Continuing a series of posts based on some of my reading and thoughts on Nehemiah that didn’t make it into sermons.
I once went on a retreat to a monastery in Scotland for a few days. While I was there, one of the monks was giving a talk on prayer, so I decided to go and listen to what he had to say. I only remember one thing from that talk, it’s always stuck with me.
I was reminded of those words when reading Nehemiah’s prayer in Nehemiah chapter 1. Chuck Swindoll has described Nehemiah as “a leader from the knees up” and I think he is bang on. Nehemiah gives us a tremendous example of not just making prayer a priority but how to pray. I believe Nehemiah’s prayers had such a great impact because he believed he was praying to a great God. Let’s have a quick look at what Nehemiah’s prayer life reveals about his theology, and what he believed about God.
Nehemiah believed every time he got on his knees, he was praying to:
“Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God” Neh 1:5
A POWERFUL GOD
Reading through the book of Nehemiah over the last couple of weeks something struck me, it was how often Nehemiah referred to the greatness of God. He does it time and time again, According to Nehemiah our God is “GREAT” (8:6), “GREAT AND AWESOME” (1.5, 4:14), “THE GREAT GOD, MIGHTY AND AWESOME”(9.32)
Nehemiah’s when talking to the Lord refers to ” your great strength and your mighty hand.” 1:10
And he boldly declares that this powerful God is “my God” No wonder he was so dependent on God in prayer, he believed in God’s power.
The great Victorian preacher Charles Spurgeon once said “I have a great need for Christ: I have a great Christ for my need.”
I believe Nehemiah would have said something similar. Nehemiah’s PRAYERS remind us that.
WHEN WE HAVE A GREAT NEED FOR GOD, WE HAVE A GREAT GOD FOR OUR NEED
A FAITHFUL GOD
“who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments” Neh 1:5
One of the most striking features of the Old Testament is God’s, persistent promise-keeping love. The God of Israel made Covenants with His people, He entered into a relationship with them, and that relationship was sustained not by their performance but by His promises. Time and time again the people of Israel failed to be faithful to God, but Nehemiah reminds us that God was always faithful in keeping His promises to them.
We see this even more clearly in Nehemiah’s prayer in chapter nine. Listen to Nehemiah pray and hold on to the promises of God.
You have kept your promise because you are righteous. V8
you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore, you did not desert them, 9:17
‘Because of your great compassion, you did not abandon them 9:19
our God, the great God, mighty and awesome, who keeps his covenant of love,9.32
Here is an interesting fact, Nehemiah never asks for anything that God hadn’t already promised. Nehemiah’s belief in the faithfulness of God to His promises was one of the cornerstones of his prayer life.
I don’t know about you, but I am in awe of this picture of God as a God of love and compassion who is faithful in keeping his promises to his people. I want to be as dependent on the faithfulness of God to His promises as Nehemiah was
A HOLY GOD
It would be all too easy to stop there with this tremendous understanding of our God who is powerful and faithful. A God who has both the power and the desire to answer our prayers. All too many people today do stop there in their understanding of God. But that would be an incomplete picture of Nehemiah’s God for Nehemiah also understood God as a Holy God.
‘Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those WHO LOVE HIM AND KEEP HIS COMMANDMENTS, 1:5
I think sometimes our “theology on our knees* reveals that many of us believe that God is a sort of grandfatherly figure who indulges us and turns a blind eye to our faults and failings. Too many churches and Christians have deleted the idea of holiness and sin from Christianity.
Nehemiah on the other hand realizes that the true and living God is a Holy God who calls on his people to be a Holy People who reflect His character by obeying His commands. Our obedience doesn’t earn our salvation but it’s the way God calls on us to express our salvation.
This is why Nehemiah so often confesses His sin and the sin of His people.
I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly towards you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses. Neh 16-7
Nehemiah shared with Ezra this deep understanding of the Holiness of God and so the seriousness of sin.
‘I am too ashamed and disgraced, my God, to lift up my face to you, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens.” Ezra 9:6
When did you last hear someone pray like that?
With this understanding of God, as powerful, faithful, and holy it’s no wonder that Nehemiah had such a clear and consistent posture of dependence on God in prayer.
I am certain our prayer life as individuals and as a church would improve if we were to pray with this understanding of whom we are praying to