Lessons from Nehemiah

by Eric Ryan, Pastor of Leadership Development
I saw a joke on social media this week that was charging us to check on our friends, because in a matter of weeks, they have been pandemic experts, economic experts, and civil rights experts, and have not gotten a day off in a long time. I definitely laughed. Isn’t it true that for most of us in 2020, our gut reaction to current events is to comment? Why do we approach every subject as if we are an expert? 

Whenever I reflect on my natural response to speak, I often am reminded of Nehemiah. Maybe you’ll remember the series Pastor David preached his first year as senior pastor, maybe not, but one of the most powerful lessons we learned from Nehemiah came in the fourth verse. Nehemiah hears from some travelers that the walls are down, and the gates are “destroyed by fire” (sounds eerily similar to news here lately). And how does he respond?

 “As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” Nehemiah 1:4

How long did he pray? Based on the time given in the first verse, and the time given when he approached Xerxes, most say it was at least 40 days. Here’s what’s so odd to me about his disciplined response. There’s strong reason to believe Nehemiah was the best person in the entire kingdom to speak into what was happening in Jerusalem. He was cupbearer to the king,  had the king’s trust, and most likely his ear (many cupbearers were also chief of staff-types to kings). Why didn’t he just take inventory of his skills and positions and go?

We see as the book goes on that Nehemiah was entirely dependent upon the Lord to protect his people. We also see from his prayer that he had a deep conviction around the covenants of God and His character. 

Here are a few observations on what Nehemiah seems to have focused on in his 40 days of prayer:

  1. God’s covenantal love (v. 5) - He appealed to God’s love, but specifically his love that is rooted in His character and not the behavior of His people. He approached boldly because he knew God still loved them despite what they saw going on. 

  1. Corporate and personal sin (v. 6-7)- From everything we see in Nehemiah, he was an extremely faithful man. He didn’t just pray about his people’s sin, he confessed his own, and his household’s sin: he saw himself as complicit. This is not a prayer like the one Jesus describes in Luke 18 when the pharisee pointed to everyone’s sin and prayed that he was grateful to not “be like that.” There are some confessions and deep self-reflection in Nehemiah’s words. 

  1. Recalled God’s promises (v. 8-10)- Nehemiah knew the promises of God, despite his sin and the sin of his people. He recalls them in his prayer, not to remind God, but to bring his “argument.” In court, you don’t mention particular laws to remind the judge that they are there, but rather to make your case and show that it’s built on more than opinion. Nehemiah wasn’t praying according to his own will, but according to God’s will. 

Maybe we would all be wise to apply Nehemiah’s wisdom this week. What would this week look like if you took the time to specifically pray around those three areas of Nehemiah’s prayer? How would you apply it to your prayer life? 
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