Chapter 1:4-11 (ESV) - 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. And I said, “O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father's house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’ They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”
Now I was cupbearer to the king.
Question to consider: Why did Nehemiah fast along with his prayer?
I often see people post something to the effect of, “I believe in the power of prayer.” I hope what they are really saying is that they believe that our heavenly father listens to our prayers and petitions and will respond according to His good and gracious will and not that our words have some kind of creative force or power behind them. In prayer, we connect with God so that our will becomes aligned with His and not the other way around.
Nehemiah knew that in himself, he had no power to affect the problems going on in Jerusalem, but he also knew that God acts according to His word, and so he trusted in God’s word given to Moses in Leviticus 26:40-42, “But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers in their treachery that they committed against me, and also in walking contrary to me, so that I walked contrary to them and brought them into the land of their enemies—if then their uncircumcised heart is humbled and they make amends for their iniquity, then I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and I will remember my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land.”
By mourning and fasting, Nehemiah was acting in a way that demonstrated his sincere repentance on behalf of all of Israel, and his appeal to God to remember His word given to Moses was a summary of the passage I quoted above. Obviously God does not forget His word and promises even though we are prone to do just that. Nehemiah’s prayer was intended to align himself with and have faith in God’s words and mercy. As the cupbearer to the king, Nehemiah would be a willing instrument of God to intercede for the people of Israel with king Artaxerxes.
It is good to come before God in fervent prayer regardless of whether we face a time of significant sorrow or pain. We make our petitions known to God as a dear child petitions their loving father. However, unlike children, we should understand that if God’s plan is different from our own, it is because He has a much better one regardless of whether we can see or understand it. What is described as the “peace of God which passes all understanding” comes by way of faith in the goodness of God and being able to comfortably lay our troubles at His feet.
Dear heavenly father, please give us a right perspective on prayer as it relates to Your goodness and mercy. Help us to cast all of our anxiety on You and take comfort in the fact that You will never leave us nor forsake us and will work out all things for good. Amen.