Tucked deep into the Old Testament is the Book of Nehemiah – the notable record of a simple man and his persistent prayers. Almost all the chapters have Nehemiah praying the heavens down.
What can we can learn from him?
Nehemiah cared for God and man: Nehemiah was among the Jews exiled to Babylon, the royal cup-bearer for the Persian king Artaxerxes. Living 800 miles away, in the comfort of a palace, Nehemiah still cared enough to want to fortify the walls of Jerusalem. The Word records that he mourned and fasted for several days, remembering the plight of his own people (1:4)
Nehemiah prayed FIRST, acted second: Nehemiah’s boss – the king – had the nasty reputation for cutting off the heads of anyone who offended him. Nehemiah prayed BEFORE he met the king and correctly – he praised God for his goodness, acknowledged sin, pleaded day and night for God’s favour in the eyes of his king (1:5-10)
He was bold enough to PRAY while he was in front of authority and boldly ASK: Four months of fervent prayer later, the king noticed Nehemiah’s sad face. Nehemiah was afraid (2:2) sent up an arrow prayer right then and there (2:4) He then ACTED on it. He explained his need, boldly asked for – long leave, letters to ensure safe travel and timber from the king’s own forest! God came through so powerfully that Nehemiah announces, “It pleased the king to send me”!!! (2:6)
He saw strength in numbers: Nehemiah travelled with horsemen and army officers, later gathered companions to share his burdens with (2:17,18) and assured them the God of heaven would give them success (v20) Nothing like other believers to fight your battles along with you.
He delegated the chores well: If there was someone who could get the whole town cracking, it was Nehemiah – he got the priests to build the Sheep Gate (3:1, 22, 28); a goldsmith (v8) and a perfume maker (v8), women (v12), merchants (v32) were all working!
He closed his ears to the critics and KEPT going: Nehemiah faced criticisms from Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem. First they laughed at him (2:19, 4:1) He prayed. There were complaints among his workers (5:1-13) He prayed more. The men plotted to attack Jerusalem and create confusion (4:7-12). Nehemiah KEPT GOING.
He protected himself and his own: A wise leader will never let his subordinates or friends feel rejected or alone. He kept guards on duty day and night; he and his friends prayed together (4:9) He armed them with swords, spears and bows (4:13, 17, 18) and SPOKE words of encouragement (4:!4, 20)
He stopped his vulnerable from being oppressed: Nehemiah was technically the governor of Jerusalem, along with Ezra the priest. When he noticed the opression of the poor, he reacted – strongly, fairly and quickly (Chapter 5) He warned the leaders to stop harming their vulnerable ‘brothers’ and made officials forgive all outstanding debts.
He did not seek vain glory: Every governor before Nehemiah had demanded 40 silver coins as wages and even their servants were a burden to the common people. He used his authorty to feed the hungry (5:15-18) and didn’t take advantage of food and land allotments (5:14–19)
He refused to succumb to cheap rumours: The biggest challenge for a Christian is to face unfair, and often false, rumours. Sanballat and friends sent word to Nehemiah for a meeting four times – he refused. Then they sent a fifth message suggesting that Nehemiah was plotting a revolt against the king. He refused to be enticed.
He did not submit to popular politics: A believer stands for God, not what is popular. Nehemiah’s enemy Tobiah had a political figure for a father-in-law and a rich daughter-in-law. Many told Nehemiah how great Tobiah was (6:18, 19) but Nehemiah did not flinch. When the priest Eliashib gave a room in the temple meant for incense and offerings to Tobiah, Nehemiah chastised the priest, threw Tobiah’s belongings out and purified the place (13:1-9)
Nehemiah reformed his people and brought order into the chaos: Nehemiah appointed officials and set guards at the gates; had a census taken (chapter 7) Nehemiah had Ezra read God’s law to the people and got a whole nation to “Praise the Lord, the great God” and kneel in worship, with their faces to the ground!!! (8:6) They made penance (9:1) confessed their sins for 3 hours (9:3) and made promises about tithing, business, farming, marriage (10:30 – 39) Nehemiah kept merchants out on Sabbath (13:16-22) After 12 years (chapter 13); he came back to Jerusalem, found backsliding and took measures to enforce his earlier reforms.
That man never stopped praying! :O)
The prayer that sums up Nehemiah’s heart’s deepest cry is “Strengthen my hands” (6:9)
- Prayer was his lifetsyle. He fought his battles on his knees. Prayer was not a last option. He always prayed BEFORE the battle began, during and after.
- He did not ask God to wipe out his enemies. He asked for wisdom to deal with them.
- He asked God to strengthen his hands, to keep him equipped. And God complied. The work of rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls was completed in just 52 days (6:15) Even his enemies saw the hand of God in it. Now THAT is victory!
Nehemiah lived up to his name, meaning ‘Comforted by God’. His motive was to repopulate Jerusalem: “my God put it into my heart” (7:5)
It was Jehovah who accomplished it. True.
But all because one man persistently prayed his way through…