As I mentioned a couple of weeks back, we’re going through Nehemiah at Crosspointe. Back in the day, I took a class on Nehemiah during my sophomore year of college. With my attention focused back on this book, I thought I’d go back and revisit my notes since I remembered it being a pretty good class. It was taught by Daniel Anderson, who then, as well as now, is the president of Appalachian Bible College. The outline of what follows below is entirely his. The commentary is entirely mine.
In his notes, Dr. Anderson offered us a section on what we can learn from Nehemiah about prayer. His main point was that prayer is the nerve that moves the muscle of God. He then unpacked this by breaking the prayers of Nehemiah into 3 types.
First off, Nehemiah was two pretty “major prayers.” The book opens with a prayer of confession and direction (Neh. 1:4-11). Later, Nehemiah offers a prayer for courage and vindication in the face of his enemies (Neh. 4:4-5). The opening prayer really sets the tone for the book and gives a picture of man who turned to God in prayer the moment things took a downturn. I’m reminded that often I try to fix the problem first, and then when that doesn’t work, I’ll pray about it. Nehemiah shows that we should pray first, and then wait for God to direct our steps.
More prevalent in the book are Nehemiah’s short prayers, or, took keep things alliterated, “minute prayers.” These are scattered throughout but are concentrated in chapters 6 and 13. In each case, Nehemiah can be seen looking for God to display a certain attribute or action:
- Seeking blessing of God (Neh. 5:19)
- Seeking God’s strength (Neh. 6:9)
- Seeking God’s vengeance (Neh 6:14)
- Seeking God’s endurance (Neh. 13:14)
- Seeking God’s mercy (Neh. 13:22)
- Seeking God’s faithfulness (Neh. 13:29)
- Seeking God’s changelessness (Neh. 13:30)
I think from each of these we can see that turning to God in prayer doesn’t always mean retiring to a prayer closet. Nehemiah rather often would offer a quick prayer as he faced an obstacle and then get to work. The picture we get is of someone who is strongly dependent on God to get things done.
Even less elaborate are Nehemiah’s “mute prayers.” We talked about the first one in Nehemiah 2:4 this past week in our small group. There, Nehemiah is confronted by the king because of his sad countenance and before starting to explain to the king he “prayed to the God of heaven.” In the flow of the narrative, it seems like Nehemiah is offering a quick under the breath prayer which isn’t recorded word for word, but continues to show a man who doesn’t really do much without praying about it first. He’ll offer another one of these kinds of prayers in Nehemiah 4:9 as well.
In the end, because of the unusual nature of Nehemiah’s narrative (one of the few extended first person accounts in the Old Testament), we end up getting a very thorough “psychology of prayer” from someone who had been shaped intensely by a posture of prayer. He doesn’t come out and say, “let me teach you how to pray,” but if you’ve got ears to hear and eyes to see, there are some very valuable lessons about prayer in the book of Nehemiah.