Nehemiah was a man of action – we see him as a builder and as a soldier – a leader and politician. Yet the most striking thing about Nehemiah is that he was a man of prayer. As you read his life story you cannot fail to be impressed by the fact that amid pressures and problems Neh. maintained a spirit of prayer and intercession.
Maybe it was those very pressures and problems that helped him in his prayer life. If you take the time to read through the book of Neh. and mark the occassions when he prayed you will discover that he prayed before the work is undertaken; while the building was in progress; after the walls were completed.
He prayed alone in private and in the midst of a noisy building site.
Before we look at the prayer of chapter 1 let us consider the circumstances of Neh.’s prayer.
IN EXILE – Neh. was born in exile – he had lived away from his homeland all his life but he had not lost his love for the land or the faith of his fathers.
ILLUST: There is something about one’s homeland – no matter how long you are away there is something inside you that belongs to that land. There are times when I don’t think about RSA much (5½ years since we left) But just let 15 green and gold jerseys run onto the pitch at Cardiff Arms Park, Murray Field or Twickenham and all the patriotic feeling comes flooding back – even Andrew who was only 7 when we left is passionately South African when the Spingboks are on the field.
For 70 years the Jews had been in exile – the decree of Cyrus had permitted some to return but only 50 000 had returned – most of the Jews prefering the prosperity of exile to the ruin of Jerusalem.
For reasons we do not know Neh. had remained in the service of King Artaxerxes – he was the king’s cup-bearer. Nehemiah’s prayer is the prayer of a man who has been providentially placed in the service of the Medo-Persian King. God had over-ruled and placed him in the Royal palace. This position that Nehemiah had would proved to be highly significant in the out working of God’s answer to Neh.’s prayer.
God is in control of our circumstances just as he was of Neh.’s. It is no good thinking that prayer would be easier if our circumstances were different – very often it is those very circumstances that God will use to accomplish his purposes.
Neh. did not become a man of great spiritual insight and prayer overnight. It seem clear from this prayer and the rest of the book that Nehemiah knew the scriptures and was in fellowship with God and committed to him prior to the prayer of chapter 1.
It is also important to note that Nehemiah’s prayer was informed. He had taken the time and trouble to find out about Jerusalem and its citizens. When he heard their situation he was stirred. He had a compasion for others and an interest in them and in God’s plan for them.
That is why we need to be involved with people – that is why we need to receive newsletters from missionaries – that is why we need to know what is going on in the church, in our country and in the world so that we can pray to the one who is in control and who has the power to do something about the circumstances.
COMPASSION AND GRIEF – these are the first characteristics of his prayer.
When I heard these things, I sat down and wept.
For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed
before the God of Heaven [1v4]
Neh. was a man of action – that seems clear from the rest of the book – but he does not immediately try to change things himself.
The temptation – esp. for those who are people of action; those who are always wanting to do – the temptation is to act quickly and decisively but Neh.’s first reaction is to come “before the God of Heaven”. He is deeply affected by the plight of his own people and he turns to God first. There is an acknowledgement that God is the only one who is in a position to do anything about the situation.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT AND CONFESSION OF SIN – this is closely allied to Nehemiah’s grief. One of the temptations we face when we are in a difficult situation is to blame someone else. “It is not my fault, I just a victim.” Difficulties are not always because of sin in your life BUT that always needs to be considered.
BUT because Nehemiah knows God and his word he knows why his people are in exile. [1v6-8]:
I confess the sins we Israelites,
including myself and my father’s house,
have committed against you.
We have acted very wickedly towards you.
We have not obeyed the commands.
decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.
Remember the instructions you gave
your servant Moses saying,
“If you are unfaithful I will
scatter you among the nations….”
Confession is an essential part of prayer – There is always need for an acknowledgement of our sinful state before God. A desire to be cleansed by God’s forgiving grace so that we may enter his presence and be heard;
Who may ascend the hill of the Lord?
Who may stand in the holy place?
He who has clean handsd and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to an idol
or swear by what is false
He will receive blessing from the Lord
And vindication from God his Saviour [Ps.24v3-5]
Nehemiah admits before God that he, and the whole nation, are guilty . That is one of the first steps in coming to God – that we agree with him about ourselves and begin to see ourselves as God see us.
CONFIDENCE – we can’t read this prayer without being impressed by the spirit of faith with which it is prayed. There is a quiet confidence that God will hear and answer. This is not an arrogant, demanding prayer. It is not presumptuous or flippant. It comes from the heart of a man who has spent time in God’s presence.
Very often our praying is crisis praying by which I mean we only pray when in difficulty. Nehemiah’s prayer was crisis but behind it was a life of communion with God
IN CONCERT WITH OTHERS –
O Lord, let your ear be attentive
to the prayer of this your servant,
and to the prayer of your servants
who delight in revering your name. [1v11a]
Nehemiah knows that he is not alone – he knows that their are other Jews who have the same desire as he has – those who are also moved with compassion concerning the plight of Jerusalem.
Maybe this is a challenge to us that we need to spend more time together in concerted prayer. A number of people have said to me over the last few months that we need to spend more time in prayer together as a congregation.
ILLUS.: We heard about the Korean Church some weeks ago that prays at 4.00 or 5.00 am. – When should we pray. No time is ever convenient but we really ought to make time.
How can we agree together unless we spend time together.
Jesus said …”Again I tell you that if two of you on earth
agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for
you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come
together in my name there I am with them [Matt.18v19]
This is not agrreing simply amongst ourselves BUT agreeing together with God about what his will for us is!!
A RIGHT VIEW OF GOD – There is a deep reverence for God and an appreciation for the greatness of God in this prayer.
O Lord God of heaven the great and awesome God,
who keeps his covenant of love with those who obey his commands.
Nehemiah knows that his God is great and awesome but is also a covenant keeping God.
Sometimes I wonder if the problem with much of our praying – and I speak for myself hear – is that I know a lot about God – BUT how well do I really know him. Sometimes I fell like I know God as an employee knows a boss rather than as a child knows a Father. The latter is what God wants.
There are three things that Nehemiah wants God to do:
HEAR the prayer of your servant – v6
REMEMBER … [the instructions] word to Moses – v8
GIVE …. SUCCESS to you servant – v11
HEAR – Neh. considered the plight of his people and the city of Jerusalem and consider that to be evidence that God was not hearing the prayers of his people.
This type of prayer is common in the OT. The prophets calling on the Lord to hear.
They did not for a moment think that God was deaf or that he did not know what was going on BUT what they were pleading for was a manifestation of God’s power. Often we see in the OT times when God remains apparently inactive due to the sin of his people. God will not answer the prayers of his people when they are not rightly related to him in love and obedience.
Notice too, that Neh.’s prayer was continual “Day and night” v6
It was also, as we have seen, contrite and repentant.
REMEMBER – What?? Your instructions to your servant Moses..[v8]. Here we have a precedent and a pattern for prayer for believers. To know the scrpitures and to use them in prayer. Not parrot – fashion BUT to have them inside of you so that you can pray according to the will of God.
Nehemiah knows what God has promised – Neh. can pray so boldly because he knows what God has promised. He knows what Moses knew – that Israel were God’s chosen people and God had bound himself to them in covenant and could not break it.
Neh. recognises that the prophetic word of God had told of the scattering of God’s people BUT it had also told of the regathering of God’s people.
Neh. knows this and he knows that the promised blessing for the returned exiles has not yet materialsied. So he prays on behalf of the returned exiles.
v.10 — They are your servants and your people,
whom you redeemed by your strength
and your mighty hand
Prayer is not something magical. Not a wand that we can wave over every problem. To pray is to enter into the mind of God as expressed in his word, in order that his work might be carried out and his name glorified.
Prayer is not reminding God because he has forgotten something or needs to be informed no more than asking him to hear is saying that he is deaf BUT in a mysterious way as we pray according to God’s word he acts. IN HIS TIME!!!
GIVE …… SUCCESS – “Give your servant success by granting him favour in the presence of this man [King Artxerxes]” [1v11]
This is the first direct personal request – he is praying about the relationship with his earthly master.
How often are we in a difficult situation – with work or family – We must remember that God is over them to and he can move / change difficult situation. We might be under authority but we have access to one who has ultimate authority.
Very often we can be the answer to our own prayers – sometimes a difficult situation can be resolved or eased by God changing us.
Neh. was concerned about Jerusalem and he was part of the plan.
In mission work this has happened many times. So often God begins a work by burdening someone to pray and often they end up involved in the work.
If we are going to pray for God to work in Binscombe Church and through us then we must be willing to be part of the answer to our prayers.
Did God hear?
Did God remember?
Did God give success?
Well. the rest of the book of Nehemiah answers those questions.
God heard Neh.’s prayer!!
He rememebered his word to his people!!!
And Nehemiah had success in completing the walls.
The rebuilding was not without its difficulties. AND this was not the last pray Nehemiah prayed. Pray was not a one – off it was a habit.
The secret of Nehemiah’s success did not lie in the resources he received from King Artxerxes. Nor was it in his ablity as a leader. It lay in his power with God. The sphere of action in the Book in not the court of an Oriental king but the court of Heaven. Nehemiah’s prayer moved the hand that moves the world!
This is the confidence that we have in approaching God:
that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.
And if we know that he hears us – whatever we ask –
we know that we have whatever we asked of him. [1 John 5v14-15]