In Nehemiah 1:5-11, Nehemiah cries out this prayer to 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, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.
“Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.”
“They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.”
In the verses immediately prior to his prayer, Nehemiah is found in a distraught state of weeping and fasting over the news of the destruction to Jerusalem’s walls and gates (Nehemiah 1:3,4). One might find Nehemiah’s reaction a bit extreme, but it is because one does not understand the significance of the city of Jerusalem or the walls of the city in ancient times. For Nehemiah, as long as Jerusalem lay waste, God was being dishonored, it was the appointed place where the reality of God’s presence could be experienced in love and mercy by those who sought him. Also, in ancient times a city’s walls were arguably just as important, if not more than, its armies. Without walls, a city would be at the mercy of whatever band of marauders came through. It could not control itself. Nehemiah was a man who was passionate for the glory of God and the welfare of his fellow Jews. Nehemiah in a clear state of concern is moved and immediately turns to prayer, and in doing so reveals to us what every believer’s prayer life must be rooted in.
Prayer Must be Rooted in the Knowledge of God’s Power
Nehemiah’s prayer clearly reflects his confidence in God’s power not only to hear his prayer, but also to answer it. God is referred to as the “God of Heaven,” and the “great and awesome God.” Nehemiah clearly sees God as the object of deepest faith, and the greatness and awesomeness because to the totality of God’s character and his power. Nehemiah’s mentioning of the Exodus by quoting Deuteronomy 9:29 reveals his confidence that God is more than powerful enough to redeem his people because he has already proven it. Believers today, like Nehemiah, need to pray with the assurance that God is more than powerful to answer every prayer that is in line with His purposes.
Prayer Must be Rooted in the Knowledge of God’s Purposes
God knows all things. He knows how He is guiding and shaping all things according to His purposes, according to His plan. As believers, is our prayer life shaped more by our preferences, or more by God’s purposes? Nehemiah knew that God not had only had a purpose for His people, but also for Jerusalem. Nehemiah knew that God had chosen the Jews and the city of Jerusalem to be a light that testified of His glory to the world (Neh. 1:9; Gen. 12:3). Due to his knowledge of God’s purposes for His people, Nehemiah was able to structure his prayer in line with the revealed will of God. Believers should constantly seek to align their prayer life with the will and purposes of God. Prayer does not change God, but it does change us by aligning us to God’s purpose and will.
Prayer Must be Rooted in the Knowledge of God’s Promises
The primary thing that shaped Nehemiah’s prayer was his knowledge of the promises of God found within the Word of God. The vast majority of Nehemiah’s prayer is merely requoting the promises of the Mosaic Covenant found throughout the book of Deuteronomy. Nehemiah is practically quoting Scripture back to God. Nehemiah is not reminding God as if God had forgotten His promises, rather, Nehemiah is reminding himself of the promises of God. Believers must allow their prayer to be shaped by the promises of God found within in the Word of God. Such a practice is vital in times of great trial, for it will bring comfort for the believer knowing “that all things are working for their good” (Romans 8:28). Even more for the contemporary believer must they realize that all of God’s promises find their yes in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20).