Nehemiah’s First Response
In last week’s post we learned about Nehemiah’s position at the King’s court. He had an influential position, yet when confronted with bad news about Jerusalem, he did not run to the king or other influential people he had access to. No, he “mourned, fasted and prayed to the God of heaven.” (Nehemiah 1:4b) Nehemiah, who’s described as a man of action, defaults into prayer when faced with a challenge. His first response is not to do something about it, no, his first response is prayer.
I find it very interesting to see these examples of default. In the book of Esther we have the story of Haman and Mordecai and Esther. Haman has the ear of King Xerxes, and he uses this position and gets the king to sign an edict that would destroy the Jews in the Persian empire. Mordecai, the Jew, learns of this plot and gets word to Queen Esther. Mordecai wants Queen Esther to intercede for the Jewish people before King Xerxes. What does Queen Esther reply to Mordecai, when faced with this death and life situation? Before she even thinks or makes any arrangements to appear before King Xerxes, she sends this request to Mordecai:“Go and gather together all the Jews of Susa and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will do the same. And then, though it is against the law, I will go in to see the king. If I must die, I must die.” (Esther 4:16)
Or look at the example of Daniel. He was exiled with other Jews to Babylon. When King Darius appointed Daniel as one of his administrators, some other administrators became jealous and brainstormed to get rid of him. Their verdict was: “Our only chance of finding grounds for accusing Daniel will be in connection with the rules of his religion.” (Daniel 6:5) And here again, they got King Darius’ ear and got the king to sign a law that for 30 days everyone should be praying to King Darius, no one else. If anyone was found breaking this law they would be thrown into the den of lions. What do we learn about Daniel’s reaction? “But when Daniel learned that the law had been signed, he went home and knelt down as usual in his upstairs room, with its windows open toward Jerusalem. He prayed three times a day, just as he had always done, giving thanks to his God.” (Daniel 6:10)
When faced with danger, both Esther and Daniel, defaulted into prayer. Esther even added a fast for three full days before she took any action. And Daniel prayed as usual, three times a day, just as he had always done, knowing that it could cost him his life.
Nehemiah’s life was not in danger here. But he knew that the only practical help he would get for his people in Jerusalem would be if King Artaxerxes would give his written permission for Nehemiah to do something about the challenges his people faced.
“All through the book of Nehemiah we will see this pattern in Nehemiah’s life. A challenge would surface and he would pray. Before he took action, before he talked with others, before anything else.. prayer was his reflexive response.” (d)
How do I handle a challenge? How do I face a problem? I have to admit, I’ve got lots to learn from Nehemiah, Esther and Daniel. I like to share my problem with family and friends first, sometimes I complain, sometimes I get frustrated and discouraged. And often I move ahead and try to solve the problem on my own. After learning from Nehemiah, I am sure my life would look different if my first response was prayer.
“Once we have prayed, our actions can be directed by the hand of God, and then the counsel of others has a foundation on which to build.” (d)
Nehemiah’s conviction was that prayer and action were two sides of the same coin. They were both equally important. To just do the work without prayer would not result in success. And to only pray, but not do the work would equally not bring the desired outcome.
I would like to put out a challenge for this week: Let prayer be our first response in whatever we face. Let’s practice it, so that it becomes our default!
I would love to hear from you, my readers, how you practised this first response of prayer. Leave me a comment.
(d) Bill Hybels with Kevin & Sherry Harney “Overcoming Challenges”