As soon as you meet this man, Nehemiah, you discover what may be
the most important thing about him: the rich activity of his trust in God
illustrated by his prayer in Nehemiah chapter one (Neh. 1:4-11).
He lived in the capital city of Susa in Persia around 450 B.C. While serving as cupbearer of King Artaxerxes he heard the bad news that the people back in Judah were suffering in the ruins of Jerusalem. Nehemiah’s first reaction was not political action, organizing a protest, abandoning his job, or getting drunk.
“As soon as” he heard this, he “sat down and wept and mourned for days.” He fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.
He prayed: “O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’ They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayers of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” (Neh. 1:5-11).
Nehemiah knew Who he was praying to. This was no obligatory remark, “our thoughts and prayers” are with the suffering people of Judah. He spoke to the God he had known all his life, and in addressing God, he shows his personal familiarity with Him. He was praying to the great and awesome God of heaven, with full confidence in His power to hear, to respond and to guide the work that was ahead.
Nehemiah knew the situation wasn’t God’s fault. He put the blame on the people (including himself) who “acted very corruptly,” in their disobedience to God’s commands given through Moses. Nehemiah knew the history of the covenant and was aware of what had gone wrong. Someone said one time, “…might as well tell God the truth when you pray. He knows it before you start praying.”
Nehemiah knew the people belonged to God. He said, “They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand.” After this prayer was offered, Nehemiah would recruit, organize and mobilize a huge number of people to rebuild the walls. He went into that project knowing the people didn’t belong to him, they belonged to God.
Read Nehemiah chapter one, and learn how to react to bad news. Determine to read Nehemiah’s prayer and see the mature faith he brought to that conversation with God. And the dependence on God and devotion to God that governed him after his prayer.
Here was a man who did not act without prayer, but did not pray without acting.
By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 16.10; October 2009