When the tragic events of September 11, 2001, unfolded, they stunned an unprepared nation as centers of business and the military were attacked with great loss of life. In response, if only for a time, that nation dropped to its knees in prayer. Crisis prompts prayer. In Nehemiah chapter one, Nehemiah (cupbearer to the king of Persia) is visited by his brother Hanani, who has just returned from Jerusalem. At this point Nehemiah is a civil servant. Later in the book, he will assume a more political role. In response to a decree by a previous ruler, many Jewish exiles had returned to their nation’s homeland. They had rebuilt the temple of God in Jerusalem. Now Nehemiah’s brother reveals that the wall of Jerusalem remains broken down.
Nehemiah weeps when he hears this news No walls meant no security for the city, so he weeps, fasts, and prays. His prayer is a call for fire, a request for God to rescue his endangered people. Nehemiah cites the attributes and character of God, both of which require him to act on behalf of his people. Yahweh (the Lord) is “God of Heaven, the great and awesome God.” He “keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commands.” God has a relationship with the people of Judah: They are his servants and his people, “whom he redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand” (Neh. 1:10). Nehemiah confesses national, family, and personal sin. He and his people have acted wickedly. They have not obeyed God’s commands. Nehemiah has two requests, two specific calls for fire: Remember your promise to return your people if they obey and give your servant success with the king.
This call for God to remember occurs here first, but Nehemiah will pray these words again. A prayer for God to remember asks God to act in a manner consistent with his values and previous covenant actions. This prayer asks God to keep his word and to act in harmony with his previously revealed character and values. Subsequent prayers by Nehemiah will ask God to remember Nehemiah’s service on behalf of God’s people.
Before one can pray a prayer like this one, he or she must know the history of God’s dealings with humanity and what values God has advocated. Listening to God by studying the Bible paves the way for success in talking to God.
When Nehemiah calls for fire in Nehemiah chapter one, he does not request destruction of Judah’s enemies or the miraculous restoration of Jerusalem’s walls. He calls for non-lethal fires: Forgiveness of his people and himself, and success when speaks to the king. Nehemiah takes responsibility in this prayer for what must be done. He does not cry for help and then sit down to await rescue.
What prayer pointers do we gain from this prayer by Nehemiah?
– Study the Scriptures; we will learn God’s character and values. When we learn how God has acted in the past, it helps us to hear him more clearly. Pray with awareness of what God has done already.
– Align with God: Confess disobedience and adopt God’s values.
– Take responsibility and seize the initiative for doing God’s will. Pray with purpose and follow up with action.