Nothing of eternal significance happens apart from God. Jesus said it clearly in John 15:5 – “Apart from me you can do nothing.” There is simply no substitute for a close relationship with God. The will of God can only be accomplished through the spiritual practice of prayer. Prayer is by no means a passive activity, but an active engagement with the God of the universe. If done well, prayer takes time, a great deal of effort, and a keen sense of priority. It is quite possible that biblical praying can be the most challenging, exhausting, laborious, and rewarding thing we do.
Through prayer we can become filled with the Holy Spirit, gain wisdom to make godly decisions, and access spiritual power that can melt the hardest of hearts and change the minds of the most stubborn of people. In prayer we have the privilege of expressing our concerns and needs, as well as having God’s agenda revealed to us for what to do. What is more, our personal and corporate holiness is in direct proportion to the great task of prayer.
When faced with the reality that Jerusalem was in trouble, Nehemiah prayed (Nehemiah 1). In prayer he owned the problems that Jerusalem faced of having its walls broken down and its people unprotected. Nehemiah, along with Ezra the priest and scribe, sought the spiritual health as well as the physical well-being of the Israelites left in the land after being conquered by the Babylonians. Nehemiah owned Israel’s problems through a prayer that emphasized and reminded God of his covenant with his people; he confessed the sins by which Israel violated that covenant; and held onto the promise that God would lift the curse on the city if the people would repent.
Nehemiah had a compassionate heart that did not ignore what was going on in his native land, but wept, mourned, and fasted and prayed. He had a deep concern for and was profoundly disturbed by the news that Jerusalem was in trouble. Rather than being preoccupied with himself, or turning his back on what was going on and focusing on his own new life in Babylon, he sought to do something about the security and spiritual health of his people.
In his prayer to God, Nehemiah was genuine, persistent, confident, humble, and submissive to God. He did not distance himself from the sins of the people, but clearly identified with them through a prayer of confession. That confession was intense, honest, real, and urgent. Sin always needs to be identified, acknowledged, and pardoned. If it isn’t, there is no hope for things to be different. It only makes sense for the contemporary church to recover and practice having a prayer of confession in each and every worship service. Sin is not just personal and individual; sin resides in the community, and so requires a corporate confession and repentance.
There is a season for everything. Deer season may come and go, but it is always open season for prayer. And Nehemiah’s prayer is a solid biblical model for us to emulate. The church will always have her challenges and problems to face. Like Nehemiah, let’s own those challenges through prayer that is biblically focused, compassionately offered, and spiritually curious to know and do God’s agenda for our lives and our churches.
Throughout this Advent season, let’s have a spirit of prayer to God in everything we say and do – prayerful spirits that above all seeks God’s will, and doing that will through God’s love as we anticipate the coming of our Savior.