As you’re probably aware, the Book of Nehemiah opens with a surprising revelation for Nehemiah. Despite the return led by Zerubbabel and the decrees of Cyrus and Darius, the Jerusalem remains a city disgraced. It’s wall lies in ruins, and it’s precincts are exposed and defenseless.
And as you’re probably also aware, when Nehemiah hears a report of this situation from his brother Hanani, his first response is one of prayer. It’s a natural response for a man of faith, nothing surprising here.
But what is surprising is how, exactly, Nehemiah prays:
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, 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. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.
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.’
They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. 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 1:5-11, NIV)
Notice what Nehemiah says.
And notice what he doesn’t.
Nehemiah receives devastating news, yet when he prays, he’s far more interested in whom he prays to than what he is praying about. His focus, first and foremost, is on God and his promises. His problems aren’t even mentioned until the very last sentence of his prayer.
And when he finally does mention them, notice what he says: “Grant me favor in the presence of this man.” You do remember who “this man” is, right? This man is none other than Artaxerxes, self proclaimed king of kings, emperor of all Persia, hailed by his people as the god of heaven, the one who, at least according to his name, is the one true ruler. He is the one who has the power to issue the incontrovertible decree. He is the one who holds Nehemiah’s very life in his hands, who, with a word, can order him struck down for having the insolence to suggest he change his mind regarding Jerusalem.
Or at least, that’s how it looks to those who see with eyes of flesh.
Nehemiah, however, knows better.
YHWH, God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and who through Nehemiah’s own name promises comfort, YHWH is the God of Heaven and Earth. Despite claims to the contrary, YHWH is the King of Kings, and he alone holds life and death in his hands. No decree of man is ever incontrovertible when YHWH is involved.
And so in comparison to the greatness of his God, Nehemiah’s king is nothing but this man.
When Nehemiah prays, he keeps things in perspective.
How about you?
Is your focus on His power or your problems?