The book of Nehemiah is a really great book. To be frank, I sort of avoided it as a kid because there are no public miracles in it like in Exodus or the Gospels. But that was a real lacuna in my Bible study. There’s a lot to take in here.
And since we’re studying prayer, it’s expected that I’d pull out of it. . . some teachings on prayer! You know me so well!
Nehemiah’s known for being a great man of God in the Post-Exilic period (after Babylon took everyone into exile). He was a governor, a “secular” public servant—not a priest or prophet. He was a great planner and motivator, and he knew how to handle violent and insidious opposition with incredible skill. But one thing he was which isn’t discussed frequently is how much a man of prayer he was, and there’s one lesson in particular I’d like to glean from his example.
In the first chapter, he was serving King Artaxerxes of Persia as his “cup bearer,” the one who tested his food and drink in order to prevent poisoning (a position of great trust). Men from Jerusalem came to him and gave him the situation in their homeland. The news was not good: The gates were burned and the wall was in pieces. In other words, there was no order or security for the inhabitants.
And what did he do? He immediately went to his knees. As we talked about before, he started off with praise and thanksgiving: “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.” He’s the Lord, the God of heaven.” The word “Lord,” as you can tell from the NIV by the different font, is the covenant Name, his personal name by which his people know him on an intimate level. He’s the One who keeps his covenant of love. That’s important, because I’m about to appeal to that aspect of his nature—the fact that he keeps covenant—in a moment when I come to him with a petition.
Then he comes to confession, recognizing that his people don’t really deserve anything but judgment. They’ve sinned against him. He gave them instructions thru Moses, and they utterly failed in keeping them.
Then he comes to the petition: Please remember us and deal with us according to your promises and grace.
Great pattern for us, don’t you think?
The passage in the next chapter, however, is what I definitely want to focus on. He's face to face with the king, and the king asks him why his face is sad (which was actually forbidden). Nehemiah says that he “prayed to the God of heaven” and then answered the king. Obviously he didn’t say something like “Pardon me, your majesty, could you hold on for a moment? I need to go up to my room, close the door, and seek God’s wisdom for a few minutes. Don’t worry, this’ll take 5 minutes max.” Um, no. He only had time to think in his head something like “God, please give me wisdom and favor in his eyes.” Just a second, not even noticeable by the king.
We need both in our prayer life: Time alone with God (which is what TAWG stands for) in a quiet setting, and “off the cuff” prayer as we encounter things during the day. We see an accident in traffic and ask him “Lord, please deal with those people according to your mercy and kindness.” We get called into our boss’s office for some unknown reason, and we pray something like Nehemiah likely prayed.
But here’s the important thing: Your spontaneous prayer needs to be backed up heavily by your TAWG. Undoubtedly the prayer recorded in chapter one is just a small sampling of what he prayed over the next few days as he agonized over the condition of his beloved people and city. If you want confidence in your spontaneous prayers, you need to be prepared by having spent time with him alone. If something comes up suddenly, you won’t be like the friend who only calls for help in an emergency.
So how’s your TAWG?
Lord Jesus, this is what I want, what I need right now: A deeper relationship with you. To walk more closely by your side, to hear your voice more clearly. Then when something drops out of the sky, my path to the Throne of Grace will be familiar territory.