Michael Youssef - There is Hope for America
I'm very grateful to be an American, but I'm sure you share with me that there can be little doubt to any thoughtful person that we're about to celebrate the birth of this greatest nation on the face of the earth in the midst of numerous threats, threats that could bring about the demise of the greatest and most exceptional country that has ever lived. And I say that because I wasn't born here. I'm honored to be here. But what makes these threats far more dangerous than times have gone by? Any time we've ever faced threats before, and we faced many, is that the threat we're facing today emanates from within, emanates from within. These threats from within are accomplishing what no foreign army could ever accomplish. These threats from within are far more insidious than external threats. Like a magnificent castle that is behind high fence, with barking dogs, and an alarm system, and yet it's being destroyed by termites.
Although America has faced many threats before, as I said, but in the past people knew how to turn to God for help in times of trouble. But what makes today's threats to be more devastating is that today we have leadership that ignores the God of the founders. What makes today's threat more devastating is that we have leadership that has abandoned the God of the founders, leadership that denies the God of the founders, leadership that mocks the God of the founders. We have leadership that is leading the charge and marching the nation into utter moral darkness, leadership that is ashamed of the Christian heritage of this great country. We have leadership that is wittingly or unwittingly, only God can judge, brag about the loss of the godly heritage of this great country. And that is why those of us who love Jesus, those of us who know Jesus, must never give in to apathy and discouragement, more than ever.
And today I want to challenge you to look to Scripture for example, an example of how believers dealt with pending catastrophes such as ours. Israel of old faced catastrophe and catastrophic circumstances that came about because they turned their backs on God. Every time Israel is in trouble, read the Old Testament, is because they turned their back on the God who delivered them from the slavery of Egypt. But there was one man in a crisis time, one man who would not turn his back on God, one man who refused to give in to discouragement, one man who stayed on his knees on behalf of his people, one man who acted courageously, one man who understood that God responds to persistent prayer.
Let me give you a historic background. After a series of warnings from God against their sin of turning their back on God, after a series of appeals by God to them by prophet after prophet to repent, but again and again they refused. Then the consequences of their rebellion finally came to Israel in a form of a foreign army coming in and pillaging and destroying and then taking people into exile. But 70 years after that time when they went into exile, as God promised through the prophet Jeremiah, he used a pagan king to restore them back to the land. At that time, there was a man by the name of Nehemiah, and Nehemiah was a second-generation born in exile. Nehemiah was occupying a high position in the palace of the pagan king of Persia. Nehemiah was literally living in the lap of luxury in Susa, thousands mile away from Jerusalem. Nehemiah had access to high power of his day and to the pagan emperor. But in the middle of a good life, Nehemiah hears about what has happened to Jerusalem and things were worse than he imagined.
Not only the news was very distressing for him, but, to make things worse, God's people couldn't care less, couldn't care less about what is happening to their land. Very few people recognized the devastating situation that they were in. Very few people recognize the tragedy that comes about as a result of disobeying the one true God. Very few people recognize the horrible condition that departure from the living God can bring about. And so, Nehemiah thinks of these broken walls and the burned gates of Jerusalem. He thinks of how the temple is in shambles and how these things are devastating God's people, that could threaten to eliminate them. And the first thing he does, he weeps. The response that sometimes I often get from the social media, Facebook and Twitter, when I send out, blog, a note talking about the importance of praying for America, "This has all been prophesied". Others would say, "This is the end times. Leave it alone".
Now I want to show you in a minute how Nehemiah, when he heard about the broken walls, which symbolized being defenseless, the burned gate, he did not only weep, but he prayed, and he planned. Today, we look around and see the broken walls of our culture that are leaving our citizens defenseless. The burned gates of our culture are leaving us vulnerable. Today, we look around and see our government is working against godliness. The Christians in the military, the greatest fighting force in history, are being persecuted. That chaplains are being muzzled and being ordered never to mention the name "Jesus". School curriculum are denigrating the Christian foundation of this great country. Hollywood lies about and denies the very biblical foundation upon which this nation was built.
The walls of society are broken, and they're leaving the children defenseless. The walls of the government are broken. The walls of the economy is broken. The walls of the political parties are broken, and there's only one way to look, and that's up, amen? But I wanna tell you today, with every ounce of conviction that I have that is part of the broken walls and the burned gate, this is the greatest time to be alive for Bible-believing Christians. We have the greatest opportunity to see the hand of God working more powerfully than ever before. In times like these, we have real hope of seeing miracles again. It's in times like these that we have the chance of seeing God manifesting his power once again, but only if, but only if... can you say that with me? But only if, but only if we follow the example of Nehemiah.
That is, instead of giving into anger and despair, instead of giving into indifference and apathy, instead of being complacent and callous, instead of being negative and having negative emotions, instead of all of that, we can pray, and we can plan. If Nehemiah teaches us anything, that prayer, one plus prayer, equal God's mighty power. And here's the problem. Here's the problem. When I see believers who only fill out prayer meetings in times of crisis, when I see believers getting serious about prayer only around election time, when I see believers showing up to prayer only when they're in trouble, I can tell you that God is not only dishonored by that. He's insulted. Read what he said through the prophets to his people. God is not impressed by this outward display of devotion without inner commitment, 'cause that's what he's looking for. God is not impressed with handing him the crumbs without making any sacrifice.
God is not impressed of how high you can jump for Jesus. He's interested in seeing how straight you can walk once you land. God wants to do business with men and women who mean business, God's business. How did Nehemiah go about God's business? Listen carefully. First, he identified the problem. He identified the problem. So the walls shattered. Gates are burned. He saw how the people living in shame and hopelessness. He saw how the name of the Lord was mocked, then he took the problem to the Lord in prayer. He didn't waste his time getting angry. He did not waste his time in recrimination. He did not waste his time blaming others. He fully identified with the people's sin that brought about the disaster. He did not even pray for their sin. He says, "Our sin," our sin.
And let me tell you something, since I'm at it. Those of us who are in the pulpit are the greatest culprits in America, because we have failed to proclaim the truth. And somebody said, "As goes the pulpit, so goes the pew. And as goes the pew, goes the nation". And it is time for pastors to repent and turn to the Lord. Join with me in repentance. He said, "We have sinned against you, and we have acted corruptly against you. We have not kept your commandments and your precepts and your statutes".
I want you to remember this. Don't forget what I'm gonna tell you, okay? He was not in Jerusalem. He was living in the lap of luxury, in the Persian palace, in the Persian emperor's palace. He was living peacefully in Susa, the capital city there, in the palace. Jerusalem was far away from the tranquility of the palace in Susa. You see, why should he get involved? And I know I hear that all the time, "Why should I get involved when I could enjoy this very rich government retirement program? Why get involved"? Oh, but Nehemiah wanted to bring his people back to the Lord. That's all that matters to him. Even there were very, very, very few of God's people who shared his conviction, but that's okay, because he knew that God is not impressed with numbers. He knew that God is not intimidated by the opinion poll and the majority rule. He believed that one plus prayer equal great power.
What really broke his heart? It wasn't the broken walls per se. It wasn't the burned gates of the city of Jerusalem per se. It wasn't even the fact that the temple was in shambles. They were bad enough, but really what broke his heart, what really broke his heart is the fact that the name of the Lord was disgraced. The pagans did not only mock God's people, they mocked the one true God. And the Scripture tells us Nehemiah not only wept, he mourned, and he wept, and he fasted, and he prayed for his own sin and the sin of the nation. When was the last time have we prayed in agony over our sin and the sin of the nation? When was the last time we wept over the sin of apostasy in the church? When was the last time have we felt anguish of hearing the name of Jesus being mocked and ridiculed?
Turn to Nehemiah chapter 1, verses 4 to 11. Read the book when you go home. It's a great book. His prayer began with praise, praising the name of the Lord. Secondly, he persisted in prayer, didn't just give up. And thirdly, he followed the plan. His prayer began with praise, verse 5. Nehemiah 1, verse 5, "O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commandments". His praise of God stemmed from the recognition of the majesty of God, the God of the universe, the God of power and might, the God whose hands brought him out of Egypt, the God whose power parted the Red Sea, the God whose power brought plagues upon the Egyptians and delivered God's people again and again and again. So much for our praise is so halfhearted. It's so devoid of that deep reverence to the majesty and the awesomeness of God.
Listen to me. Because of Jesus, we can come to God expectantly, but never presuming on his grace. Because of Jesus, we can come to him boldly, but never proudly. Nehemiah went to the presence of God in praise. How? Brokenness before God, in confession of who God is and who we are. See, some people think, when the word "praise" is mentioned, that you gotta have a praise band, and you sing some songs in the church. That is not what the meaning of real praise in the Bible. You see, praise is far more than that. Praise is the attitude of the heart. Praise transcends all melodies. Praise transcend even all words. And so, he began with praise. And secondly, he persisted in prayer.
1 Thessalonians 5:17 tells us, "Pray without ceasing". Did you get that? Today, we pray until either we get what we're asking for or we don't get what we're asking for. Either way, we take off. Nehemiah chapter 2, verse 1. You're gonna find that he continued persistently in prayer and in fasting and interceding for four straight months. We're lucky today to pray for 4 minutes.
Barry Loudermilk, he wrote a book that says "And Then They Prayed". In that book, he documents how many times America got serious about praying, how many crises, when they came and genuinely sought the Lord with all of their hearts, God answered. You're gonna see it again and again and again, and history is recorded with minutest detail. Very well-researched book. He goes all the way back to 1746, when the governor of Massachusetts colony received an alarming message that 96 French vessels were assembling off the coast of New England, and they were prepared to attack the city of Boston. It was the largest naval armada that has ever approached the American coastline. Their mission, very simple: destroy all the cities on the East Coast, from Massachusetts all the way to Georgia.
Thirteen thousand trained French soldiers were aboard these vessels, and they were ready to invade and capture the remaining part. The colonies had very little protection of the coastline. Their militia, it was no match to the well-trained, well-experienced French army. So Governor William Shirley needed to take quick and decisive action to defend his colony, and yet he and the colonies had only one reliable defense against the massive invasion. So Governor Shirley issued an official proclamation calling people to battle. How? How? By assembling the people in the churches for fasting and praying.
On a very sunny day, October 16, 1746, beautiful sunny day in Boston, the citizens began to assemble in the churches. A large gathering came especially in the city's Old South Church, and the Reverend Thomas Price began to cry to God on behalf of the people. He said, "Lord, deliver us from our enemies. Send thy tempest, Lord, upon the waters to the eastward. Raise thy right hand. Scatter the ships of our tormentors. Drive them hence". And suddenly that beautiful, clear, sunny day gave way to ominous clouds that enveloped the church itself in its shadow. In matters of minutes, heavy rain was pounding on the roof of the church. The winds made the windows shudder violently. The rage of the storm outside rattled the whole building, but the Reverend Prince kept on leading the people in prayer. "Lord, sink their proud frigates beneath the power of thy winds".
At that moment, the church bells began to ring, and there's no one in the bell tower. Immediately the Reverend Prince lifted his hands up to the heavens, and he said, "We hear thy voice, O Lord. We hear it. Thy breath is upon the waters to the eastward, even upon the deep". Then he bowed his head before the great congregation, and with tears streaming down his face, he said, "Thine be the glory. Amen and amen and amen". Needless to say, that nearly the entire fleet had been lost in the storm. The French admiral, the Duke of d'Anville and the vice admiral of d'Estournelle have taken their own lives. And of the 13,000 soldiers on this ship, only 1,000 survived, broken and suffering, retreating back to France.
Beloved, I told you these are great days for Bible-believing Christians to be alive. These are great days to be alive. It is because God has heard the humble and broken-hearted prayer for America many times before, and I believe God will hear the broken-heart, humble prayers of his people again. Nehemiah praised the Lord in the midst of this moral darkness. Nehemiah persisted in prayer. But thirdly, he prepared. Don't ever pray for something without having your heart prepared to do something.
You see, prayer is never an excuse for doing nothing. Prayer doesn't absolve us from responsibility to act. Prayer is a willingness to obey God's plan. Prayer is not submitting your wish list to God, but is reporting for duty. And Nehemiah could have stayed in the lap of luxury, in the palace of Susa, in the Persian emperor palace and said, "I'm gonna pray for these folks". He could have done that, but he reported for duty. He put himself up front. He could have said, "O God, raise a deliverer". But he didn't. He said, "Here I am, if you want me to go". But Nehemiah's prayer was a call to action on his own part first. When Isaiah was privileged to come into the presence of God, he heard the voice of God calling, "Who shall we send? Who shall go"? He didn't say, "Here I am. Send my sister," as we often do. He said, "Here I am. Send me. Send me. Here I am". "Here I am. Send me to my neighborhood". "Here I am. Send me to the workplace". "Here I am. Send me to my campus". "Here I am. Send me for the harvest". May the Lord give the spirit of Nehemiah to all of us.