A THEOLOGY OF PRAYER
Lord, keep us encouraged in Your love for us.
Read NEHEMIAH 1
1 The words of Nehemiah son of Hakaliah:
In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, 2 Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem.
3 They said to me, “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.”
4 When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. 5 Then I said:
“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, 6 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. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. 7 We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.
8 “Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, 9 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.’
10 “They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. 11 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. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.”
I was cupbearer to the king.
New International Version (NIV)
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“If you are swept off your feet, it is time to get on your knees” (Frederick Beck).
Two key words in Hanani’s report on the state of the Jerusalem community are “trouble” and “disgrace” (3; cf. Neh. 2:17). The pathetic scene of broken city walls and burnt-out gates mean that foreigners despise the citizens of Jerusalem and scoff at the God who for all appearances has abandoned them. Arguably, there is a rough parallel with western churches: overall decline is causing many church members to lose heart and others to ultimately give up. Popular modern attitudes pooh-poohing the church mirror the scorn of Judah’s neighbors from yesteryear.
Nehemiah’s reaction to Jerusalem’s misfortune is to weep, mourn, fast, and pray. He does this “for some days” (4)—i.e., for four months (cf. 1; 2:1). Clearly for Nehemiah prayer dominated his life. His words in verses 5–10 offer us a template when praying for churches going through hard times.
First, Nehemiah is convinced that God is able (“great and awesome”) and willing (“keeps his covenant of love”) to change the situation (5). Does this theology propel our prayer? How strong is our persuasion that God can and will revive his people today? Second, Nehemiah confesses the sins of his people as though they were his own (6,7). Does a holier-than-thou condescension inhibit us from sensing a deep solidarity with those for whom we pray? Third, Nehemiah pleads the promises of Scripture (8,9). In praying, do we reverently remind God of his promises? Fourth, the premise of Nehemiah’s prayer is: God has redeemed his people (10)! Do we lose sight of the paramount fact that God in Christ has redeemed his church? Fifth, Nehemiah commits himself to take risks for his people (11). Perhaps we need to ask: “Am I willing to inconvenience myself by becoming part of the answer to my prayer?”
Prayer is powerful precisely because God can and God will. He can answer because he is all-powerful. He will answer because he promises to keep his covenant.
Lord, when bad news arrives, we instinctively look to the One who is and remains in charge of the affairs of humankind.