B. Nehemiah’s prayer.
1. (5-7) Nehemiah prays to God in humility.
And I said: “I pray, LORD God of heaven, O great and awesome God, You who keep Your covenant and mercy with those who love You and observe Your commandments, please let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open, that You may hear the prayer of Your servant which I pray before You now, day and night, for the children of Israel Your servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel which we have sinned against You. Both my father’s house and I have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against You, and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses.”
a. I pray: Prayer is essential to leadership. If your vision is so big that only God can accomplish it, then you obviously must pray. If prayer isn’t absolutely necessary to accomplish your vision, your goal isn’t big enough.
i. It appears that Nehemiah prayed for four months before he did anything (Nehemiah 2:1). Later, when the work of rebuilding the walls actually begins, it only takes 52 days to finish the job. But that 52-day project had a four-month foundation of prayer.
ii. Nehemiah took his pain and stress to God in prayer – and seemingly, was able to leave it there. Prayer will relieve your stress. You may be trying to relieve stress through entertainment, but all that does is divert your attention. Entertainment doesn’t give any solutions to stress. Prayer will give you strength; when you wait on the Lord in prayer, He will renew your strength (Isaiah 40:31).
b. I pray, LORD God of heaven: Humility begins by simply understanding there is a God enthroned in the heavens, and I am not Him! Nehemiah recognizes exactly who God is: LORD God of heaven… great and awesome God… who keep Your covenant… and mercy… with those You love.
c. Please let Your ear be attentive: Humility also understands my complete dependence on God. When Nehemiah desperately asked God to hear the prayer of Your servant (let Your ear be attentive… Your eyes open), it reflected his complete dependence on the LORD. Only God could help, and if God would only hear, Nehemiah knew He would help.
i. God will allow you to be fruitless to expose your need for total dependence.
d. Confess the sins… which we have sinned against You. Both my father’s house and I have sinned: Humility will also confess sin openly. Nehemiah plainly and simply confessed sin, without any attempt at excusing the sin.
i. We must always avoid excusing ourselves in the confession of our sin. May we never say, “Lord, if I sinned” or “Lord, I’m sorry, but You know how hard it was” or other such nonsense. We can find great freedom in open, honest confession, without any attempt at excuse or wondering “if” I sinned or not.
e. Both my father’s house and I have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against You: Humility identifies with the needy. Obviously, Nehemiah was a godly man; but he openly and passionately put himself with his father’s house, and prayed by using “we” instead of “they.”
i. “You never lighten the load unless first you have felt the pressure in your own soul. You are never used of God to bring blessing until God has opened your eyes and made you see things as they are.” (Redpath).
2. (8-10) Nehemiah comes to God looking to God’s promises.
“Remember, I pray, the word that You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations; but if you return to Me, and keep My commandments and do them, though some of you were cast out to the farthest part of the heavens, yet I will gather them from there, and bring them to the place which I have chosen as a dwelling for My name.’ Now these are Your servants and Your people, whom You have redeemed by Your great power, and by Your strong hand.”
a. Remember: This is a powerful way to come to God, asking Him to remember His promises. Nehemiah said, “LORD, You made a promise to Moses and this nation, I ask you now to make good on it.” Nehemiah quoted from both Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 30.
i. This, no doubt, is the secret to great power in prayer: to plead the promises of God. We may be a bit annoyed when one of our children comes to us saying “Daddy, you promised”; but our Father in heaven delights in it – and often demands it before prayer becomes effective.
ii. In Psalm 81:10 God says to His people, Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it. God will not open His storehouse until we open our mouths in asking Him to perform His promises.
b. If you return to Me, and keep My commandments and do them: Nehemiah quoted a conditional promise. The condition was returning to God and keeping His commandments. He really couldn’t know if the nation was keeping the commandments, but he knew that he was keeping them, and because he had identified himself with the nation in their sin the nation could also identify itself with Nehemiah in his godly fulfillment of these conditions.
3. (11) Nehemiah prays with a heart ready to do something.
“O Lord, I pray, please let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant, and to the prayer of Your servants who desire to fear Your name; and let Your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” For I was the king’s cupbearer.
a. Grant him mercy in the sight of this man: Nehemiah concluded by asking God to bless him when he would soon speak to the king of Persia about the matter. Nehemiah was going to do something about the sorry state of Jerusalem’s walls and people, and he knows without God’s intervention, he can do nothing.
b. Let Your servant prosper this day: This is a prayer of a man of action, not a sideline critic. Nehemiah does not pray “God, make it all better” or “God, get someone else moving on this problem.” Instead, his prayer is “God, use me to make it better.”
i. “Recognition of need must be followed by earnest, persistent waiting upon God until the overwhelming sense of world need becomes a specific burden in my soul for one particular piece of work which God would have me do.” (Redpath)
ii. “Laying the matter to heart, he did not begin to speak with other people about what they would do, nor did he draw up a wonderful scheme about what might be done if so many thousand people joined in the enterprise; but it occurred to him that he would do something himself.” (Spurgeon)