psalm 122 which states:

Psalm 122:1-7

I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the Lord!”
Our feet have been standing
within your gates, O Jerusalem!

Jerusalem—built as a city
    that is bound firmly together,
to which the tribes go up,
    the tribes of the Lord,
as was decreed for Israel,
    to give thanks to the name of the Lord.
There thrones for judgment were set,
    the thrones of the house of David.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!
    “May they be secure who love you!
Peace be within your walls
    and security within your towers!”

Nehemiah had been born in Babylon and had never been to Jerusalem, so everything known to him about Jerusalem was second-hand. But that didn’t mean it wasn’t accurate information. Though the temple has been rebuilt by this time, the walls still lay in ruin. Jerusalem is still being mocked and taunted by her neighbors.

Psalm 79:1 & 4 says of Jerusalem:

Psalm 79:1 & 4

O God, the nations have come into your inheritance;
    they have defiled your holy temple;
    they have laid Jerusalem in ruins.

We have become a taunt to our neighbors,
    mocked and derided by those around us.

  • To get to Jerusalem, it would take four months to travel the nine-hundred-mile journey. This wasn’t an easy journey, as there were many criminals along the way.
  • I’m sure there was an uncertainty of the reception he would receive in Jerusalem if he just showed up telling the people that he was going to try and fix their problem.
  • The thought of getting the king’s permission to leave seemed crazy. He was trusted with the king’s wine. As the cupbearer to the king, Nehemiah faithfully put his life on the line every time the king wanted wine. He tasted it first to ensure it was not poisoned. Releasing Nehemiah to this task was a great risk for the king, and Nehemiah knew this as well.
  • Add to this the sense that he felt responsible for the sins of a previous generations, and you see that Nehemiah is in a difficult place.
  • Could he really leave the comforts of Babylon? Babylon was the most advanced city in the known world. As Alan Platt says…

“He would be exchanging the palace for the desert wilderness and his bed for hard ground.”[1]

All of this was probably swirling around in Nehemiah’s mind.

Application: What swirls around, often binds us up. The angst is almost palpable as Nehemiah is driven to his knees with weeping. Defining reality can do this to us when we are wrecked by God-sized burdens.


  • What’s your reality?
  • What burdens you?
  • What’s at the root?
  • How do you get a clear picture of what journey lies before you?

Let’s see what Nehemiah did next.

When you are on the ropes…

  1. Define Reality
  2. Fast, Pray & Search the Scriptures


II. When you are on the ropes… Fast, Pray & Search the Scriptures

The second thing we see Nehemiah do as he is wrecked with this burdened for the people and walls of Jerusalem is get alone with God. It appears that Nehemiah did this for approximately four months. He was initially burdened in the month of Chislev (December) and didn’t make his request before King Artaxerxes until Nisan (April).

Look at Nehemiah 1:4.

Nehemiah 1:4

As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. 

Let’s talk about FASTING.

Many times, in the Scripture fasting is a component of time set aside for mourning.

When you fast, you intentionally set something aside for the sake of something greater. People fast from all sorts of things:

  • food,
  • alcohol,
  • social media,

Fasting is a way to stay focused so that you can prioritize, pray, dream, or think.

Nehemiah refrained from eating.

Are you in a fight? Engage in the discipline of fasting. Replace food, alcohol, social media, or another activity with time set aside to pray and search the Scriptures.

Let’s talk about Prayer…

Prayer: As you read various stories in the Scriptures, you realize that prayer is simply talking to God.

In Nehemiah 1, we only have one recorded prayer, but notice the context. Nehemiah didn’t just pray one time, but repeatedly. Look again at Nehemiah 1:4.

Nehemiah 1:4

As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. 

Nehemiah simply talked to God and shared his pain with Him.

Do you pray? Do you take time in your day and throughout your day to talk to your Heavenly Father? Hebrews 4:14-16 instructs us. It says:

Hebrews 4:14-16

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Third,  I believe he used this time to search the Scriptures to have a better understanding of why Jerusalem, the city of God’s choosing, was still a dangerous, devastating place. We are going to see this in a moment as we look at his prayer, but when we are in a place wrecked with burden, look to God’s word for His prompting, His wisdom for the moment.

Nehemiah used this time of mourning to look for answers and gain understanding.

Nehemiah records his prayer in the opening verses of Nehemiah chapter 1 that help us. How did he pray?  What did he say to God that helps us know how to pray for the burdens that have wrecked us?

That leads me to my third point today…

When you are on the ropes…

  1. Define Reality
  2. Fast, Pray & Search the Scriptures
  3. Pray as Nehemiah Prayed

Let me categorize his prayer and then ask you to note it when you read it. Nehemiah’s prayer entailed:

Nehemiah’s Prayer

  • Praise
  • Intercession
  • Confession
  • Petition
  • Personal Request

Look at Nehemiah 1:5-11 with me and note where you see each of these elements of Nehemiah’s prayer.

Nehemiah 1:5-11

And I said, “O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’ 10 They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. 11 O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”

Now I was cupbearer to the king. 

Nehemiah’s Prayer

  • Praise
  • Intercession
  • Confession
  • Petition
  • Personal Request 


Do you see how Nehemiah opens with praise? In verse five he extols the Lord, the God of heaven. The use of this term Lord was a “…reminder of God’s rule and (that his) authority rests ultimately upon his creation and ownership of all things and people.”[2]

Nehemiah is proclaiming that all that exists belongs to his God. All that is and ever will be is subject to the Lord God of heaven.

He then declares of God that He is great and awesome. In other words, He is too vast to comprehend, and He is to be feared, honored, and revered.

In his praise of the Lord, Nehemiah proclaims that He is a covenant keeping God. This is the basis of what we see Nehemiah pray in verses seven through nine. It also harkens back to Exodus 34 where the Lord passes before Moses and proclaims his name. This portion is foundational in understanding that our God is a God of covenant promise. Exodus 34:6-7 states:

Exodus 34:6-7

The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

To be one of steadfast love is to be one full of loyal love and faithfulness to a covenant. Nehemiah knew this of God. He knew that the Lord had established a covenant with Abraham and his descendants. He gave him a land and a nation. This covenant with Abraham was an unconditional covenant.

Nehemiah also knew that the Lord had given Israel the Law of Moses, a conditional covenant of blessing or curses based upon their obedience to Him. Studying Deuteronomy 28-32 is foundational to understanding the rest of the Old Testament. It’s foundational to understanding Israel’s captivity by Babylon in the first place. If they were an obedient people, they would prosper in the land and their enemies would be subdued. If they were disobedient to the covenant, they would endure the curses of the covenant – the very reason why Nehemiah was born in Babylon, and not in Judah.

But what you and I must understand is that in Jesus, we are under a new covenant—a covenant of salvation, growth, and glory that has come to those who take Christ as Savior. He is the Lord God of Heaven. His covenant is no longer a covenant written on stone, but it is written on our hearts. It’s not limited to the Jew only, but also to all the nations. It’s not based on our work, but on the work that He did for us on the cross and when we pray to the Father through Jesus the Son, as we are stirred by the Spirit, we should begin with praise. Because all things are held together by the Lord Jesus Christ.  They were made by him and for him. Colossians 1:15-20 declares:

Colossians 1:15-20

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

For whom or what are you fighting? Go to your knees and praise Jesus that He is the one, the Lord God of Heaven, who is holding all things together. He is the one to exalt today as you fight for yourself, your family, your city, and your church. Begin with praise.

Nehemiah’s Prayer

  • Praise
  • Intercession
  • Confession
  • Petition
  • Personal Request


I tell this story in the book. I have two dogs named Bella and Stella. They are golden doodles. Bella is big at about 75 pounds. Stella is smaller at about 25 pounds. They are a hoot when they wrestle. Bella and Stella love ice. It’s their treat. It’s the most economical treat on the market. There is an unlimited supply and it costs me nothing to provide it to them.

But I don’t hand it out to them unless they ask for it. Our icemaker is near the coffee pot. When they hear me making coffee in the mornings, or when I’m standing near the coffee pot in our kitchen, they come asking for ice. They must have some sort of agreement worked out between them, because Stella is the first one to get an ice cube, no matter what. Then, she stands near the front shoulder of Bella and waits for her to drop her first ice cube. It’s as if Bella asks for an extra one for her buddy when she is given one. She does this by consistently dropping the first one given to her and doing nothing to pick it up. Instead, Stella is right there to scoop it up, and then trot off to eat her two cubes of ice.

Interceding is asking on behalf of another. Nehemiah’s four-month season of prayer was to make intercession for the people of God who resided in the dangerous city of God. He would pray for them repeatedly. The first part of verse six says,

Nehemiah 1:6b

“…let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants…”

  • He can’t help but pray for them.
  • He can’t help but ask God to help them.
  • He can’t help but make a plan for them.

Nehemiah’s Prayer

  • Praise
  • Intercession
  • Confession
  • Petition
  • Personal Request


The rest of verse six and then verse seven says,

Nehemiah 1:6c-7

“…confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses.”

Nehemiah is getting down to business now. As he prays, he comes to God admitting his sin and the sins of his nation. His admission that, “We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses,” is his agreement with God’s just sentence upon the Jews for placing them into captivity. Deuteronomy 28:36-37 prescribes just one of the things that will happen to the nation of Israel if she does not keep the covenant. This is why I believe Nehemiah searched the Scriptures during this four month season. It says:

Deuteronomy 28:36-37

“The Lord will bring you and your king whom you set over you to a nation that neither you nor your fathers have known. And there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone. 37 And you shall become a horror, a proverb, and a byword among all the peoples where the Lord will lead you away.” 

If Nehemiah never requested passage to Jerusalem and the opportunity to rebuild the walls, he was right to confess Israel’s sins. Because as you continue to read in Deuteronomy, you see God’s promise to restore when a heart of repentance is established. Deuteronomy 30:1-3 declares:

Deuteronomy 30:1-3

“And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God has driven you, and return to the Lord your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have mercy on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you.”

Repentance precedes restoration. Nehemiah is repenting for his sins and the sins of the nation asking God to be merciful.

Is there anything for which you need to confess and repent? I find that there usually is.

Maybe the fight that has made its way to your front doorstep is there to get your attention. Maybe it’s there to cause you to pick your head up and ask God to search your heart and life. Clearly, he was doing this with his people.

Nehemiah’s Prayer

  • Praise
  • Intercession
  • Confession
  • Petition
  • Personal Request

Petition – Asking God for something…

Notice how Nehemiah moves immediately to petition. His request is simply for God to do what He had already promised to do if the nation repented. In essence, Nehemiah says…

“God, I’ve found it. I see in the law here that You said that You would restore us if we repented. So, God, I’m leading the charge. Do what You said You would do.”

Here he quotes Deuteronomy 30:2-3 that we just read. I can just imagine as he sees God’s heart as revealed in the law and the promise to restore the nation, he becomes excited and expectant. He asks God to listen to his prayer and to others who pray in this same way, because he is believing that something significant is about to happen.

Nehemiah’s Prayer

  • Praise
  • Intercession
  • Confession
  • Petition
  • Personal Request

Personal Requests

As Nehemiah’s prayer comes to a close, he simply asks for favor. He asks that the covenant keeping God of heaven would put a grace into the heart of his boss because he was about to ask him for a lot. He prays for success and that the king would be merciful.

Nehemiah 1:11b says,

Nehemiah 1:11b

 “…and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”

To receive mercy is to have something you deserve withheld from you. Even this request is full of the knowledge that the king could kill Nehemiah for even bothering him with this request. Nehemiah has a depressed disposition when he appears before the king, and no one was to enter the king’s presence downcast. Nehemiah’s plea for mercy was a plea for his life. He knew he had an appointment to serve the king, but he also knew that he couldn’t change his disposition.

Beyond the plea for mercy was the plea for success. Nehemiah needed what the king had. He needed provision, protection, and passage to attempt what he was feeling led to do. In this one relationship was all those things and Nehemiah knew it.

Nehemiah wept, fasted, prayed and planned. He had a burden that wrecked him, but he had a faith that guided him.

Listen to what David and Denise did when they found their marriage was on the ropes. Check out their fight story.


  1. Have you taken the time to define reality? Here are the questions I asked you just a few minutes ago. Take a few minutes to define the landscape of your burden.
  • What’s your reality?
  • What burdens you?
  • What’s at the root?
  • How do you get a clear picture of what journey lies before you?


  1. Have you taken the fight to your knees? As you are burdened for something beyond your control, ask God to give you vision that:
    1. He is in control
    2. He will lead you
    3. He will provide for you
    4. He is up to something that will bring him glory.


  1. Will you take a season to fast and pray for that which overwhelms you? How often will you fast and from what will you fast? (I have found that its best with something of significance like a meal, and then grow the discipline from there. Consider one time per week skipping lunch or dinner and then set aside time to pray, journal, dream, and plan).

[1] Platt, City Changers, 163-165.

[2] White, R. E. O. (1988). Lord. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 2, p. 1346). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.