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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.

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