When I heard this, I sat down and wept. In fact, for days I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven. Then I said,
“O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant of unfailing love with those who love him and obey his commands, listen to my prayer! Look down and see me praying night and day for your people Israel. I confess that we have sinned against you. Yes, even my own family and I have sinned! We have sinned terribly by not obeying the commands, decrees, and regulations that you gave us through your servant Moses.
“Please remember what you told your servant Moses: ‘If you are unfaithful to me, I will scatter you among the nations. But if you return to me and obey my commands and live by them, then even if you are exiled to the ends of the earth, I will bring you back to the place I have chosen for my name to be honored.’
“The people you rescued by your great power and strong hand are your servants. O Lord, please hear my prayer! Listen to the prayers of those of us who delight in honoring you. Please grant me success today by making the king favorable to me. Put it into his heart to be kind to me.”
In those days I was the king’s cup-bearer. (Nehemiah 1:4-11, NLT)
Nehemiah was a younger man who was employed by King Artaxerxes of Persia. Based on what we knew about Nehemiah, he was well trained in God’s Law; this comes out clearly in his amazing prayers throughout the book of Nehemiah. Nehemiah had just received news the wall of Jerusalem was not rebuilt yet, leaving the city and God’s temple exposed to people with bad intentions. His response to this news…he wept, mourned for his people, fasted, and prayed. He prayed and he took action, both in his prayers and in his physical form…he went to work. Yes, prayer involves work!
There are some important components to Nehemiah’s prayer: he praised God; there was thanksgiving; he repented not only for himself, but for his people; he presented specific requests to God; and he displayed commitment to God by reminding God of His Word. A couple of the characteristics in Nehemiah’s prayers have grabbed hold of my heart and has caused a significant work in me: repentance and commitment. It is my hope that God will speak to your heart and some of these characteristics will become part of your being, part of the thread God uses to weave you into His child, made in His image.
First, for most of us a primary portion of our prayers is repentance. The closer in relationship I get to my Father, the more I find myself in a state of repentance. You cannot get closer to the Father, without an increase of awareness of your own brokenness. Personal repentance is both freeing and allows God to show mercy and bring healing. Nehemiah takes repentance far beyond personal repentance…he accepts the sin of his people and repents on their behalf (Jesus did this in a very final way, John 3:16-17). Nehemiah, broken on their behalf and saddened by the fact that God’s city is left exposed to the corruption of the world, repents for his entire people prior to repenting of his own sin. He confesses “we have sinned”, then follows up with “Yes, even my own family and I have sinned.” Nehemiah took on the sin of all his people. He hurt for them, he was broken for them, he was pleading with the God of heaven to forgive his people…God’s people.
So, the question becomes how often do we have a conversation with somebody about how wicked this world is? Can you believe what Harvey Weinstein did? Did you read the president’s tweet? I cannot believe what Planned Parenthood does. We need to boycott company “A”. The list goes on. Nehemiah did not do that, he simply fell on his face in front of a holy God and cried out in repentance for his people. What would this world look like if every follower of Jesus fell on their face in repentance of our people…His people? What would it look like if instead of gossiping, we simply prayed with one voice for those people or that organization. I have a personal responsibility, we have a personal responsibility to lead through prayer and repentance, just as Nehemiah did. And, if we do, I promise you God will honor His people, just as he did for Nehemiah.
Secondly, Nehemiah always gave God the glory for what he accomplished, but many times Nehemiah would remind God of His word, His promises. Nehemiah stated, “remember what you told your servant Moses…” Do you think God really needs a reminder about what He said or has accomplished in the past? Of course not, but this displays Nehemiah’s commitment to God’s word and His deeds throughout time. Nehemiah’s prayer was a proclamation to God about His goodness to His people, especially when they were repentant and following His laws. (As a side note, His laws had a significant purpose. Not to regulate and rule over the people, but to provide the people with safety, security, and joy). You will see throughout Nehemiah’s prayers, he reminds God of His Word, and what he himself has done for the Lord.
How often do you remind God of His word in your prayers? How often do you remind God of the things you have accomplished for him? God has challenged me in this area lately; to know His Word well enough to speak it in my conversation with Him and also, to not be afraid to remind God of the sacrifices I have made for Him even though my sacrifice is imperfect. These things are never done in an attitude of pride or an attempt to manipulate, but simply in a humble conversation with our Father. Furthermore, when I speak these things out loud, they are a reminder to my flesh of what God has accomplished in me and through me, with the goal of aligning myself with His will. We are created to accomplish His good works (Eph 2:10), and if you are like me, you need a reminder often. Reminding God of His Word displays commitment to His truth and further cements those very truths in your own mind.
Over the next few days, pray God’s Word as the Holy Spirit guides you, remind Him of His goodness, His mercy, His patience, and ask Him to forgive His people. Our world is simply a result of people walking away from God’s goodness. We are disillusioned to believe God’s goodness is oppressive, when the reality is our own sin is oppressive. God’s goodness, His forgiveness, brings freedom! Let’s pray for freedom in our cities, our state, our country, and our world. And, just as Nehemiah did, pray and take action where the Lord leads you.
Blessings in the New Year!