- Neh. 1:1-3:32
Nehemiah was the cupbearer for Artaxerxes, king of Persia. Although it might not sound important, the king's cupbearer was one of his most trusted servants. Many kings were killed by someone mixing poison in their drinks, so the cupbearer would drink from the king's cup prior to the king in order to prevent the king's death from poisoning. In 445-444 B.C., one of Nehemiah's brothers named Hanani returned from Jerusalem to the Persian palace in Susa. Nehemiah asked Hanani how things were going with the remnant of Jews who had returned to Judea. Hanani responded that things were not well with them and that the city's walls and gates were still in ruin.
When Nehemiah heard this news he sat down and wept for many days, fasted and prayed to GOD. Nehemiah prayed GOD's word. You see, GOD had said in the Law of Moses that if the Israelites rebelled against Him, they would be scattered to foreign nations, but when they prayed for mercy and returned to GOD, He would gather them from the four corners of the earth back to Jerusalem. Nehemiah then purposed in his heart to return to Jerusalem and he asked GOD to bless his efforts to talk with Artaxerxes about his desire.
Nehemiah went before the king in his usual cupbearer role, but his face was clear that he was very sad. Artaxerxes asked Nehemiah what was wrong, for Nehemiah had never been sad in the king's presence before. (If the king were displeased with one of his servants, he could easily have them killed instantly, therefore it was important that it not appear that Nehemiah was unhappy to have his current job or to bring the king down with his sadness.)
In that moment, Nehemiah prayed to GOD and then told the king of his desire to return home to Jerusalem. Artaxerxes agreed to allow Nehemiah to temporarily return home and complete the project of rebuilding Jerusalem's walls and gates. Artaxerxes also agreed to provide soldiers to escort Nehemiah and letters to the governors of the region instructing them to comply and assist with Nehemiah's efforts. When Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem, he rode around the city on a horse at night to see the state of the walls and gates. Nehemiah then inspired the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem to work with him in repairing the wall and its gates.
Let's quickly discuss three important lessons about prayer that we can learn from Nehemiah:
- When we pray according to GOD's will (meaning, according to the Bible) then GOD will always answer as we pray, for that IS His will—He already told us so. This means that it is important that we read the Bible so that we know GOD's will and then we can pray according to it. For example, GOD has revealed that it is His will that every person be saved and that none be lost. Therefore if we have a loved one who is lost spiritually, we should pray for GOD to provide someone (us or someone else) who will share the good news of Jesus with them so that they can be saved.
- When we pray, we must have faith that GOD will answer. Nehemiah prayed for GOD to give him favor before the king, but Nehemiah still had to take the risk of talking to the king about his desire to go to Jerusalem. That took faith. We can ask GOD to bless a certain effort we undertake for the purpose of helping someone, but we still have to trust that He will answer our request.
- Prayer doesn't have to be a long, drawn out formal event. It's just talking with GOD. Nehemiah prayed instantly before he answered Artaxerxes regarding his desire to go to Jerusalem. He didn't bow his head, close his eyes, clasp his hands, remove his turban, get on his knees—none of those things. Why? He was standing before the king doing his job. He prayed in his mind in that moment and GOD answered in that moment. We can and should do the same thing from time to time. Scheduled time for prayer is important, but it's equally important for us to pray in those fleeting moments where we need GOD, or praise GOD, or want to share something with GOD. We need to always be respectful, for sure, but we can talk with GOD without the formal greetings and closings.