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Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Man who Burst into Prayer

Although Nehemiah displays many praiseworthy characteristics, the one I have the highest regard for is his prayers.

Paul has not yet exhorted the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing,” but Nehemiah is already obeying (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Continually as he writes, he bursts into prayer.

As he recounts the dialogue of the Jews’ enemies in chapter four, he suddenly begins asking God for justice.

When he writes about his own generosity, he exclaims, “Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people” (5:19). He continues his story until the middle of 6:9, when he again enters prayer, “O God, strengthen my hands.”

A few verses later, he once more pauses his narrative to pray, supplicating God to remember the sins of Tobiah, Sanballat, and the prophets who wanted to scare him into sin (v. 14).

An additional four times in the last chapter Nehemiah bursts suddenly into prayer, asking for God’s remembrance of certain deeds. Nehemiah seems to have such a habit of prayer that it just comes out—even when he is in the middle of telling a story.

In the account he is telling, Nehemiah also relates several instances in which he prays. Learning of the horrible condition of Jerusalem’s walls, Nehemiah mourns, fasts, and prays for days. As I have often heard others do (and done myself), Nehemiah quotes Scripture in this prayer, reminding God of His promises to Moses (1:8). Most of the first chapter is filled with his exemplary prayer.

Demonstrating well the fact that we can and should pray anywhere and everywhere, Nehemiah “prayed to the God of heaven” before answering a question from the king (2:4).

When the Israelites’ enemies plot against them, Nehemiah says, “we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night” (4:9). Nehemiah encounters a problem, so naturally, he prays.

Nehemiah does not just talk to God, he also listens to God as is seen in the phrase, “my God put it into my heart . . .” (7:5). Additionally, when Nehemiah chooses to behave righteously no matter the consequences, God gives him understanding and insight into a disloyal prophet’s wicked intentions (6:12).

Although the Levites’, rather than Nehemiah’s prayer, in chapter nine, much of the history of Israel is told in prayer to God. They worship God for what He has done by reciting their history and His involvement in it. Many times the psalmists write about praising God for His past doings:

Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples . . . make known his deeds among the peoples! Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works! . . . I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands (Psalm 96:2, 105:1-2, 143:5).

Throughout his book, Nehemiah exemplifies many aspects of prayer that I want to implement more in my own life.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


This summer I want to read some good books. If you would like to help me compile my reading list, please suggest a book or two. [And if you really, really, really think I should read the book you suggest, you can give me a copy and I will move it to the top of my list.]

Do Hard Things by Alex and Brett Harris - 232
Paradise Lost by John Milton - 303
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling [AG] - 759
The Deadliest Monster by J.F. Baldwin - 250
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen - 182
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exup
éry [J.F. Baldwin] - 85
Don't Waste Your Life
by John Piper -189
An Ideal Husband
by Oscar Wilde [J.F. Baldwin] - 127
Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton [J.F. Baldwin] - 312
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenistyn [J.F. Baldwin] - 159
Mere Christianity
by C.S. Lewis [Beth] - 191
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Sean Covey - 248
The Ishbane Conspiracy by Randy Alcorn - 296
*The Reason for God by Timothy Keller [Fireboy]
*The Complete Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton
*Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky [Brandon Booth]
*A World Lost by Wendell Berry [J.F. Baldwin]
The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis [Fireboy]
Miracles by C.S. Lewis

3,333 pages thus far.

[* indicates current read, bold indicates completion, a name in brackets indicates from whom the suggestion came]

Friday, August 08, 2008

Not the Shortest Man in the Bible

Nope. That was Peter, who slept on his watch. Nor am I referring to Bildad the “Shoe-height.” I’m talking about “Knee-high-emiah” [thanks, Adventures in Odyssey]. Enough with the corny jokes . . .

In the past months, I have become an admirer of Nehemiah. He exemplifies many commendable character traits.

The first aspect of Nehemiah that I notice is his passionate concern. When he hears about the state of Jerusalem’s walls, he immediately weeps, mourns, fasts, and prays for days (1:4). At the end of the book, his passion is again demonstrated. With zeal, he rebukes the Jews for their sin. “I confronted them and cursed them and beat some of them and pulled out their hair. And I made them take an oath in the name of God . . .” (13:25).

When Nehemiah sees a problem, he does not passively say, “Someone should fix that,” hoping for the best; Nehemiah recognizes a change needs to happen and whole-heartedly seeks to bring about that change. He takes the initiative and leads his people in diligently repairing their city.

Though he could use his proactive leadership as an avenue to gain honor, Nehemiah displays great humility, especially in chapter four. The Jews’ enemies plot to attack Jerusalem as the construction goes on. Nehemiah, however, stations armed guards in the weak places in the wall. In verse 14, he exhorts the people not to be afraid, but to “Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome.” When the Israelites’ enemies give up their scheme, Nehemiah does not credit his own planning, or even the people who were guarding the work. Instead, he writes, “God had frustrated their plan” (4:15). Although prepared for anything, Nehemiah does not put his trust in the sword; rather, he puts his trust in the Lord. “Our God,” he exclaims, “will fight for us” (4:20).

Continually, he gives the glory to God rather than claim it for himself. This attitude of personal humility points others to recognize God’s mighty deeds. When the wall is completed in a mere 52 days, all the nations around are humbled and realize that “this work has been accomplished with the help of our God” (6:16).

In addition to being humble, Nehemiah behaves righteously. Intending to harm him, the wicked Sanballat and Geshem urge Nehemiah to come to them. [At first, I did not see anything wrong with Nehemiah meeting with these enemies—other than his comprehension that they want to hurt him. Upon consideration, however, I think this may be an instance like that described in James 4:17, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”] Nehemiah replies through messengers, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” (6:3). His enemies insist four times he to come to them, but on each occasion, he refuses. A fifth time they send Nehemiah an open letter filled with slander. They falsely claim he is planning a rebellion and tell him to take counsel with them. Wisely, Nehemiah refutes their assertion through a messenger and perseveres in his great work.

Shortly thereafter, a prophet attempts to scare him into sin by stating it will save Nehemiah’s life. When encouraged to transgress, he says, “No!” God gives Nehemiah special insight enabling him to later write, “I understood and saw that God had not sent him [the prophet who wanted Nehemiah to commit iniquity], but he had pronounced the prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him” (6:12).

The greatest characteristic of Nehemiah I admire is his prayer life. Because there is much I want to say regarding his prayers, however, I will leave that for a separate post.

Read Part 2

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Comfort in Desolation

Although I cannot find it anywhere in the book, my library receipt gave Cry, the Beloved Country (by Alan Paton) the subtitle, "A story of comfort in desolation." I think it fits well.

Taking place in poverty ridden South Africa, Paton powerfully writes from the viewpoint of two men on opposite sides of the same tragedy. The contrast and yet similarity of a native umfundisi or priest and a wealthy white farmer effectively moves the reader.

It is one of the most moving books I have read. I had to pause my reading one day because I was so overwhelmed.

Cry, the Beloved Country evoked in me a hatred for injustice and racism. It stirred in me compassion for hurting individuals.

Be moved. Read this book.