Summary: Prayer is one of the overriding themes of the book of Nehemiah and the secret to his success. The prayer in chapter one is the first of 12 different prayers recorded in the book. Nehemiah begins with prayer in Persia and closes with prayer in Jerusalem. H
Return to Me
Let me ask you a question, “How many of you gained weight over the holidays?” Now that we’re in the New Year, how many of you have made New Year’s resolutions to lose that weight? To eat better and exercise? And how many of you have started to work toward those resolutions? Mark Brunner writes, Compared with the renovation God has in mind, our efforts to improve our own lives are as trivial as sweeping a warehouse slated for the wrecking ball. When we become God’s, the old life is over (2 Cor. 5:17). He makes all things new. Tighter chins, firmer stomachs and buttocks don’t reflect the make-over plan God has in mind for each of us. We can make-over our bodies until the cows come home and we won’t even scratch the surface of that divine plan. God’s make-over has everything to do with our hearts and little to do with our appearance.
That is exactly where God begins to deal with Nehemiah. When Nehemiah inquires of his visiting brother about the people in Israel and the city of Jerusalem, what is described is a scene of desolation and the utter hopelessness and despair of the people. And in that moment, Nehemiah’s heart begins to break and God begins His makeover of Nehemiah’s heart. Following God and getting involved in his plan of rebuilding and healing isn’t a matter of the head, it’s a matter of the heart. Up to this point, Nehemiah was living a pretty comfortable life. He was in the service of the king, in charge of all food services. He ate the best food and lived in the palace. He had everything he could want: power, privilege and position. And like most Jews of his day living in Babylon, he had long let go of any hope of returning to the homeland and instead planned to spend the rest of his life living comfortably in exile.
But in one innocent question to his brother, God breaks Nehemiah’s heart which starts him on the journey of his heart makeover. First, upon hearing of the devastation of the Jerusalem and the hopelessness of the people, Nehemiah begins to weep. Weeping is caused by connecting to the pain of God. God’s heart broke the moment he let the Babylonians overrun Israel and destroy Jerusalem and the temple of God. His chosen people had fought amongst themselves, splintered and chosen to follow their own ways rather than the ways of God. And as a result, later Biblical writers would come to understand that the Babylonians were God’s instrument of punishment for Israel. Nothing breaks God’s heart more than his children disobeying and rebelling against him. So let me ask you, when was the last time you wept over the things God has wept over. When was the last time your heart was broken over what New Orleans had become before Katrina and what happened to it as a result of Katrina? The first step is connecting to the pain of God.
This pain is so intense that secondly, Nehemiah stops everything that he’s doing. He just sits down. Before you ever connect to the heart and purpose of God, you must stop, sit down and quit being so busy. Busyness is the way we medicate shallowness. You have to sit down and take an assessment of what is broken in your life, your relationships, in your home or in your community. Third, Nehemiah mourns. Weeping is connecting to the pain of God but mourning is carrying the pain of God. If you connect to God’s pain but then never carry that pain or deal with it, you will never experience the miracle of God in your life. Unless you carry the pain of God, the miracle or the action of God will never become a reality in your life. Fourth, he fasted. Fasting is that time when you hunger for something greater in your life. You become dissatisfied with the status quo and want something different, something greater than what you currently have in your life. It is a time of focusing on God and listening for His voice and His promptings. Nehemiah mourned, fasted, and wept for some days and all this is a prelude to his praying.
Prayer is one of the overriding themes of the book of Nehemiah and the secret to his success. The prayer in chapter one is the first of 12 different prayers recorded in the book. Nehemiah begins with prayer in Persia and closes with prayer in Jerusalem. His prayers are filled with adoration (chapters 8 and 9); thanksgiving (chapter 12); confession (chapters 1 and 9); and petition (chapters 1 and 2). It’s a story of compassionate, persistent, personal and corporate prayer. Prayer gives Nehemiah perspective; it widens his horizons, sharpens his vision and dwarfs his anxieties.