I love it when there’s something in the Bible
about how to pray more effectively.
Nehemiah, recognized as one of the best leaders in the Bible, shows us how to pray more effectively.
Eleven times in 13 chapters it’s recorded that Nehemiah was praying.
In 445 B.C. his brother Hanani returned from Judah, giving him the shocking news that the people were suffering in great distress, the walls of Jerusalem were broken down and its gates burned with fire.
Hearing his brother’s distressing report, Nehemiah “sat down and wept, and mourned for many days …
Fasting and praying
before the God of heaven” (1:4). “Day and night” (verse 6). His “sighing and crying” over Jerusalem’s troubles (Ezek. 9:4) probably made for some sleepless nights. But also fervent, passionate prayers! “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16). Some issues are important enough to require fasting along with prayer (Mark 9:29).
Nehemiah lived the lesson of Jesus Christ’s parable about the widow coming before the unjust judge. Jesus is certainly not calling Himself an unjust judge, but even the unjust judge in the parable couldn’t help giving in to the dogged persistence of the widow. “And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily” (Luke 18:7-8).
Nehemiah kept on fasting and praying, letting the Master Timer decide what is “speedily.” Read for yourself in verses 5-11
How Nehemiah prayed
- He prayed respectfully and humbly (“your servant”).
- Praising—reminding God of His promises and mercy. Not because God forgets or needs to be buttered up. Nehemiah needed to remind himself of the greatness of the Being he was privileged to pray to.
- Not for self. No “gimmes.”
- Like Daniel who served in Babylonian and Persian government and died about 85 years earlier, Nehemiah humbly confessed the sins of his and his people (Daniel 9).
- Nehemiah was in tune with God’s desires and timing and the result was his prayer that was according to God’s will. At times we may become the answer to our own prayers!
- Nehemiah asked to “prosper this day” (1:11). It appears he asked this each day for the long period he was fasting and praying. He showed he was willing to patiently wait on God for the proper when, but he boldly asked if it could be “this day.” Likewise, when we pray for healing, we leave it up to YHVH Ropha for how and when, but why not hope for right away. When we pray “thy kingdom come,” oh, if only it could be today! We must not grow weary and scoff.
Nehemiah asked God specifically for favor with “this man”: King Artaxerxes I Longinum. He was the king’s trusted cupbearer.
Great, it’s who you know! Just go tell him!
No, as a cupbearer Nehemiah was well-trained in court etiquette. He was to be a listening companion. He controlled personal access to the King and couldn’t abuse his. He had to always be deserving of the unreserved confidence of the King. Archeology shows an Assyrian cupbearer commanded the fourth highest salary in the kingdom, and a Persian one was no doubt just as valuable. Nehemiah may have received his position thanks to Queen Esther (479 B.C.) who may have still been alive, and he wouldn’t want to bring discredit to her.
“Nehemiah did not ask in haste but carefully bided his time, constantly praying to God to grant the proper opening” (Expositor’s Bible Commentary).
Four months later the Master Timer granted the opening!
The king asked Nehemiah why he looked so sad, when he had never seen him like that before. That made Nehemiah “dreadfully afraid”! Why if he had such a good relationship with the king?
Persian kings believed that just being in their presence was enough to make anybody’s day, so being sad was an insult! And here Nehemiah was just itching to ask the king to let him go to Judah.
Maybe there was more staring at Nehemiah’s faith: Artaxerxes was the very Persian king who had ordered work on the walls to be halted (Ezra 4:21-23)! To be fair, the king may have acted out of just keeping the peace during the confusion caused by the rebellion of Megabyzes. Perhaps he was not opposed to a wall—just swayed by the liberal press.
Maybe Nehemiah was afraid the king might think he had rebellion in mind. We can imagine what all was racing through Nehemiah’s mind when the king asked “What do you request?” (2:4).
Instead of blurting out words, Nehemiah silently prayed for God’s favor and to guide his presentation.
In Rom. 12:12 “The words ‘continuing instant in’ represent just one Greek word, meaning, literally, ‘ever enduring in.’ The picture is one of being always ready to pray, whenever the need appears. The same urgent readiness is implied in Paul’s exhortation to ‘pray without ceasing’ (I Thes. 5:17). We must work, and sleep, and do many other things, but all things should be done as if in the very presence of God—for we are in His presence. Therefore, ‘in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God’ (Php. 4:6)”—Henry M. Morris, Ph.D.
When Nehemiah answered the king, it was boldly in faith. But of huge importance to note:
Nehemiah was prepared with a detailed well-thought-out plan with time markers
He had even found out the name of the keeper of the king’s forest to obtain timber from. When Nehemiah returned to Persia after 12 years as governor, that’s surely when he told the king he would return (2:6).
“And the king granted … according to the good hand of my God upon me” (2:8). Nehemiah always gave God the credit for all success (2:18, 20; 4:15, 20; 6:10, 16; and 7:5.
Many times Nehemiah prayed to God to “remember me” (13:22) according to the greatness of His mercy. Nehemiah was not out for personal glory.
Whatever the opposition threw at him, every time Nehemiah answered by prayer—and he acted. He did what he could do. He set the example by working on the wall, being the first to sign the covenant, and treating many at his table at his expense instead of claiming governor’s provisions.
The Partnership Principle: Pray as if God must do it all and act as if you must do it all.
When Jesus said His followers must be found “so doing” (Matt. 24:46), the tendency is to think He was talking about what we do on our feet. So get up off our knees and get busy!
But we need to also be “so doing” in our prayers—fervent prayers that seek God’s will for the worldwide Work to be done and people to be prepared for the God Family.
Yes, Nehemiah is recognized as one of the greatest leaders immortalized in the Bible. Pray we follow his example:
- Fervent prayer with fasting
- Persistent, waiting for God’s timing
- Humble, praising and confessing
- Meet opposition with prayer
- Pray and act in partnership
- Give God all the glory