Summary: God delights in prayer that seeks God's heart, not God's handouts.
This morning we’re going to deal with the topic of prayer. And I’m pretty sure that my task this morning, although it is not easy, is actually pretty simple. But let me ask you a few questions just to confirm that:
• How many of you think you pray enough? So it looks like I don’t really need to convince us this morning that we need to pray more, do I? So that means I’m not going to waste all of our time trying to convince us to pray more or make us all feel guilty that we don’t since it appears we already understand that.
• How many of you believe that prayer is powerful? Apparently there are a few of you that either don’t believe that or you were too lazy to raise your hand or perhaps you’ve already tuned me out. But it looks like that for the most part we all know that prayer is powerful, so I’m not going to spend our time to try and convince you of something you already believe.
• How many of you believe that prayer should be a first response and not a last resort? Keep your hands up for a moment. Again most of you believe that. But let me ask a follow up question for all of you that have your hands up. How many of you consistently actually do that and make prayer your first response and not your last resort when you’re faced with some difficulty or trial in your life? OK, it seem that we’ve identified at least one aspect of prayer where we struggle and can use some help. So that’s where we’ll spend our time this morning.
How do we make prayer our first response instead of a last resort?
As we look at the first chapter of the book of Nehemiah this morning, I think we’ll find some things that will help us answer that question. And what we’re going to find is that the key to making prayer our first resort in our lives is to make sure we have a correct understanding of the purpose of prayer. I’m confident that once we’ve developed the Biblical view of the purpose of prayer, we’ll then find that our practice of prayer will be transformed as well.
So go ahead and turn to Nehemiah chapter 1 and follow along as I read. If you’re not sure where to find Nehemiah in your Bible, start with the Psalms, which should be right near the middle of your Bible and then turn back toward the front of your Bible to Job, then to Esther and finally to Nehemiah.
The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah.
Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the citadel, that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.”
(Nehemiah 1:1-3 ESV)
Nehemiah sets the stage for us in these first few verses. Nehemiah, whose name means “Comfort of YHWH”, identifies himself as the son of Hacaliah, which probably means something like “wait for YHWH”. As I mentioned last week, that’s about all we know about Nehemiah or his family other than the other fact that we’ll find in verse 11 when Nehemiah reveals he was the cupbearer to the king.
The events here occur in the month of Chislev in the 20th year of the reign of King Artaxerxes. On our calendar the month of Chislev would be late November or December. It is likely that the 20th year of Artaxerxes’ reign occurred in 445-444 BC.
Although Nehemiah is in the king’s court in Susa, which was the capital of the Persian Empire and about 800 miles from Jerusalem, he is not unaware of the plight of the Jewish people. So when one of his fellow Jews, a man named Hanani, returns from Jerusalem, Nehemiah is anxious to get a firsthand account of the conditions there.
It is obvious that Nehemiah had a genuine concern for the people of God. We don’t yet see why that is the case, but I think we’ll get a pretty good idea what fueled that concern as we continue through the chapter this morning. He doesn’t just rotely ask Hanani how things are going in Jerusalem like we often tend to do with each other, but He is genuinely interested in the welfare of his fellow Jews.
And the news is not good. The remnant in Jerusalem was suffering great trouble and shame and the walls were broken down, which exposed them to attacks from their enemies. But those broken walls were also a symbol of something far more troubling – a broken people. That is clearly indicated by the way Nehemiah responds to the report: