Who knew we could learn powerful lessons about faith, prayer, and purpose from a professional wine drinker? That’s right, this man tasted merlots, zinfandels, and pinot grigio to ensure the king’s wine was not poisoned. The man’s name happened to be Nehemiah and his royal title was “cupbearer.” But he was more than just a professional wine drinker, there are foundational lessons we can glean from Nehemiah’s Prayer when he raced against time to get the walls to Jerusalem rebuilt.
Who Was Nehemiah and Why Was He Important?
The story begins when Nehemiah is likely on a lunch break. He is having a conversation with his fellow Jewish friends when their beloved city Jerusalem comes up in the conversation. When Nehemiah heard that the walls of Jerusalem were still broken down after his people had begun returning to the city and after their beloved temple was rebuilt, he “sat down and wept,” fasting and praying before God (Neh. 1:4).
The condition of Jerusalem’s walls was a result of the Babylonians’ destruction of the city in 587 BC due to King Nebuchadnezzar II. The king laid siege to Jerusalem (including the temple) in the summer of 587 or 586 BC because he feared that the Egyptians would cut off his trade routes to the eastern Mediterranean region, so he invaded and captured and invaded the city of Jerusalem to block them.
God allowed this to happen because His people had once again turned their backs on Him (See Jeremiah 36:31; Ezekiel 8-9; 22-23; Nehemiah 1:13; 3:17). God’s purpose behind the attack was to create a remnant of people who would eventually return and be faithful (Isaiah 10:21). This remnant of Jewish people had returned to Jerusalem under the leadership of Zerubbabel and Ezra.
The exiles had rebuilt the temple, but they were now in need of protection. The temple had been rebuilt but the walls were still in disrepair which left the city people defenseless against enemies. This meant anyone or anything could easily enter and cause “great trouble,” to the people. Rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem was an important sign to the enemies of God’s people.
Nehemiah even said, “The God of heaven will give us success. We, his servants, will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it” (Nehemiah 2:20). Later after the walls were built Nehemiah wrote, “When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God” (Nehemiah 6:16).
Back to Nehemiah, after he had heard his beloved city was still vulnerable, he was in distress, but he didn’t just complain about it. He was a man of action. He saw a problem and swiftly dealt with it. He went to the king and asked for permission to not only take an extended vacation from his job in the King’s court, but also asked for help rebuilding the walls.
What Is Nehemiah’s Prayer and Where Is it Found in the Bible? (Nehemiah 1:4-11)
The book of Nehemiah is found in the Old Testament, nestled between Ezra and Esther. Even though it’s written in first person, many scholars believe Ezra may have written the book. However, Nehemiah’s life provides an overview of how God uses people no matter their occupation. God doesn’t look for ability, He looks for availability. And Nehemiah was more than available—he was ready to act. Under God’s direction, he led the spiritual revival of the people, rebuilt the wall, and directed the restoration of the Jews to their homeland while rebuilding their faith in God.
Before Nehemiah becomes a man of action, he reveals he is a man of God. He is a man of prayer. He is a man with God’s purpose, provision, and persistence. In fact, the ‘Prayer of Nehemiah’ is the first introduction we have to Nehemiah and the entire story of the walls being rebuilt. He prays fervently and continually. His fasting and praying trigger changes. Through the process of restoring and dedicating the wall, we glean four lessons from Nehemiah’s Prayer:
1. Prayed and Petitioned God in His Purpose
“When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.” (Nehemiah 1:4)
“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.” (Nehemiah 1:11)
He begins his prayer after days of fasting and mourning. He mourned how his people had turned their backs on God. He mourned how nothing was right. He mourned the lack of dignity God’s people had. He mourned his sins. All the while he was talking to God. He was pouring out his heart and soul to God. Before we talk any great action—our job is to talk to God. Not only on any great action or decision, but Nehemiah’s opening words tell us that he walked and talked with God as if God was a friend.
Nehemiah’s relationship with God teaches us we ought to walk and talk with God not just in the little things, but the big things too. God wants us to bring our worries, anxiety, dreams, and hopes to Him. It’s only then that God can reveal how He wants to purpose us or direct us. Rob Kerby writes, “Prayer helps us to find strength for today and hope for our future. We should actively pray and trust in its power to change our circumstances for good. Your faith life directly correlates to the quality of your prayer life. Prayer has the power to change not only the people and things around you.”
Because Nehemiah realized the power of prayer, he ends his prayer by praising God and petitioning for the success of his plans if it’s in God’s will. He reminds himself and God that he is God’s servant. Our hearts should always remain humble in the truth that God is God and we are His servants.
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2. Praising Him As the LORD God of Heaven, the Great and Awesome God
“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)
Next, Nehemiah remembers who he is and who God is. He praises God. Throughout the race to rebuild the wall, we find Nehemiah prayed and praised God continually. When he prayed, he acknowledged he was standing before our mighty, powerful, and awesome God who deserves our deepest reverence and respect.
3. Penitent for His People
“I said, “O Lord God of heaven, the great God Who is honored with fear, Who keeps the agreement and loving-kindness for those who love Him and keep His Laws, listen to me and let Your eyes be open. Hear the prayer of Your servant which I now pray to You day and night for the sons of Israel Your servants, telling the sins of the sons of Israel which we have sinned against You. I and my father’s house have sinned. We have sinned in our actions against You. We have not kept the Laws which You gave to Your servant Moses. Remember what You told Your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are not faithful, I will make you go different places in other nations. But if you return to Me and keep My Laws and obey them, I will gather you and bring you to the place where I have chosen for My name to be. I will do this even if you have been spread out to the farthest part of the heavens.’ They are Your servants and Your people whom You have made free by Your great power and strong hand.” (Nehemiah 1:5-10)
Not only did Nehemiah approach God with a humble heart, he approached the throne of God with a penitent heart. He asked for forgiveness of his sins, the sins of his father, and the sins of Israel. Nehemiah knew God was holy and God could not be in the presence of sin. He also knew God’s word by heart! As he prayed, he reminded God of the words God had spoken to Moses several generations before.
4. Persistent in His Purpose
“When I heard this, I sat down and cried and was filled with sorrow for days. I did not eat, and I prayed to the God of heaven.” (Nehemiah 1:4)
“listen to me and let Your eyes be open. Hear the prayer of Your servant which I now pray to You day and night for the sons of Israel Your servants, telling the sins of the sons of Israel which we have sinned against You.” (Nehemiah 1:6)
“O Lord, hear the prayer of Your servant and the prayer of Your servants who are happy to fear Your name.” (Nehemiah 1:11)
Nehemiah was a prayer warrior. He prayed, repented, wept, fasted, and sought God’s help, strength, purpose, and power for four months. From the time he received the report about the walls being in ruin until the completion of the walls—he relied on God every step of the way.
God reveals through Nehemiah’s persistence in prayer that God is eager to partner with us in our purpose and plans that align with His will. God is eager to bless us through the power of prayer. So, while Nehemiah persistently prayed, God was working with him and through him. As Christ-followers, we must approach the throne with the mindset we are reporting for duty when we pray because God wants to use our circumstances, passion, and the things that burden our heart for His purpose. We need to be ready for God’s call and act.
How Can We Apply the Lessons from Nehemiah’s Prayer to Our Own Lives?
Nehemiah built the walls in 55 days while opposing political opposition and inner turmoil. Later he negotiated peace among the Jews over Persian taxes and became Governor for a short time. The book of Nehemiah shows us the kind of significant impact one individual can have on a nation. It also shows us how we are to posture ourselves prayer, praise, and persistence when we lean into God’s purpose for our lives. Even though this narrative happened thousands of years ago, it still applies today. Nehemiah served in secular offices and used his position to rebuild a city. He used his leadership skills and his faith in God to restore Jewish order, provide stability for the people and bring restored their focus on their mighty God.
It doesn’t matter if you are a factory worker, a mom, a CEO, or an entrepreneur—God uses all kinds of people in all kinds of places to change the culture, revive hearts, and build His Kingdom. God has placed you where you are for a purpose. God wants us to remember: “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Colossians 3:17). Are you ready to see the power of God work in and through you? Start praying!
Written by: Heather Riggleman
Heather Riggleman is an award-winning journalist and a regular contributor for Crosswalk. She calls Nebraska home with her three kids and a husband of 22 years. She believes Jazzercise, Jesus, and tacos can fix anything and not necessarily in that order! She is author of I Call Him By Name Bible Study, the Bold Truths Prayer Journal, Mama Needs a Time Out, and a contributor to several books. You can find her at www.heatherriggleman.com or on Facebook.
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