When you hear bad news of events that are occurring in your country, does it ever make you cry with sadness, anger, or frustration? Does it make you feel powerless, that there is nothing that you can do? Although of course, we all feel that someone, should do something! But if we have a strong reaction to bad news, do we take it straight to God? Nehemiah’s prayer is an example of someone whose reaction to bad news drove them into action.
Nehemiah Chapter 1
Let’s look at a little bit of Nehemiah’s story. He lived in Susa, after the fall of Jerusalem the people of Israel had been dispersed throughout Persia. Nehemiah had a trusted position and worked in the king’s palace as a cupbearer. This was a bit more than being a waiter or a butler. Part of Nehemiah’s job may have been to sample the king’s wine to make sure that it was safe for him to drink!
Some years prior to this story some of the Israelites had been allowed to return from captivity to Jerusalem. They had resettled there and had started to restore the Temple.
A group of travellers arrived, in Susa, from Judah with the latest news about what was happening in Jerusalem. Nehemiah sought them out to hear how the returned exiles were getting on. The news was not good, for the walls of the city had been broken down. In addition to that, the city gates had been burned with fire and the people were in trouble and disgrace. The community was under threat, and they had no protection.
Nehemiah was so overwhelmed by this bad news that he sat down and wept. His hopes and dreams to hear that his people were safely re-established in their homeland, had been dashed.
“When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.”Nehemiah 1:4
Nehemiah’s reaction to the bad news about the plight of Jerusalem sets in place a series of events – powered by prayer!
Nehemiah Prayer and Fasting
The bad news brought Nehemiah to his knees, to mourn and fast and pray – for some days. It may be hard for us to understand, the place that Jerusalem held in the heart of the exiles, as the place of God’s presence. To restore and re-inhabit Jerusalem, meant the restoration of the Temple and the honor of God’s name.
But I believe that during those days of prayer and fasting God stirred Nehemiah’s heart to respond. He was inspired and given the motivation to act. With God’s guidance and favor Nehemiah began to see the possibilities. He dared to believe that there was something that could be done, and he was willing to take a step of faith.
“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, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel.”Nehemiah 1:5-6
Nehemiah’s prayer started with a declaration of God’s faithfulness. He addresses his prayer to the LORD, Yahweh, our relational God who redeems His people. Through prayer, God sees and hears the cries of our hearts and He would turn Nehemiah’s despair into hope!
“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.”Nehemiah 1:6-7
Nehemiah had started his prayer by honoring God’s name, he now moved into a confession. He humbly identified himself with Israel’s sins, his own and those of previous generations.
“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.”Nehemiah 1:8-9
Nehemiah turns now to praying God’s word. He acknowledged God’s justice in the dispersion of Israel, due to their rebellion and disobedience. But at the same time, he reminded God of His promise to forgive, regather, and restore His people.
“They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name.”Nehemiah 1: 10-11
Although Israel had turned away from God, on more than one occasion, they were still His people. As he comes to the appeal in his prayer Nehemiah speaks to the Lord, Adonai, our Master. He is positioning himself before God in humility and submission but at the same time with bold confidence in the goodness of God.
“’Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.’ I was cupbearer to the king.”Nehemiah 1: 11
This was not a hasty reaction, this was a prayed through, thought out action.Tweet
Lessons from Nehemiah 1
Nehemiah started where he was, uniquely placed in the palace as a trusted servant to the king. He used what he had, his position, to be able to speak directly to the king. Prayerfully he looked for an opportunity to do what he could. When he was able to make a request to the king, he trusted in God for the outcome.
Although Nehemiah would be asking a favor of the king, he understood that ultimately the outcome was in God’s hands. He was seeking God’s favor. Nehemiah actually had to wait for about four months, before an opportunity came to speak to the king. When the moment arrived, he was prayerfully prepared and spoke with godly wisdom.
Prayer Changes Everything
When we feel strongly about something we need to check and examine prayerfully our reaction. Is it care and concern for others, and for the honor of God’s Name, or anger, resentment, and frustration? If it is the latter, then are those painful emotions rooted in past hurts which still need to be healed and forgiven? If it is the former, then we prayerfully seek God as He stirs and challenges our hearts. God provokes a response from us, so that we act, working for change and restoration.
“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”Francis of Assisi
The necessary is always prayer, the beginning of any change. Through prayer we begin to see the possibilities – to start where we are, and to use what we have in front of us. Then, as we do what we can, by taking the first step of faith, we place the outcome in God’s hands.
The impossible is always what God does, and we give all the glory to Him. But the someone who should do something could be you….
Nehemiah’s Prayer – Epilogue
Nehemiah’s request was to ask for permission to go to the city of his ancestors, to supervise the rebuilding work. The king not only grants his request, but provides him with letters of safe conduct and the authority to obtain the materials that would be needed.
This step of faith by Nehemiah started a chain of events that changed his whole life and propelled him into the forefront of national events. He went from obscurity to prominence and significance.
Nehemiah’s work started with the restoration of the city walls. However, it progressed far beyond that to restoring faith and trust in God. This led to restoring right relationships between the people, to justice in the community and to purity in the temple – structural, social, and spiritual reform. This is what God can do with prayer and the willingness of someone, to do something!