Prayer is one of the great privileges in our lives. If you have trusted in Christ as your Savior, you have a real relationship with God that is interactive and friendly. He has adopted you as a child and He has given you unlimited access to Himself. If you are like me, you tend to take this for granted and approach prayer most of the time as a casual conversation with God. I see this as a good thing because God’s grace has given us this freedom to approach Him in the same way kids approach their parents and grandkids approach their grandparents.
Our prayer lives cannot afford to be limited to this kind of informal interaction, however. There are times in life when focused, determined, intense prayers are in order. When my youngest son was lost at 6 six years old, my prayers grew very intense. When I became mature enough to be aware of the challenge and corruption that is inherent in political leadership, my prayers for our leaders became very focused. When the financial challenges of my life are greater than my resources, my prayers become a determined pursuit. And, when I become acutely aware of the spiritual battle raging in the lives of people I care about, prayer becomes a high priority in my relationship with them. At times like these, Nehemiah is an effective mentor for us.
He is living in Persia when we meet him but his heart is in Jerusalem. During a visit by one of his brothers, he inquired about the state of the Jews living in Israel and the condition of the city of Jerusalem. The news was not good. “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.” (Nehemiah 1:3) The report broke Nehemiah’s heart. “When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.” (v. 4) He was hoping for good news–a story of God’s victory and provision. Instead, he received a damage report. His response shows the essentials of intense prayer when life requires more than just checking in with our Savior:
- Praise for who God is: “LORD, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments . . .” (v. 5)
- Persistence: “. . . let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night .. .” (v. 6)
- Honest Confession: “I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, 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.” (v. 6-7) Nehemiah did not just confess his sins but talked to God about the stubborn disobedience of others that caused the current situation for the nation.
- Recount God’s own Promises: “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.’’ (v. 8-9) Nehemiah is not looking for the obscure pledge. He is recounting one of the most common assurances given in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 4 is one example). In the face of overwhelming circumstances, he needed to remind himself that God is, and always will be, true to His promises.
- Appeal to God’s Grace: “They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand.” (v. 10) Nehemiah needed God’s favor for at least a couple of reasons. First, the people did not deserve what they needed. They had been selfish, self-absorbed and defiant. They honestly believed they knew better than God and had resisted His clear guidance. They actually deserved the trouble they were experiencing. Second, he was going to do something that would fail without God’s merciful action. He was going to approach the king, which could easily lead to his death if the king was not pleased.
I hope your life is going well today and that you can casually interact with your Savior as you pursue your goals and relationships. I also trust you will pray like Nehemiah when the damage report of life gets delivered.