EZRA/NEHEIAH, Part 5

Intercessory Prayer, Nehemiah 1:4—11

Prayer is one of the greatest privileges and one of mightiest forces God has given human beings to bring about changes in themselves and consequently in their world. Prayer is one grace your enemy can’t refuse. Through prayer, you can experience breakthroughs in your life you never thought you would see and accomplish the impossible. Through prayer, Elijah stopped the rain for over three years (James 5:17), and Peter was delivered from prison because people were praying (Acts 12:5).

What many Christians don’t understand, or have never been told, is found in Revelation 5:10—

You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God.

Part of our service to God is to make intercession for others. Praying for others or on behalf of others is part of our calling as Christians. Since a lot of Christians don’t know what “intercessory prayer” is like, it can be helpful to study one of the best examples of that kind of prayer: Nehemiah’s. We can imagine that he prayed this great prayer in the secrecy of his own “prayer closet,” yet he recorded it in his memoirs. We are allowed a glimpse into this man’s sincerity and devotedness to God thanks to the Holy Spirit.

Let’s examine Nehemiah’s prayer in all its brilliance. Notice its:

1. Earnestness, verse 4

When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.

The very first thing we notice is that this was NO formal prayer! He did not start out with the clichéd phrases we hear so often:

  • Our loving Heavenly Father…
  • Gracious God in Heaven…
  • Our Father in Heaven…
  • Dear Lord…

No, Nehemiah’s prayer was the result of something stirred up in the depths of his soul. How many of us approach God like that? Do our prayers come from deep inside? Or are our prayers matters of formality? It has been said that God doesn’t answer prayer, He answers desperate prayers! He answers prayers that come from the conviction of our hearts.

What does your prayer-life look like? What your prayer-life looks like shows how much you depend on your ability; the more self-confidence you have, generally speaking, the less you pray. The great Apostle said:

God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are… (1 Corinthians 1:28)

Is that you? Do you consider yourself to be one of the “lowliest things of this world?” If you don’t, your prayers will be cold and lifeless because you will always have a fallback position: depending in yourself. Prayers prayed with that kind of fallback position are a mockery of what real prayer is all about. Just as God loves a cheerful giver, so He loves a whole-hearted prayer.

Here’s another good question: do your prayers frighten the Devil?

What does the Devil say about your life?
Does he know you in Hell like he knows your Christ?
Are you boiling hot?
Or are you cold as ice?

Nehemiah was earnest. He approached God with no pretense. His was a prayer of desperation. He needed it answered because there was not other choice. One or the reasons our prayers so often go unanswered is because they really don’t need to be answered.  So many of us have planned God right out of our lives.

2. Knowledge, verse 5

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…

What a way to begin a prayer. To Nehemiah, these were not mere words. He could pray this way because he knew God. Let’s consider the word “awesome,” which is a much over-used word these days. Whatever you may think it means, it probably doesn’t mean that. In the Hebrew, the word is nora, which comes from the verb yare, which means “to fear” or “to revere.” Nehemiah’s God was a God to be feared. Nehemiah believed in God’s greatness. He believed in God’s love. But Nehemiah also believed that God is “great” and “terrible.”

The “fear of God” is almost a foreign concept today. We approach God with great familiarity. We think we know Him, but we really don’t. We “come boldly into His presence,” which we are commanded to do, yet we don’t do so with fear because we don’t know Him. God is awesome; He is to be feared as much as He is to be loved.

But Nehemiah also believed in God faithfulness and His mercifulness as well. Nehemiah knew exactly what the writer to the Hebrew knew—

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

Do you know God like that? Do you know God that well? These are important questions to know the answers to because if you know God like that, you will ask much of Him and expect much of Him. And God will never come up short. The problem is, so many of us think we know God but the evidence in our lives points to the contrary. Cold prayers. Lifeless devotion. Lackluster faith.

If we knew God as well as Nehemiah did, we’d understand that there is nothing He wouldn’t do for us; no prayer that He wouldn’t answer. God has a “covenant of love” with those who have faith in Him. What a marvelous aspect of our God. Literally, the phrase means that God honors His covenant with His people through thick and thin, no matter what. Is your God like that?

3. Importunity, verse 6

…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 ancestral family, have committed against you.

Importunity is a vital component in prevailing prayer. According to Webster, “importunity” means:

The quality of being importunate; pressing or pertinacious ; solicitation; urgent request; incessant or frequent application; troublesome pertinacity.

If that definition is a little hard to follow, here are some synonyms:

pestering, pressing, plaguing, pressuring, urging, wheedling

It was because of the widow’s persistence that she gained her request. This was the lesson Jesus taught from the parable of the man begging loaves from his friend at midnight—

I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need. (Luke 11:8)

“Shamless audacity!” What a way to describe a prayer! Paul gives advice on praying in one of the shortest verses in the whole Bible—

…pray continually… (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

That word, “continually,” means persistent. Nag God until you get an answer! Keep going to Him and keep asking Him for what you need. Keep it up until you get the answer you need; the answer that is according to God’s will. But don’t give up.

4. Confession, verses 6b, 7

I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my ancestral 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.

Nehemiah did not exclude himself or his family in his confession of sins. Why did he do this? A true sense of the awesomeness of God will reveal the true depths of our sinfulness. Thank God we have been forgiven, but we are still sinners in need of continual forgiveness. When we see Jesus as He really is, we will be like Peter—

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8)

We can be sure Nehemiah wasn’t a bad person. But even the best person is black as sin in the light of God’s presence.

God’s people had “acted wickedly toward God.” That’s a very serious confession, and it is a very common sin among Christians. How do we “act wickedly toward God?” When we say we believe what the Bible says, yet we live in fear and doubt we are acting wickedly toward God. When we ask God for things that we don’t really expect Him to provide, we are acting wickedly toward God. When we make a confession of faith and loyalty to God’s will, but in our hearts we are more concerned about our own personal interests than His, we are acting wickedly toward God..

Most of us approach God in a willy nilly manner when we ought to take the time to prepare our hearts properly. We should take time to make sure there are no hidden sins, sinful habits, or unconfessed sins that need to be dealt with first. We need to ensure that there is nothing between God and us. Spiritual bondage and failure and unanswered prayers are all good indicators that there is “sin in our camp” and that there is a need for self-examination and confession.

5. Faith, verses 8, 9

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.’

Faith lays hold of the Word of God. Notice what the opposite of unfaithfulness is: obedience to God’s commands! You cannot separate faith from obedience. And you cannot obey something other than God’s Word and expect to be taken seriously by God when you pray.

The prayer that is built upon the foundation of God’s Word cannot be ignored by God. In turning to the Lord, look at with Nehemiah did: he reminded God of His own Word. That is something that pleases God greatly.

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. (Romans 10:17)

Why would we quote the Bible when we pray?  There are two good reasons: First, the Word produces faith in the one praying and; second God cannot deny Himself when He finds so much of Himself in the one praying to Him. Nehemiah reminded God of all things God had done for His people. Of course God had not forgotten all those things, but Nehemiah was simply quoting God’s Word back at Him.

That is the audacity of faith! It stares God in the face, saying to Him: “Here are your promises. Here is your redemption. Here is what you have done for your people. If you did all this, then I know you can do this.”

Answered prayer is a matter of belief.

6. Consecration, verse 11

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.

The biggest problem most believers have is that they pray amiss—they don’t pray focused prayers because their lives aren’t focused on God. James 4:3 says this—

When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

If you want God to take your prayers seriously and answer them, you have got to yield yourself to Him and live for His glory.  That’s why Nehemiah referred to himself as a “servant” in his prayer.  There are three kinds of servants in the world today:

  • the slave, who serves out of fear of the master;
  • the employee, who serves for wages—what he can get out of the master;
  • the son, who serves out of love.

It is the obedient son who is devoted to His Heavenly Father who not only gets His Father’s attention, but wins His favor. When we serve God out of love, we serve Him unselfishly and our prayers will be unselfish.  That doesn’t mean we never pray for ourselves; remember, we are talking specifically about intercessory prayer; praying for others.  The most unselfish thing we caate concept of sacrifice that get their prayers answered.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is true worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1—2)

Those who would receive their portion from God must first demonstrate that they deserve it. And that’s not at all hard to do, but apparently it must just hard enough to frustrate so many modern Christians, convincing them that answered prayer is the exception, rather than what it ought be: the norm.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd
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