Today’s reading: Nehemiah 1-3.
Prayer is powerful. Prayer pleases God. Yet prayer is neglected, even in my own life. The book of Nehemiah demonstrates a formula for prayer that moved a king, overcame great opposition, and rebuilt a city.
Then I said: “O LORD, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commands, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel.” Nehemiah 1: 5-6.
Nehemiah prayed because of the heart-breaking news he heard about the sad state of the rebuilding effort in Jerusalem. It had been 90 years since the first exiles had returned to Jerusalem, 70 years since the temple had been rebuilt, and 10 years since Ezra had arrived and stemmed the slide of the people into assimilation with the pagans around them. Yet the news which Nehemiah heard was that the returned exiles were in great trouble and disgrace and unprotected because there were no walls around the city.
Nehemiah prayed with emotion. He prayed out of a broken heart and had been weeping for his disgraced brothers. Aren’t our prayers most fervent when we pray with the sense of great need and anguish?
Nehemiah prayed after fasting. Fasting is not a prerequisite to prayer, but Jesus himself said that the combination of the two had the power to overcome difficult situations.
His prayer invoked the character of God. Nehemiah’s prayer described and praised God at the same time (great and awesome God). It then made God’s character the foundation of God’s response to the prayer (the one who keeps his covenant of love with those who love and obey him).
His prayer emphasized the relationship with God. Nehemiah emphasized (1) that he was subordinate to God as a servant (2) that the Israelites were God’s people.
His prayer confessed the sins of himself and his people. He was general in his admission of guilt, then specific in admitting that the people had not kept the law of Moses.
His prayer recalled the promises of God. I continue to see overwhelming evidence that this is crucial to answered prayer. Nehemiah reminded God of his promise that if his exiled people returned to him in obedience he would redeem them and bring them back to the Promised Land.
His prayer was specific. He asked that God would give him success with the king, in order that the king would support his mission to rebuild Jerusalem.
After Nehemiah prayed, he still had to step out in faith to bring his plan before the king. The king could have charged Nehemiah with divided loyalty, but instead he responded with whole-hearted favor. Nehemiah’s method of praying unleashed all of God’s influence and molded the will of the king.