Nehemiah the Prayer Warrior: Follow His Lead
If you’ve walked with us through the Nehemiah series, you are quite aware that there is much to be learned from this Old Testament book, specifically the subject of the story. Nehemiah was well-liked and respected by the higher-up government officials. He was brave and bold and forthcoming about his passions and needs. He was a powerful and influential leader. He was wise in how he approached and resolved opposition and conflict. He was compassionate for and sensitive to the needs of those he led. You could say Nehemiah was a man who encompassed the perfect balance of confidence, loyalty, and consideration for others while excelling in his job and fearlessly rebuilding the security of a city with his own two hands.
How is this man not married?! The Bible doesn’t actually say, but I contend that any lady would desire a man of his character. And to my male friends, doesn’t Nehemiah sound just a bit nauseating? You may be thinking, "guys like that give women unrealistic expectations of ‘normal men’.”
BUT - let’s not forget one very, very, very important attribute of the dreamy and admirable man, Nehemiah: his genuine, active, and dependent relationship with God.
The story of Nehemiah’s life as documented in this book of the Bible is marked by a consistent pattern of experience, pray, and respond. Over and over again, we read Nehemiah encounter situations where he experiences an overwhelming emotion that leads to honest prayer and ultimately an obedient response.
The reason Nehemiah is able to be successful in his relationships, his work, his leadership, and his rebuilding efforts is because he is constantly and whole-heartedly in-tune with God through prayer and faith-based obedience. His priorities clearly align with God’s priorities. His heart is sensitive to the heart of God and his fear of God results in bold acts of faith that transform hearts and lives.
In order to fully appreciate the spiritual maturity of Nehemiah and learn how we, too, can follow his lead, even thousands of years later, we need to study and have a deep reverence for the prayer life of Nehemiah. I believe that God wants to use the book of Nehemiah to model the work of Christ as you, “a prisoner for the Lord, then… live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (Ephesians 4:1).
The Prayer Life of Nehemiah
Solid Spiritual Foundation
Based on his prayers, we are able to understand key aspects of Nehemiah’s spiritual foundation; it is through these lenses that Nehemiah prays, seeks God’s provision, and obeys. Based on his prayers and actions, we can conclude that Nehemiah believes that:
1. God is faithful
2. God is attentive
3. God is forgiving
Nehemiah believes that God is faithful to complete the work He calls him to begin and will lead, protect, and provide along the way. He believes that God is attentive to his needs and the needs of the Israelites; that He is always available and always ready to move and intercede and assist. And lastly, Nehemiah believes that God forgives His people for their sins; He is gracious and His love is unconditional, despite their seasons of disobedience, rejection, or rebellion.
Rocket Prayers and Sunrise Prayers
Nehemiah approaches prayer with balance and variability: some prayers are short, “rocket prayers” that shoot up to God in a quick time of need (2:4, 6:9); others are more premeditated, “sunrise prayers” that evolve with greater depth and enlighten the heart (1:5-11).
Have you ever been in a situation where you experience an emotion that makes you think, “I’ll have to add that to my prayer list,” or “I’ll pray about that during my prayer time tonight”, or you tell someone, “I’ll be praying for you”? What if, in that moment instead, you pray?
Or have you ever experienced an emotion - nerves about an upcoming meeting, frustration over children, irritation in traffic, disappointment with a spouse, sadness over bad news - and just kind of sulked in the emotion: you took deep breaths, let expletives fill your mind, maybe called a friend? What if, in that moment, you pray instead?
A person with an active, dependent prayer life who believes that God is faithful and attentive, believes in the power of rocket prayers - those quick, in-the-moment, not pretty or articulate prayers that shoot up toward the heavens with speed and force.
Nehemiah reaps the benefits of rocket prayers. In Nehemiah 2:8b, we read, “and because the gracious hand of my God was on me, the king granted my requests”. In Nehemiah 4:4-5, Nehemiah instinctively prays for protection from the opposition against surrounding leaders, to which God finds favor. And in Nehemiah 6:9, Nehemiah prays a simple sentence, “now strengthen my hands”, in preparation for any weakness that may come upon his body as he worked to rebuild the walls. God is faithful. God is attentive. God is forgiving.
Next time you’re faced with a challenge, an overwhelming emotion, or a need, fire up a rocket prayer and shoot it straight to the heavens. God is listening and ready to work.
Have you ever been in a situation that is serious, confusing, or heartbreaking? Maybe you’ve been at a crossroads between two good things and weren’t sure which direction to take? Or you got a phone call that changed your life? Or you’ve been spinning your wheels for days, months, or years with the same, exhausting result and you’re losing hope? Or you woke up to the reality that your poor choices are harming you or your family?
In contrast to rocket prayers, a sunrise prayer is one that is slower, more drawn out, has various shades and layers and colors that draw out darkness and illuminate the heart. In Nehemiah 1:5-11 we learn that Nehemiah prays and fasts for “some days” (which was more like three to four months) to seek God passionately about how God was planning to use him to help the people of Jerusalem and to ensure the state of his heart was surrendered to and alined with God:
He prays “day and night” (1:6). Nehemiah gives this situation the time, devotion, and earnest prayer that it deserves in order to align his heart with God’s, to hear His guidance, and to develop a plan rather than acting on impulse.
He confesses with bold humility (1:6b-7). Nehemiah understands that God already knows his sin and shortcomings. He doesn’t offer excuses. He humbly confesses the sin of the collective Israel (himself included) out of reverence for His God.
He proclaims the Word of God (1:8-9). Nehemiah speaks Scripture to God because it demonstrates deep respect for God, as well as complete faith in the truth of God’s faithfulness, attentiveness, and forgiveness.
He asks with intention (v10-11). Nehemiah prays this after months of seeking God’s heart and guidance; he has chosen to approach the king with requests to go to Jerusalem. His prayer is for a specific outcome that aligns with God’s heart and enables him to do God’s work.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7). God is faithful. God is attentive. God is forgiving.
Prayer is a Relationship
Consider your prayer life as you would a relationship between a husband and wife. In a healthy marriage, both rocket conversation and sunrise conversations are good and necessary to keep the relationship thriving. If the only time a husband and wife communicated were through short, one-sentence text messages or scribbles on notepads, the relationship would lack depth, understanding, and humility. On the other hand, if a husband and wife only communicated on the proverbial monthly “date night”, their relationship would lack companionship, shared joy, and the attention that it would need to thrive.
Similarly, our relationship with God best thrives and is experienced in its fullness through an active, revering, and balanced prayer life that is rooted in the spiritual foundations that God is faithful to answer, attentive to the details, and forgiving toward those who fear Him.
It is through this diligent pattern of experience, pray, and respond that we, like Nehemiah, can cultivate spiritual maturity that enables us to obey Paul when he wrote in Colossians 1:9b-12,
“We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light”.
So, Nehemiah was a great leader because God led and he obeyed. He was a successful employee because God blessed it. He was a compassionate countryman because God put it on his heart and he responded. He was able to live with confidence, perseverance, and integrity because God was the ruler of his life and he maintained a diligent and dependent relationship with Him.
This whole Nehemiah story just begs the question - what might we (individually and collectively) be missing out on by:
• Choosing to ignore powerful, emotional experiences God provides?
• Not taking prayer seriously?
• Not seeking God passionately?
• Ignoring His prompting?
• Failing to pray?
• Failing to respond?
• Not waiting, not confessing, not seeking the Word, not providing detail?
How are our prayers hindered by our lack of strong spiritual foundation that God is good, loving, faithful, attentive, merciful, “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in love” (Psalm 103:8)?
Nehemiah was a good guy, yes, but only because of his dependence and reverence for God. Maybe there is a Nehemiah within all of us, sitting dormant; maybe a vitalized prayer life that is continuous and dynamic is what is needed to impassion our hearts, deepen our love for God, and confidently allow God to create or rebuild something IN our lives and THROUGH our lives.