Bible Study

Nehemiah 1:4–11

“The time we commit to prayer can stand as a reflection of the importance it plays in our life.” by Major Valerie Carr

When something is important to us, such as an heirloom passed down for generations, a bike purchased after weeks of extra chores, or a special gift received from a loved one, we treat it with care and respect. It earns a special place in our homes. It is cleaned and maintained carefully. It is spoken about with reverence because of the number of memories, love and emotions it represents.

The same should be said of how we talk about and to the Lord since He is important to us. If God, His Kingdom, His will and His way are something we care deeply about, then our prayers should reflect a reverence for Him. This month, as we continue in our study on prayers of the Bible, we reflect on the question “How are my prayers part of my worship of God?” We turn to Nehemiah as an example of what this could look like as we seek to grow in our own practice of prayer.

The book of Nehemiah is a record of the prophet’s experience of being part of the return to Jerusalem, generations after the exile of God’s people. We find several facts in the opening chapters about Nehemiah that give us context for his prayer. We know he was the cupbearer to King Artaxerxes of Persia (1:11; 2:1). His responsibilities were to pour and serve drinks for the king. This would imply that he was trusted since Nehemiah would be present for many important conversations at the king’s table, as well as have such intimate access to the king. In the first three verses of chapter one, we learn he is the son of Hacaliah, confirming that he was the descendant of Jewish exiles. He lives in Susa, which is a capital city of the ancient Persian empire. Nehemiah has just received an update regarding the people who escaped exile and are still living in Jerusalem, as well as information that the wall and gates protecting the city are in tatters. All of this summed up puts Nehemiah in a special position for seeking the assistance of the Persian government on behalf of the needs of the Jewish people, which is the subject of his prayer in chapter one.   

Before we launch into exactly how Nehemiah prayed, it is important to note how important prayer was to Nehemiah. In verse four we read: “When I heard this [that the wall of Jerusalem was in disarray], I sat down and wept. In fact, for days I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven.” Nehemiah was so moved by the plight of his people that he became consumed with seeking God on their behalf. He approached prayer as an incredibly important and weighty task. The issue in Jerusalem was important, but he understood that so too was how he came before God. The Scripture says he spent days consumed with his prayer and spiritual practices. He took his time. Nehemiah didn’t rush the process. He didn’t say a quick one-line prayer and make his own decision.

I am often guilty of saying that prayer is a deeply important task, but then my practice proves that I do not always act as if I believe what I say. How often when we are facing a very important concern, or struggling with a serious issue, do we only spend a few fleeting moments in halfhearted prayer on its behalf? In his book “How to Pray: A Simple Guide for Normal People,” Pete Grieg writes: “Prayer is nothing at all unless it is a matter of vast and all-consuming importance for each one of us.” It would be better to not pray than to treat prayer lightly. Prayer is our direct link to the throne room of God and should be approached with the awe and reverence it merits. Prayer gives us an opportunity to be in communion with the Creator of the universe and seek His will, guidance and presence in our circumstances. Perhaps one of the challenges we can accept from the prayer in Nehemiah is to consider how much importance we are actually giving prayer. The time we commit to prayer can stand as a reflection of the importance it plays in our life. How does it compare with the amount of time we spend watching TV, scrolling reels on social media, or keeping up with the group chat?   

The rest of the first chapter of Nehemiah provides an example of a reverential prayer. In verse five, Nehemiah spends time praising God for who He is. In verses six and seven, he prays prayers of confession for both himself and the people of Israel. In verses eight through 10, he recounts the promises of God to bring His people back to their promised land. Finally in verse 11, he makes his single request to God: “Grant me success today by making the king favorable to me. Put it into his heart to be kind to me.” Nehemiah structured his prayer to be heavy on worship and confession and pointed about his request. His prayer spends more time in worship and humble approach to the Lord than it does asking for the need before him. There is a correlation to the importance that Nehemiah applies to prayer and his reverential attitude to God in his prayer.

The prayer found in these few verses can be used to create a template for structuring our own prayers to actively include worship. You might be familiar with the A.C.T.S. model of prayer that reflects this template. This suggests that we can spend our time in prayer following a pattern that will aid us in inserting more intentionality in our prayers. The model is set up to create space for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication. Adoration is time spent honoring God for who He is. Confession is making room in prayer for acknowledging where we have sinned, individually or corporately, depending on the situation. Thanksgiving spends time remembering God’s goodness and thanking Him for His work in the world around us. Supplication is presenting our need to God and seeking His will and wisdom as an answer for the way forward. Perhaps using a journal to write your prayers for each segment would be helpful to your prayer life? Or setting aside a specific amount of time and then using a timer to guide you through each part of the prayer acronym? God promises that if we seek Him in prayer He will listen (2 Chronicles 7:14). We bear the privilege and the responsibility to go to Him in prayer in a manner that helps us honor who He truly is. 

If something is important or valuable to us, we make room in our life and we spend time in its pursuit. Nehemiah highly valued his relationship with the Lord and made prayer an important priority. After reflecting on his prayer, we are left to consider, “What does my life show as important to me?” “Does my prayer life demonstrate my love and honor of the Lord? Do my prayers include space to worship the Lord of the universe, or are they simply a list of tasks I want Him to complete on my behalf?” Nehemiah shows us what it means to honor the Lord at the same time we are trusting Him to meet our desperate needs. 

Questions to ponder

  • How does my time spent in prayer reflect prayer’s importance to me?
  • How can I incorporate the A.C.T.S. model of prayer in my own spiritual disciplines?
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