Nehemiah challenges me to pray. I mean here’s a guy that is born into captivity and has never even seen Jerusalem, “where his fathers are buried.” And yet when he hears about the deplorable condition of the “capitol of his heart”, he hits his knees weeping and praying. After four months of praying for Jerusalem and his role in the rebuilding process, he gets the chance to ask his boss (the king of the known world) for an extended leave of absence and the company (kingdom) credit card. What does he do with that chance?… “Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king…” (Nehemiah 2:4b-5a).
When you hear about a difficult situation, what do you do? What did you do when you heard about the shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs on Sunday? Take a look with me at the life of Nehemiah and let’s see how we can become more effective in prayer.
- Nehemiah shows us that prayer is of the utmost importance. As I just mentioned, he hears about the devastation of Jerusalem and he immediately prays. No fretting, no further questions, no trite “I’ll pray for you” quips…none of that. Nehemiah hears of a need and goes straight to the One who can meet that need. Effective prayer is immediate.
- Nehemiah teaches us to balance our prayers. The burned gates and torn down walls of Jerusalem are what drive Nehemiah to prayer. You’d think he would get right down to business and ask God to do something. Instead, Nehemiah opens his prayer with this, “O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant of love…” (1:5a). A moment later he acknowledges his own sin as well as that of others, “I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s house, have committed against You” (1:6b). Only after praise and confession does Nehemiah get down to the business of request, “ O Lord, let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of this Your servant…Give Your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man” (1:11). Prayer should not be one dimensional and only based on request. Effective prayer is balanced.
- “Persistent” might be a good word for how Nehemiah prays. Between the time that Nehemiah heard about Jerusalem and asked the earthly king for the time and resources to help, four months had elapsed. “For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven” (1:4). Think of it, Nehemiah regularly spoke with the King of Kings before he went before the king of Persia. Effective prayer is persistent.
- In the middle of Nehemiah’s first recorded prayer in chapter 1, he recites Scripture from the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy (1:8-9). It is remarkable to me that this man who was literally born into captivity in a foreign land and forced to serve as a slave (albeit he worked his way into the palace) knew God’s story. Nehemiah’s parents or other trusted friend or family member never doubted God’s promises and faithfully shared them with Nehemiah. This was despite growing up into generational captivity in a pagan kingdom where we find modern day Iran. Have you ever recited God’s promises back to Him in your prayer? Nehemiah did. And, of course the only way Nehemiah was able to do this was because they were on the tip of his tongue and he had committed them to memory. The written word of God was extremely rare in this day and thus would have been very difficult to have as an exile and slave. Nehemiah so treasured God’s word when he heard it that he memorized it and made it part of his prayer life. Is the Bible and the utilization of it a part of your prayers? Effective prayer includes God’s Word.
How do I know Nehemiah’s prayers were so effective, you ask? That’s easy. God answered his prayer for success and ultimately allowed him to begin the nearly impossible task of a wall rebuild and then complete it only 52 days! I wrote a note in my Bible some years ago after hearing a sermon (I think by Chuck Swindoll, although I haven’t been able to verify it via Google) that summed up the Book of Nehemiah with ten words:
Let’s face it, anything worth doing for the Lord is usually big, has limited resources (people and time) and some major hurdles. The question is how do we get to the amazing results? Effective prayer, that’s how. Remember, effective prayer is immediate, balanced, persistent and rooted in the truth of Scripture. Let’s get to our knees. Sutherland Springs and so many other people and issues need effective prayer right now.