As we take a close look at the prayers recorded in Nehemiah, we will learn some important things about the nature of true prayer and its contents. We will see different kinds of prayers and discover that Nehemiah and the postexilic saints are examples of prayer warriors. The book of Nehemiah contains some key doctrines, and we will see how their implications point to Christian prayer. It is hoped that what we learn about the prayers of these saints will enable us to devote more time to prayer ourselves. We will see why the men in this account prayed, and we will consider why we should pray as well.
The Prayers Recorded in This Book
Nehemiah begins his book by showing concern for the Jewish remnant that survived the exile. When he learns that his people are in trouble, he immediately turns to God. This was a prayer of recognizing God’s holiness. Nehemiah not only confessed the sins of the people but he also asked God for specific help in approaching the king.
In 2:4 Nehemiah prayed during his conversation with the king. When the king asked him what he wanted, he consulted with God for the answers. In 4:5, after he was taunted and ridiculed by Tobiah and Sanballat, he consulted God. He viewed their ridicule as mockery of God. However, instead of taking matters into his own hands, he chose to honor God by leaving vengeance up to him. After Nehemiah was threatened by some of his enemies (4:9), he turned to God to seek out his will rather than his own. His response to the threats in 6:9 was to rely on God for strength. In 5:19, he prays, asking God to remember him and not to blot out his faithfulness.
What We Learn about the Nature of True Prayer
We learn from Nehemiah that when we fear men, we make fear more powerful than God. We have to realize that God is greater than fear. Prayer teaches us to put the expected results in God’s hand. Nehemiah gave God all the credit for what was happening and for what was going to happen.
The true nature of prayer in this story highlights God. We learn that even when we are angry we must not take matters into our own hands. Ridicule can hurt deeply, and people sometimes use it to discourage us; however, this story teaches us that God is faithful, and he has promised to be with us.
Nehemiah constantly combined prayer with preparation and planning. He also urged God’s people to trust in him. Like Nehemiah, we show God that we are serious when we combine prayer with thought and action.
The content of Nehemiah’s prayers had to do with the reestablishment of God’s kingdom. God is working through his people to accomplish seemingly impossible tasks. God shapes and molds Nehemiah for his purpose.
From the beginning of this story God was with the builders of his temple. Not only that, but God worked through Nehemiah to bring about a spiritual awakening among the people of Judah. People under God’s direction can accomplish seemingly impossible tasks.
Prayers Deeply Rooted in Faith
These prayers are saying to God that Nehemiah trusts him despite the circumstances. Nehemiah demonstrated to us what genuine love is. He showed that he loved God rather than men. He put his faith in Christ at all cost. When he had to approach King Artaxerxes, not once did he think of backing down. He showed the faith Esther demonstrated when she was willing to perish for representing God.
Nehemiah and the postexilic saints are examples of great prayer warriors for us. Their prayers are samples of great prayers because they trust God. When God called them to rebuild his temple, they obeyed his decree. Before Nehemiah was able to participate in rebuilding the walls of the temple, he first had to rebuild his spiritual life. He did this through prayer. He had to get the blueprint from God.
In Ezra 7:10, we read that Ezra devoted himself to God’s Word, and Nehemiah was like him. He studied the Word, lived it, and taught it. When he sinned he confessed his sins to God. It was his sorrow, which God pointed out to him, that moved him into taking the necessary steps to deal with his sin. No weapon formed against Nehemiah prevailed.
This story teaches us that being leaders of God’s people is not just getting recognition or being the boss. It requires planning, hard work, prayer, and a life of obedience to God. Let this story be an example for you to follow in your life. Nehemiah shows us the way.
Key Doctrines and Their Implications for Christian Prayer
The book of Nehemiah is very interesting. We learn that Nehemiah is a man of faith who trusts God. He saw a problem concerning his brothers and sisters and was distressed. He could have chosen to ignore the problem, but God was working in his heart. God instructed him to act on behalf of his people.
Instead of sitting around complaining, Nehemiah went to work. He knew that God ordained that he would rebuild the walls around Jerusalem. Nehemiah already had a position of responsibility in the Persian government. He had the liberty to do as he pleased. The heart of man is in the hands of the Lord. God ordained that Nehemiah would use his talents for the kingdom. Nehemiah responded immediately, taking action to get the assignment done. He motivated God’s people, and God turned the heart of wicked Artaxerxes to assisting Nehemiah.
The rebuilding of the walls brought opposition from the enemies of the Jews. Geshem, Sanballat, Tobiah, and Ashdod were four of the main enemies who opposed the rebuilding of the walls. Nehemiah, in his courageous faith, discovers a strategy to frustrate the enemy. He used prayer to encourage himself and God’s people. He also used prayer to defeat his enemies. We learn that he trusted in God every step of the way.
Nehemiah’s life is an example of leadership and organization. In the face of opposition he used the defense mechanism of prayer to care for God’s people and to keep the project moving. He has given us, as Christians, a model to follow. To accomplish more for the sake of God’s kingdom, we must pray, persevere, and sacrifice like Nehemiah.
The key doctrine that is being taught in this book is prayer. When Nehemiah began his work he recognized the problem and immediately prayed. He didn’t stop there; he displayed what Martin Luther calls a fide vida, or a “living faith.” He took the approach of James, who writes that “faith without works is dead” (2:26).
The Implications for Christian Prayer
Does God have a vision for us? Are there “walls” in your life that need to be built today? As [fellow inmate] Manny Mills would say, “Some of us need to build ‘walls’ and fences around ourselves so that when we get out of prison we remember where we came from.” Christians need the walls of the Holy Spirit for protection. God has given us the talents and gifts to build up his kingdom. We can mobilize others to pray and put together an action plan.
Lessons in Being More Devoted to Prayer
One lesson we learn is that prayer is still God’s mighty force in solving problems today. Prayer and action go hand in hand. Through prayer God guides our preparation, teamwork, and diligent efforts to carry out his will. We learn that Nehemiah demonstrated excellent leadership. He was spiritually ready to actively fight against sin and the devil. As the church militant, Nehemiah was ready to heed God’s will. Although he had tremendous faith, he never avoided the extra work necessary for good leadership. He was ready! As Ignatius said, “Although he wrestled with wild beasts and devils he understood that on this account he was not justified.”
Nehemiah trusted and believed that God would hear his prayers. He prayed because he knew God was faithful and that he would hear the prayers of his saints. Nehemiah knew that God was a covenant God and that he was faithful to his promises. He prayed with the knowledge that God was using him to accomplish his plan.
This example from Nehemiah should encourage us to pray more. We should get a deeper sense of prayer from all of this. God delights in all the prayers of his saints. We must understand why our prayers are so important. God uses them as a means to bless us. He uses our prayers to communicate with us and to direct us in our mission according to his will.
In conclusion, I encourage all of you to be more active in prayer. Prayer should be something that you do all day, every day. Our prayer life determines our relationship with our Father. Be encouraged to pray more. God bless you.
Mr. Carleous Clay is an inmate at the Danville Illinois Correctional Center and a student at Divine Hope Reformed Bible Seminary located within the walls of the prison. He plans to resume seminary education upon his release from prison in the winter of 2014.