Life: Return to Prayer

• The Bible Studies for Life lesson for Aug. 2 focuses on Revelation 4:1-11.

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• The Bible Studies for Life lesson for Aug. 2 focuses on Revelation 4:1-11.

 I keep a prayer journal in a desk drawer. At first, I used it primarily to write down reminders of when I told people I would pray for them during a phone call, email conversation or meeting during work hours. Inevitably, those petitions brought to mind other thoughts, resulting in some entries being several pages long.

Occasionally, I look back through my journal just to remind myself of the unexpected ways God has answered my prayers over the years. Some of my petitions to God are answered quickly; some continue to have no further notation of being “answered,” even though the entries are several years old. I may wait two or three months before entering another thought or request in my journal. My prayer journal is evidence of God’s faithfulness, even when I am not as faithful in prayer as I would like to be. 

Nehemiah was faithful in prayer

The prophet Nehemiah was faithful in prayer. He was a Jew who lived in exile in the city of Susa in Persia (now Iran). He must have been well respected in his new country, because he was a cupbearer to Artaxerxes, the king of Persia.  When he heard the wall of Jerusalem had collapsed and the gates were burned, Nehemiah wept for his home and his people. Then, he “fasted and prayed before the God of heaven” for several days (Nehemiah 1:4). 

Nehemiah’s prayer contains several crucial elements. First, he acknowledged the greatness of God and his faithfulness to keep his “covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments” (v. 5). Next, Nehemiah asked God to listen to his petitions on behalf of the Israelites. Then, he confessed his own personal sin, the sins of his ancestors and those of the nation of Israel. He admitted they had “acted very wickedly” toward God, and they had not kept the law of Moses. Finally, Nehemiah asked God to remember his promise to redeem the Israelites and restore them to their Promised Land if they would return to him in obedience. Nehemiah ended his prayer with a request: He asked God to give him favor with King Artaxerxes. 

Sometime later, Nehemiah entered the king’s presence “at the hour for serving wine” (Nehemiah 2:1). Artaxerxes noticed Nehemiah was distressed and asked him what he wanted. “Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the King, ‘If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it’” (v. 5). The Message describes the nature of Nehemiah’s prayer as “praying under [his] breath.” This is quite a different kind of prayer than the more formal one recorded in the first chapter of Nehemiah. 

God heard both prayers—the more structured prayer of praise, confession and petition, as well as the quick breath of a prayer uttered before speaking to the king. “The generous hand of my God was with me,” Nehemiah acknowledges (v. 8).  The king gave Nehemiah the official correspondence he needed to travel to Judah and obtain supplies needed to begin rebuilding the wall surrounding Jerusalem. 

‘Pray continually’

Nehemiah seems to personify the Apostle Paul’s admonition in Thessalonians 5:17: to “pray continually.” The moment he heard about the disrepair of the walls of Jerusalem, he turned to God, weeping in his distress. Later, as he struggled to explain his depression to the king, he whispered a few words to God, requesting the wisdom to give a proper response. Nehemiah knew his role in restoring the city could not progress without the preparation of prayer. In other words, he had to stop and pray before he could move forward. Without prayer, Nehemiah would not have had the proper words or posture of spirit that persuaded the king to grant his request.

My pastor during my teenage years told about a conversation he had with his wife. Evidently, he was feeling a bit hopeless about a difficult situation. After listening to his expressions of anxiety and fear, his wife said simply, “And then there’s God.” She knew the only way the situation would improve was through total dependence on God. Her simple phrase reminded her husband we never are without hope, even when protective walls in our lives have crumbled. Rather than wringing our hands in despair, we can turn to God, even in our frustration, anger or tears. Whether our need for prayer about a particular situation lasts days, years or just a few brief moments, we know he hears us and will answer according to his will and divine purpose.    


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