Summary: Nehemiah’s prayer is instructional for today’s believer. It instills lessons of compassion, extended prayer, and is encouraging as to the power of prayer to effect change.
Sometime last year while reading for my devotions, the passage for the day was this one in Nehemiah. I struck me hard. I made a note in the margin of my Bible and determined to get back to it when I had an opportunity. Tonight I have such an opportunity.
1:1 The words of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah: In the month of Kislev (the 9th month of their year, Zech. 7:1) in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, 2 Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and
If you and I were writing this it would read more like, "In September of our twentieth year of captivity ..." -GB
(Kislev actually corresponds more with our month of December.) Nehemiah is saying, "Twenty years after the Persian invasion of Judah and the abduction of prisoners, my brother came to the palace and I asked him about the Jews left in Jerusalem. ..." -GB
I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem.
Nehemiah asked about these people. He was concerned about their condition. Sometimes we do not know the needs others have because we haven’t asked. True, they could volunteer the information but the fact is often they don’t. We don’t want to be nosy, and they don’t want to complain. So it’s a stand-off unless one side or the other breaks the silence. Take time to ask how someone is doing. You may be surprised - either for good or bad.
3 They said to me, "Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire."
4 When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.
We know nothing of prayer like that. What news would cause you to weep for others? (Especially those with whom you were only slightly acquainted.) They were in Jerusalem, he had been in exile for 20 years. How well could he have known them?
What issue moves you to this degree? ...
What is it that makes you cry?
What would impress you to fast?
Nehemiah mourned, fasted, and prayed for some days.
It is an indiscriminate amount of time; a prolonged time. This is long, lengthy, prolonged, sustained prayer.
5 Then I said: ...
Then he began to pray. It is almost as though this marks the starting point of his praying. I wonder if he would consider the bulk of his praying until now scattered prayers, a general unburdening of his soul of all he had heard. ... Then he began to pray. Then he got earnest with his prayer. Then he got down to business.
He did not consider the "some days" of praying, fasting, and mourning as the body of his intercession, but merely as the introduction - the prologue- to his prayer. He was not concluding after some days. But instead, after some days he was just getting started. That unspecified period of time had been the warm-up phase of his praying.
I say it again, we know nothing of this kind of praying. We give up if nothing happens after a few seconds of prayer. At the end of a week of praying we say, "I prayed about it for a whole week." We consider that long-term praying. We have been conditioned to microwave praying. We figure if nothing happens within a few minutes we are doing something wrong and need to change our strategy.
We never even think about prayer in the same light as Nehemiah does. We don’t anticipate extended vigils in prayer. We don’t think at the outset of a problem that we may need to settle in and prepare for the long haul. We want quick answers to quick prayers. And when we don’t see the answers we want, we question the value of prayer. We should question our failure to perceive microwave praying as a malady of our age and a flaw of human nature that God wishes to address in patient praying.
Saints of previous generations understood prayer to be a extended endeavor. They were prepared to settle in for seasons of prayer for stubborn situations. Read the works of E. M. Bounds and the biographies of Praying Hyde, David Brainerd, father Nash. Examine for yourself the kind of praying spoken of in the New Testament.
David Yonggi Cho spoke at Celebration 2000 in Indianapolis. He called prolonged prayer "Task Praying." The main idea I gained from his sermon, was once you start praying about something hang on until you have your petition. Pray persistently about that same concern until your prayer is answered. Be like Jacob who held on until morning. Don’t let go of God until He grants your request.