In my last post, I started talking about Nehemiah, one of the great leaders of the Bible, who managed to get walls built around Jerusalem in a scant 52 days. If you read the post, you will remember that Nehemiah was moved to action by his love for his fellow Israelites and his profound heartache when he learned of their sufferings. When Nehemiah heard what was going on with his people, he knew he had to do something. He wasn’t just going to sit on the couch and feel bad. He was inspired to act and to act immediately. But before he did anything, before he rallied the people, or layered the first brick in that wall, he did one very important thing which would ensure his success. What did Nehemiah do before he launched into action?…Nehemiah prayed. Listen to this:
For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. Nehemiah 5 Then I said: “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, 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 father’s family, have committed against you. 7 We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses. 8 Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, 9 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.’ 10 They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. 11 Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant. My challenge to you 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.” I was cupbearer to the king. Nehemiah 1:4-11
How to Pray
There is a lot in this prayer of Nehemiah that gives us insight into what prayer is all about and that we should pay attention to because let’s be honest, there are times when we feel like we aren’t heard by God. We pray and pray and pray and hear nothing but crickets. I was researching this message last week and read this opinion on prayer:
“I’ve prayed for sooooo many things and never heard from God on it, so I know its like He’s ignoring me. When I pray I feel like I’m talking to myself…..It’s like a BIG joke, God sees me, knows I’m here, but yet He won’t answer me. Jobs, Health, finances, a mate; I prayed for it all and NOTHING NOTHING NOTHING yet everyone around me gets blessed and I watch it happen. I’m going through MAJOR DEPRESSION and God still won’t help me. I’m trying to get over the hurt of it all and just trying to learn how to cope because I know things will NEVER change for me, and I won’t be stupid enough to believe it ever will.”
Let’s be honest for a second. Have you been there? I’ve been there. I’ve never had enough guts to say it that boldly, but I’ve felt like I was praying to a little god that didn’t seem to care. How do we keep that from happening? Nehemiah gives us a couple of ways to make sure our prayers are heard.
Pray to the Right God
First he says this:
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 Nehemiah 1:5
On first glance at these verses it looks like Nehemiah is trying to schmooze God. “Hey God, great and awesome, give me what I want.” Sounds a lot like “Hey Dad, nice shirt. Can I have some money?” Let me explain what’s going on here. What Nehemiah is doing is something that we all need to do when we pray. We need to make sure we are praying to the right god.
I’m not saying, make sure you don’t pray to Mohammed or Buddha, I’m saying that you need to make sure when you pray that you go into it with an accurate view of God.
I have talked to so many people who pray to the wrong God. This is their God. Their God is this little god who has created an exhaustive to-do list of all the do’s and don’ts in life. That god says, “Make sure you do this and that or you’ll be in trouble.” Their god is a nagging god.
Others pray to a god that wants to keep us feeling guilty for our past mistakes. That god says, “Remember that person you hurt? Don’t you feel bad that you just started coming to church?” Their god is a guilty god.
Nehemiah is not praying to that god. He’s praying to a God that is great and awesome. A God that keeps his promises. We need to remember when we pray to keep our perspective right and the way do this is by saying it like it is, by describing all the characteristics our good, powerful and loving God has that we want to invoke. When Jesus taught us to pray he started the same way: “Our God who is in heaven, hallowed be your name.” “Hallowed” means to acknowledge God for who he is.
If you want to be heard, you need to make sure you are praying to the right God. The almighty God. The God who is great and awesome and keeps his promises.
Let’s look at another phrase that gives us some insight on how to get God to listen to us.
Understand the Importance of Confession
I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. Nehemiah 1:6
Let me help you understand what confession is. It can feel like God wants us to come to him groveling and begging. That’s not exactly what’s going on here. Let me illustrate what is happening. Stay with me now:
If I showed up at home next week and my wife had cooked a meal for us and she had slightly burned the meal. What would happen if I walked in and said, “Looks pretty good, for a burnt offering. You know, you should ask my mom how to cook.” How do you think that would go over? If I made that comment, let me ask you, what would the rest of that night look like? How would any other conversations that night go? Very badly.
This goes for all relationships. What would happen to your relationship if you said to your boyfriend, “I really miss my ex”?
What if you said to your girlfriend, “Have you gained weight?”
What if you said to your parent, “You’ve really gotten old”?
When these kinds of situations happen in relationships, and they do all the time, the only way to get that relationship back is to say “I’m sorry. That was a dumb thing to say. Will you forgive me?”
That relationship is going to need repair for it to go on. That’s confession. Confession is simply getting the relationship back in order. Let me tell you something about God: He’s always ready to repair the relationship. He’s always willing to accept you back. But it starts with confession. Just like any relationship, it starts with I’m sorry.
When we pray we need to start by getting the relationship back. Nehemiah started it by saying I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. When you pray that, forgiveness always comes and the relationship is restored.
Ask for What You Really Want
When we identify who God is and get that relationship back on track then we can ask God for what we want. Nehemiah put it like this:
Let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you. Nehemiah 1:6
In other words: “Give your servant success today by granting him favor in your presence.”
Once we’ve identified God and confessed we can ask God for what we really want. Let me say this as well. Over the years I’ve identified good prayers and better prayers.
Good Prayers vs. Better Prayers
Good prayers sound like this: God I need. God this is what I want.
- God can you help cover our bills.
- God can you heal my kid.
- God can you make this test result come out in my favor.
- God can you keep this trip to the mechanic under $100.
Those are good prayers because God wants to hear what we need. He tells us to ask him for anything. But you need to understand, he’s a loving father and he won’t give us things that will hurt us. He’ll also make us wait because he knows that growth and maturity are in the waiting.
Over the years I’ve learned to pray those prayers but also to pray better prayers. They sound like this.
- God help me to be patient in this situation.
- God help me to trust you even though this is hard.
- God help me to choose a good attitude through this struggle.
- God use this situation in my life to help me help other people.
[bctt tweet=”Pray Better Prayers” username=”canyon_springs”]
Those prayers are better because they are at the heart of God. His goal for us is not to make everything easier. What He wants for us is for us to grow; to make us more mature; to put us through difficulties so that we can learn and help other people who will walk that same road. His goal is to use us to make a difference in the world.
Nehemiah finally got around to asking his big prayer. He’s going to go before the king to ask for his help in rebuilding the wall. And God would answer it. Because he acknowledged God. He got his relationship right. And what he asked for wasn’t about him. He wanted to make a difference in the world.
This series is called “Love Does” because love doesn’t just sit around passively receiving. Love takes action, love makes a difference in the world. But remember the first thing love does, before love takes action… love prays. Let’s all make time today to say those big, better prayers. Let’s pray that God will find a way to use us to make the world a better place because that’s what love does.