I knew an old missionary professor who could be talking to people one moment, then seamlessly break into prayer the next to talk to God, with his eyes open, about the matter that had just been shared. Indeed, God is the third person in any conversation, and today’s passage teaches us that prayer should be our first action in all situations. Nehemiah’s priority of prayer is the secret of his walk with God and his effectiveness in service. We must learn to turn information into intercession, and problems into prayer.
We can learn how to pray by looking closely at the various parts of Nehemiah’s prayer. The acronym ACTS is sometimes used to teach Christians to include adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication in our prayers. Nehemiah’s prayer reflects similar content.
First, he focuses on the character of God, which is why we pray. He addresses his prayer to the ″God of heaven″ and the ″great and awesome God″ (Nehemiah 1:5), a phrase found in the Book of the Law (Deuteronomy 7:21, 10:17) and Psalms (Psalms 47:2, 66:3, 68:35). Nehemiah’s knowledge of God is soundly based on Scripture and is the foundation of his prayer life. Note that the phrase ″great and awesome″ is repeated several times in the book of Nehemiah (4:14, 9:32). Nehemiah also knows that God’s eyes and ears are on His people (1:6; Psalm 34:17), hence his confidence in praying.
Second, confession is an important part of the prayer. Nehemiah’s confession is both personal and collective (Nehemiah 1:6-7). Knowledge of God and ourselves is essential in prayer.
Third, the prayer emphasises the covenant between God and His people. Nehemiah reminds God of His special relationship with Israel and His promises to help the repentant Jewish exiles (vv. 8-9; see Deuteronomy 4:30-31; 30:4-5).
It is on the basis of God’s character, Nehemiah’s confession, and the covenant between God and His people, that Nehemiah makes a specific request: ″Give your servant success today by granting him favour in the presence of this man″ (Nehemiah 1:11). Do we sometimes jump too quickly to asking God for things without considering the basis of prayer? In our prayers, do we reflect on who God is, our true spiritual condition, and our relationship with Him? Nehemiah’s prayer teaches us the priority and basis of all prayers.
What lessons can you learn about the importance of knowing God, yourself, and others, and remembering God’s promises? What else does Nehemiah’s prayer teach you?
Make a list of God’s character and promises. Keep it next to your list of prayer requests. Reflect on how these two lists are connected. Then, pray.