Last week we looked at Nehemiah’s first response: he prayed. Today we’ll take a look at the prayer itself. Here is what Nehemiah prayed:
5 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, 6 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! 7 We have sinned terribly by not obeying the commands, decrees, and regulations that you gave us through your servant Moses.
8 “Please remember what you told your servant Moses: ‘If you are unfaithful to me, I will scatter you among the nations. 9 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.’
10 “The people you rescued by your great power and strong hand are your servants. 11 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.
I like Warren W. Wierbe’s explanation of Nehemiah’s prayer the best. Most of what I’m writing here today, I’ve studied in Wiersbe’s book “Be Determined”.
This prayer of Nehemiah is one of 12 recorded prayers in the book of Nehemiah. For Nehemiah to default into prayer when facing a challenge it is very obvious that he was a man of faith. He knew the Scriptures that were available to the Jewish people at that time.
There are three points in Nehemiah’s prayer:
– The acknowledgement of God’s greatness
– Confession of Israel’s sins
– The request for God’s help
Nehemiah starts his prayer by addressing the “God of heaven” as God was known to the people at that time. King Cyrus used this title for God as recorded in 2 Chronicles 36:22-23 and Ezra 1:1-2. “Nehemiah began his prayer as we should begin our prayers: ‘Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be your name.’” (Matthew 6:9) (e)
“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…”
Nehemiah starts with praise and worship. He acknowledges that his “God of heaven” is “the great and awesome God…” He knows that the challenge he is facing will require a “great and awesome God” to get him through this challenge, his God will help him to face the King, and also help him succeed with the plan that was shaping up in his mind.
But Nehemiah also confesses the sins of his people. And he includes himself and his family in this confession.
“I confess that we have sinned against you. Yes, even my own family and I have sinned! 7 We have sinned terribly by not obeying the commands, decrees, and regulations that you gave us through your servant Moses.” Nehemiah 1:6b-7
Nehemiah knew the Scriptures of the Old Testament! He knew that God was a loving and forgiving God. And if his people would confess their sins, God would return them to their land “and restore them to His favor and blessing.” (e)
When Nehemiah begins his prayer, he knows that he prays to the God of heaven and earth, to the LORD, JAHWEH, the God who keeps his covenant with his people. There is a certain confidence in Nehemiah’s words, that he knows who he is praying to.
He ends his prayer with a plea for help. He does know that his God is able to help him. And so he brings his specific request for help before God.
11 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.”
Nehemiah was confident that God would soften the heart of King Artaxerxes and grant him the practical help he and his fellow men needed to complete the project in Jerusalem. “Too often, we plan our projects and then ask God to bless them, but Nehemiah didn’t make that mistake. He sat down and wept (Nehemiah 1:4), knelt down and prayed, and then stood up and worked because he knew he had the blessing of the Lord on what he was doing.” (e)
What do I learn from Nehemiah’s prayer? I would like to include these three components in my prayer as well:
– Acknowledge who my God is (great, awesome, all-powerful, faithful, loving, forgiving)
– Confess my sins
– Bring my specific request for help before God and then
– Go and do the work.
I’ve just come home from the Winnipeg Film Festival that was running this past week. I’m overwhelmed with the way God has answered my prayers and the prayers of so many others who were involved in organizing this event. I have to say that I’ve never worked on a project or event before that was covered with so much prayer. We prayed at all times of the day and for all things that were happening. It’s been an amazing week of movies, documentaries and discussions. It was incredibly hard at times, but because we knew we were doing the right thing, we got strength and energy day after day.
I have the privilege to serve an awesome God, who hears my confession and forgives me. And when I ask for His help when doing His work, He does what He does best: He comes through every time and overwhelms me with His response.
Today I give all glory to God, who is able, through His mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ever dare to ask or hope. (see Ephesians 3:20)
Have a blessed Monday everyone!
(e) Warren W. Wiersbe, “Be Determined”