Greetings in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The king said to me, “What is it you want?” Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, … (Nehemiah 2:4-5)
In late autumn, in the month of Kislev (i.e., November to December), in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes’ reign, Nehemiah was in the citadel of Susa. Hanani, one of his brothers, came to visit him with some other men who had just arrived from Judah. He asked them about the Jews who had returned there from captivity and about how things were going in Jerusalem.
They told him, “Things are not going well for those who returned to the province of Judah. They are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem has been torn down, and the gates have been destroyed by fire.”
When he heard this, he sat down and wept. In fact, for days he mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven:
“O LORD, God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant of unfailing love with those who love him and obey his commands, listen to my prayer! Look down and see me praying night and day for your people Israel. I confess that we have sinned against you. Yes, even my own family and I have sinned! We have sinned terribly by not obeying the commands, decrees, and regulations that you gave us through your servant Moses.
“Please remember what you told your servant Moses: ‘If you are unfaithful to me, I will scatter you among the nations. But if you return to me and obey my commands and live by them, then even if you are exiled to the ends of the earth, I will bring you back to the place I have chosen for my name to be honored.’
“The people you rescued by your great power and strong hand are your servants. O Lord, please hear my prayer! Listen to the prayers of those of us who delight in honoring you. Please grant me success today by making the king favorable to me. Put it into his heart to be kind to me.” (Nehemiah 1:5-10)
Under the distress, Nehemiah earnestly and humbly prayed. His prayer is such an example how we pray to God especially when we are in trouble and need His help. Here is the pattern:
1. He praised the God, and his covenant of unfailing love.
2. He humbly asked God’s attention on his prayer
3. He confessed sins of the Israelites, specifically himself and his family
4. He clang to the promise of forgiveness and restoration
5. He professed “we are your servant.”
6. He presented his needs to God.
His faithful and earnest prayer was heard by God. However, it was not God’s time yet. God was silent to Nehemiah till His time came. Nehemiah was not deterred. Although the Bible explicitly did not say, Nehemiah must have prayed every day (even multiple times a day) with the pain in his heart inflicted after he heard about Jerusalem: the wall was torn down and the gates were destroyed by fire. It is another lesson that we can learn from Nehemiah. We should pray continually and do not lose heart, although God seems silent, which is not true.
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. (Luke 18:1)
Early the following spring (about 4 months later), in the month of Nisan (i.e, March to April), during the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes’ reign, he was serving the king wine. Despite of his effort hiding his heartbreak about Jerusalem from the king, one day the king noticed. So the king asked me, “Why are you looking so sad? You don’t look sick to me. You must be deeply troubled.” In an earthly term, it was not a good sign. Making the king not pleased easily led to a severe punishment.
Like you and I, Nehemiah was a mere human. Thus, he was very much afraid. He was in dilemma. If he was silent, not answering to the king, it could cause an even bigger problem – making the king even more displeased. Answering to the king is also risky too. The response of the king is unpredictable.
The Bible continued: with faith he quickly answered to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” He praised the king to soften his heart. Then he carefully explained his concern in his heart as a gentle question to the king.
The king said to me, “What is it you want?”
This is the moment that he wanted for four months. What would you do, if you have been praying for four months, and an opportunity that you have waited for finally has come?” It would be very easy for us to immediately grab on the opportunity, and answer to the king for his favor.
However, Nehemiah did not answer immediately to the king! He looked up his eyes, and prayed to the God of heaven first. How awkward the moment was! The king, who had the absolute power, was waiting for Nehemiah, who was one of the captives and for the king. Nehemiah looked up the heaven and prayed. All officials around the king watched carefully Nehemiah and the king back and forth. There must be an eerie silence. Yes, the king could make a snap decision making Nehemiah removed from his presence, simply because Nehemiah made the king unpleasant.
Nehemiah knew that who was in control. It was the God who gave the opportunity. He truly believed the absolute sovereignty of God. Thus, he talked to the God by prayer looking up the heaven. Then he answered to the king. The king was pleased for his answer! The king sent Nehemiah to Jerusalem to restore the temple.
Praise the Lord! He hears earnest and humble prayers of the faithful like Nehemiah. Nehemiah lifted up his eyes on God in Heaven, and prayed first before answering to his king. God, who watched over the faithful, protected him and answered his prayer by making the king pleased. Sometimes we rely on our wisdom and logic instead of God. Our God is sovereign. His sovereignty has been proved again and again. Let’s humbly approach Him, and completely trust Him with faith.
In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. (John 16:23-24)
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