Habits of Grace series
The habit of grace our church focused on this past weekend was prayer. We journeyed through the life of Nehemiah and found that he was a man who prioritized relationship with God. Nehemiah understood that prayer was nothing more and nothing less than talking with God; a God who did not demand, but desired, relationship with him. Knowing this, Nehemiah looked for opportunities to pray repeatedly, spontaneously, and specifically. These are helpful encouragements to us.
One of the things that I most love about Nehemiah is that he was a person very much like all of us. He had a job, responsibilities, colleagues, and family. He was confronted with a wide range of life circumstances throughout the approximately twelve years the book outlines for us. Like us, he had seasons of joy, mourning, anxiety, and victory. And through each one, Nehemiah was a person characterized by prayer. Why highlight this?
While it is easy to read and steep ourselves in the Bible for instruction (2 Timothy 3:16-17), at times it is a tremendous blessing to find an individual’s story in the Bible that seems a lot like ours. We often approach the great heroes of our as if their spiritual lives were so much greater than ours. But stories like Nehemiah’s provide a very human example to which we can aspire. This is helpful!
It is beneficial to find the story of a follower of Christ in the Bible who we can directly relate to; someone who experiences the same types of things in life as we do. I believe Nehemiah is one of those great examples of someone who resonates with much of our modern experience. If you are looking for a person and a story to feel more connected to God’s Word and bolster your personal prayer life without any sort of shame, Nehemiah is your guy. His life shows us he “gets it.” Instead of only focusing on the human aspects of the joys, mournings, anxieties, and victories he experienced, Nehemiah repeatedly responded by praying. His example is one we can both relate to and practice ourselves.
What are some of the examples we see from Nehemiah?
Nehemiah repeatedly prayed spontaneously.
“Hear, O our God, for we are despised. Turn back [our enemies’] taunt on their own heads…let not their sin be blotted out from your sight, for they have provoked you to anger in the presence of the builders.” (Nehemiah 4:4-5)
“And they all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it. And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night.” (Nehemiah 4:8-9)
“Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people.” (Nehemiah 5:19)
“But now, O God, strengthen my hands.” (Nehemiah 6:9)
Too often prayer becomes “ceremonialized.” We tend toward thinking we need to stop, bow our head, close our eyes, and have the full “posture of prayer.” These are certainly good things, but
not always possible. Yet, more important than a bowed head, as Pastor Jared shared this past Sunday, is a “bowed heart.” A bowed heart in prayer is one that recognizes God can be approached at any time about anything; a bowed heart is one that prays because one desires to be connected to God on every matter in life. Sometimes that is a spur-of-the-moment prayer most reflective of the immediate need. Nehemiah repeatedly examples this for us.
Nehemiah courageously confessed sin.
Nehemiah 1:6-7: “…let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses.”
Confession and repentance are arguably the most difficult portions of personal prayer. What Nehemiah shows us is a tremendous example of God’s grace. He was willing to boldly outline his sin, his family’s sin, and even the sin of the entire nation of Israel, confident in the promises of God to forgive and restore:
“ ‘…but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there (Nehemiah 1:9).’ ”
Nehemiah’s confidence in God was warranted! What was true for Israel then is true for us now. God is rich in mercy and abounding in steadfast love (Psalm 86:15). He will forgive us today, as He forgave Israel then! Let us confidently follow Nehemiah’s example in this way.
There is so much more. If you desire a deeper dive into prayer in the life of Nehemiah, I recommend you check out the CP and CL sermon(s) from October 3rd, 2021. In closing though, I want to share of few “prayer pro-tips” to help you grow in your own prayer life.
· Prioritize a consistent time. Short, spontaneous prayer is amazing! But in relationships, we prioritize time. Our relationship with God should be no exception. Whether it be one-five minutes or a drive in the car, plan a time to pray. Communicating with God grows our closeness to Him.
· Pray through the Bible. Whether it be the Lord’s Prayer, the Psalms, or simply drawing from your devotions, praying the Bible is an amazing means of connecting to God.
· Pray for other people. It is a blessing to pray for ourselves. But it is wise to pick a person or two, whether that be a family member, friend, or difficult coworker—and pray for them. It gets us out of our own story and into someone else’s, whether they know it or not!
· Pray like Nehemiah. In Nehemiah’s prayer in Nehemiah 1:5-11, he prays three specific ways. He (1) Recognizes, (2) Repents, and (3) Requests. While there are certainly other components of prayer you could add, if you are looking to grow with a bit of immediacy in this area, these three R’s are a helpful way to get started!
I pray Nehemiah’s example and these helpful tips assist you in growing in your own prayer life.