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The Direct Approach
Nehemiah was an exiled Jew whose prayers propelled him into favor with his employer, Artaxerxes, King of Persia. His position of trust as the royal cupbearer earned him a voice with the king whose heart was moved to allow him to return to Jerusalem to rebuild. Imagine being in such a position. A hostage in a foreign country faced with the agonizing news that your beloved homeland has been destroyed ... how would you pray?
Read Nehemiah 1:1-4.
How would you describe Nehemiah's mental state when he heard the news about Jerusalem?
What preparations did he make before making his specific request to God?
Read Nehemiah's prayer in verses 5-11.
How did Nehemiah's beliefs about God affect his prayer?
How did he address God in verse 5?
Nehemiah did not pray for the wall to be restored. Instead, his prayer consisted of three specific elements:
What did Nehemiah confess?
What did Nehemiah remind God of?
What did Nehemiah ask God to do?
Read Nehemiah 2:1-8.
Did the king's response to Nehemiah's request surprise you? Why or why not?
How was God addressed in these other prayers in the Bible? What were the pray-ers expecting God to do inresponse to their prayers?
2 Chronicles 6:14
A Closer Look
Several years ago, while my wife and I were living in a foreign country, we received word of my father's death. At the time, we had no way of returning to the United States. Feeling isolated and cut off from family, we grieved the loss of a loved one from a distance.
Nehemiah also lived in a foreign country and had little hope of ever returning home. Like most Jews, he loved his homeland. When one of the "brothers" came to Babylon, Nehemiah was full of questions about those back home and the beloved city of Jerusalem. What he heard left him in deep grief. For the next four months, his life was consumed with weeping, mourning, fasting, and praying. The Lord has kept a summary of this desperate man's prayers in Nehemiah 1:5-11:
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. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father's house, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.
Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, "If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name." They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. 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. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.
Nehemiah intentionally called upon the "God, who keeps his covenant of love," and was no doubt aware of the tradition and heritage of this address. He had read this description in the writings of Moses (Dt. 7:9). He knew that Solomon, in his prayer dedicating the temple (2 Chron. 6:14), had referred to the Lord in this manner. And when Daniel pleaded for God to end Israel's captivity, he did so on the basis of the Lord being a covenant-keeping God (Dan. 9:4). Nehemiah longed to see God fulfill one of His great promises, so he naturally spoke to Him as one who keeps contact with His people.
Nehemiah's prayer is a good example of addressing God in a way that's consistent with what and how we speak to Him in prayer. For example, is it consistent to pray to God as "Lord" and then give Him a list of things we want Him to do for us? At such times, it would probably be more appropriate to address God as "Father" or "great Giver of life." If we are dealing with a spiritual warfare issue, a title such as "Lord of hosts" or "Mighty One" would be appropriate. When in pain or grief, we might address the Lord as "God of all comfort" or "God of hope" or "blessed Friend" or "the one who has promised never to leave us." Taking our cue from the Israelites and their sensitivity to the many characteristics of their beloved God, we should never speak His names or titles lightly.
Nehemiah's main request to God was that He remember His instructions to Moses: "If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name" (Neh. 1:9). You can tell what is most on a person's heart by listening to what he or she prays. For Nehemiah, it was clearly the return of God's people.
Nehemiah prays 11 times in the short book of the Bible named for him. Not once does he mention the wall. The wall, it seems, was merely the project God gave Nehemiah to help bring the people back together. Nehemiah didn't pray about the project. He prayed about the longing of his heart. This is a remarkable distinctive of prayers in the New Testament as well: Pray-ers in the Bible never simply prayed for the project or event at hand. Their prayers always went beyond that, straight to the heart of the issue-straight from their heart to the heart of God.
Excerpted from Approaching GOD by LEE BRASE Copyright © 2003 by Lee Brase. Excerpted by permission.
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