“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.”- Nehemiah 1:5-11
I have always had a hard time with being chosen to pray. I don’t mind it, but when it happens I always feel like I need to have some deep ultra-spiritual prayer ( I know that’s dumb, but I know I’m not the only one). I have even been around others who have been chosen to pray and I can sense the awkwardness of their prayers too. Before I go any further, I know it is not right to judge prayers and that is not what I am doing however, I am saying that at times words can seem to be forced and cause unnecessary anxiety when people are called on to pray.
Looking at Nehemiah’s prayer, I would venture to say, he didn’t have this problem. It was possibly because he had the priority of prayer right in his mind. I want to break down his prayer to possibly help us think or rethink how we pray in groups or even alone at a random time.
1) Raise God up first- Nehemiah saw the need and knew the need to lift God up at the very beginning of his prayer. As the story is being written Nehemiah had to make the point that God is ultimately the One who needs to be exalted prior to seeking or asking for whatever we want or need. Jesus demonstrated this very thing in His example of praying in the Lord’s Prayer “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” (Matt. 6:9, NIV) Let us always remember to Whom we are praying before we express why we are praying.
2) Confess- As Nehemiah went through his prayer he acknowledged the brokenness of man. He didn’t exclude himself from the situation and included his whole family in the picture. We need to confess, maybe not all of our individual sins (unless of course you feel like you need to share about cheating on a homework assignment in 7th grade), but the sins of man are on all of us due to the fall. Be willing to take ownership of the issues our people face.
3) Remind- God doesn’t need to be reminded of His words, but I am sure He likes it when we are reminded. We need to remind ourselves of His promises and rest in those. If He promised to be with us, well, that means He will be. If He promised everlasting life, well, live long and prosper my friends. It’s the Word of God and it will never return void.
4) ASK- Finally, this is the point we have all been waiting for. We can finally ask the question we have been holding back on the entire time. However, look at the amount of words Nehemiah put into his asking. It doesn’t take much to ask God for what we need (spoiler alert: He already knows). There may be times where we should ask for longer than a couple sentences, but be aware that Jesus warned against that too. Try to not to add filler.
We have open access to God. He wants us to pray to Him. We may know specifically what we are seeking and that allows for possibly a different style of praying. Nehemiah’s style gives some guidance for those times when we may not know exactly how to pray. Just remember, to pray with the intent of telling God what we want can cause us to miss God's intent of sharing what He wants from us. Focus on the One we are praying to as we know He is focused on us.