By Randy Harmon
Pastor, Rock Springs Baptist Church, Greenbrier
Focal Passage: Nehemiah 1:3-10
Someone has said, “You can do a lot of things after you pray, but you shouldn’t do anything before you pray.” There are no short cuts to prayer and there is no replacement for the relationship that is built with God as we commune with Him in prayer.
Nehemiah was a man of prayer who understood the power of prayer. While in exile, serving a Persian king, Nehemiah learned of the desolate condition of the Jews and of the wall in Jerusalem.
He had sensed God leading him to go to Jerusalem to lead a reconstruction project. One major obstacle to this task was that Nehemiah was the servant of king Artaxerxes. In Nehemiah 1:5-11, Nehemiah prays for an open door with the king.
Nehemiah acknowledges God (v. 5). Nehemiah begins his prayer by praising God. He uses the title “God of heaven.”
The heathen gods were idols on the earth, but Nehemiah’s God was the Lord in heaven. Nehemiah began his prayer in much the same way as Jesus modeled prayer for us: “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name” (Matthew 6:9). Nehemiah’s faith was not in men or things or money or position, but in God. Nehemiah knew God as the “great and awesome God” who can do everything, and, who “keeps His covenant of love.” When we understand who God is and what He is capable of doing, we must respond to such a great and awesome God by “loving Him and obeying His commands.”
Nehemiah confesses (vv. 6-7). Nehemiah does something unusual here. He confesses other people’s sins as though they were his own. Notice the word “we,” and “I.” He says things like, “I confess the sin, ‘We’ Israelites, (including myself and my father’s house) have committed toward you.” “We have acted very wickedly toward you.” “We have not obeyed the commands, decrees, and laws you gave your servant Moses.”
Nehemiah identified himself with the people for whom he was praying. He had a sense of corporate responsibility. We are individual members of the church but we often don’t confess the church’s failure as our own. Perhaps the first step in our return to prayer may need to be a confession of our sins, or at least our failure to give prayer its proper priority in our spiritual lives.
Nehemiah claimed the promise of God (v. 8-9). The promise was two-fold: If Israel disobeyed, God would punish by sending them to a foreign land; when the time of captivity was ended, God would bring the Jews back to Jerusalem.
Nehemiah’s quoting of the Old Testament reminds us of the importance of knowing Scripture and using Scripture in our prayer.
When we know God’s promises, we can be more effective in praying in accordance with His will.
Nehemiah petitioned God (v. 11). To this point; Nehemiah has not asked God for anything. His request almost seems trivial. “Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man” (v. 11). Nehemiah boldly requested God to help him succeed. He does not elaborate on what that success might look like. He seems willing to concede the details and trust God to glorify Himself in the process! Nehemiah makes himself available and allows God room to work.
Did prayer make a difference for Nehemiah? Would the king have allowed him to take on this task without prayer? Would the king have granted Nehemiah permission to go to Jerusalem had he not been praying? I believe the power of God was triggered by prayer. God opened the heart of King Artaxerxes and Nehemiah was granted permission to rebuild the wall in Jerusalem. It appears that the key that unlocked that door was prayer.
— Harmon is pastor of Rock Springs Baptist Church, Greenbrier.