Brother Nehemiah, Lead Us In Prayer

Bible Book: Nehemiah  1 : 4-11
Subject: Prayer; Nehemiah
Series: Nehemiah

Almost the whole of chapter 1 is taken up with the record of Nehemiah’s prayer. It is likely a sampling of the kind of praying that Nehemiah did over the “certain days” that he mourned and fasted and prayed (v. 4).

As we shall see, it is not unusual to find Nehemiah in prayer. Several times throughout the book we find record of his praying to God. This opening prayer is, however, the longest recorded prayer that we have from this great leader.

No doubt, the Holy Spirit inspired the recording of this private prayer in order that it might be publicly studied, and from it lessons drawn to help those who are still praying today.

Spurgeon says of this prayer, “This is quite a model prayer. How earnest it is, and how truthful!” There is a unique quality to this prayer, in light of who prayed it, and the circumstances surrounding it.

“Nehemiah’s prayer, with its solemn invocation of God in his majesty, its frank admission of the people’s sins, its appeal to the covenant promise of restoration for the penitent, and its passionate plea to God as Redeemer to take action, is one of the great prayers of the Bible and could be well studied at great length.”[i] - J.I. Packer

As we are allowed to eavesdrop in on Nehemiah’s personal prayer time, we learn some things about the necessity and nature of the work of prayer. As Nehemiah leads us in prayer, we note two things about this great passage. First of all, consider:


Several years ago, Newsweek did a study on prayer, and found that 78% of Americans claimed to pray at least once a week, and that some 57% indicated that they prayed every day.[ii]

While many people may utter some sort of prayer during a given week, very few people pray with the passion, power, and productivity of Nehemiah. This is prayer on another level. This is “the effectual fervent prayer” of which James writes in the New Testament.

Before we delve into the breakdown of this prayer, I think we need to consider what kind of life and belief leads a man to pray this way. This prayer does not come from nowhere. It is the product of convictions about God and about prayer that were rooted deeply in the heart of Nehemiah.

You can often tell more about what a man believes by listening to how he prays, rather than what he professes. Nehemiah’s prayer indicates the convictions of his heart. Think about these convictions. Among them, I would say that Nehemiah believed in:

A. Prayer as an essential work

When Nehemiah hears of the rubble and ruin in Jerusalem, he is devastated. He says in verse 4, “And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven.”

There is a sense in which Nehemiah is driven to his knees. He recognizes that whatever else he is going to do, he must pray. As we hear Nehemiah seeking the face of God, we know that he believed prayer to be an essential work!

Prayer is not a last resort, or just an “in case of emergency” measure. Prayer is as essential as breathing for those who recognize their desperate need of God. When we do not pray, we declare our independence from God, which is akin to an infant refusing the care of its mother.

Nehemiah believed in prayer as an essential work. Notice also that he believed in:

B. Prayer as an earnest work

Again, in verse 4, we find Nehemiah weeping and mourning and fasting for several days. The indication is that Nehemiah prayed passionately and he prayed persistently.

For Nehemiah, prayer was not just a few idle words at the beginning of the day, and a “Now I lay me down to sleep” at night. Prayer was work to Him. It required earnest effort on his part.

Praying that costs you little time and effort will likely bring little answer and response. As you hear the emotion coming through the words of Nehemiah’s prayer, you are reminded of how earnest prayer should be.

“Do we know anything of prayer of this sort? All too often we grow tired of praying; but do we ever grow tired through praying? Have we known often what it means to rise from our knees exhausted?”[iii] – Guy King

Nehemiah was convinced of prayer as an essential work, prayer as an earnest work, and also, Nehemiah believed in:

C. Prayer as an effective work

I said already that there is a sense in which Nehemiah was driven to his knees. The other side of that coin is the fact that Nehemiah was also drawn to his knees. He prayed not only because he believed prayer to be his only resort, but also because he believed it to be his best resort.

This is a man who believes that prayer works. He prays, not out of duty or habit; but out of faith and hope! He believes in the God to whom he is praying, and he likewise believes in the capability of his prayers.

It is one thing to know that you should pray, and to know how you should pray. But it is quite another when knowing that you should pray, and how you should pray, you then pray expecting that God will hear and answer.

There is contrition in Nehemiah’s prayer, but there is also confidence. He is repentant; and he is also expectant. He believes that prayer is an effective work.

These are some of the convictions that precede and fuel the prayer of Nehemiah in chapter 1. Notice something else we draw from this passage. There is not only the convictions that fueled Nehemiah’s prayer, but notice also:


Beginning with verse 5, the actual prayer is recorded. One writer says, “In many respects, the prayer of chapter 1 is a model prayer. It follows the pattern of worship, confession, and petition.”[iv]

There is a discernable and familiar pattern that Nehemiah follows in this prayer. The components of this prayer point us to the kinds of things that ought to be a part of our prayers as well. The reasons and requests may vary, but prayer is a work that is many ways similar, regardless of the age and setting in which it is offered.

Notice the components of Nehemiah’s prayer. First of all, there is:

A. Acknowledgment

Nehemiah’s prayer opens with his “hallowing” of the name of God. He says in verse 5, “…I beseech thee, O LORD God of heaven, the great and terrible God, that keepeth covenant and mercy for them that love him and observe his commandments.”

Nehemiah begins his prayer by acknowledging the God to whom he is praying. There is a moment – a word – about the majesty and character of Jehovah.

“He knew he was not coming to just another man, but rather to the God of heaven. For whom did Nehemiah work? The king. Was this king great and mighty on the earth? The mightiest! But compared to God, King Artaxerxes was nothing.”[v] – Charles Swindoll

Acknowledging God at the beginning of prayer is a good way of putting things into perspective. Whatever it is we are coming to God about, will seem much less of an and a concern when it is dwarfed by the all-sufficiency and sovereignty of Almighty God.

In Nehemiah’s prayer, we see not only the component of acknowledgement, but notice also there is here:

B. Admission

Nehemiah’s prayer continues, and he prays in verse 6, “Let thine ear now be attentive, and thine eyes open, that thou mayest hear the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee now, day and night, for the children of Israel thy servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee: both I and my father's house have sinned.”

Day and night Nehemiah sought the face of God, and each time, he was admitting and confessing the sins that had led his people into the position from which they now sought the Lord.

Two things are to be noted about this confession in Nehemiah’s prayer. First of all, it is plain. There is no glossing over the issue or excusing the behavior. Nehemiah admits that the people had “sinned”.

He says in verse 7, “We have dealt very corruptly against thee, and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the judgments, which thou commandedst thy servant Moses.”

Nehemiah had no doubt heard and quoted Psalm 51. He related to David’s words, “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned…” There is plain, straightforward confession to the God who had been disobeyed.

This confession was not only plain, but it was personal. Spurgeon said that Nehemiah spelled “we” with an “I”. He says in verse 6, “…both I and my father’s house.” Again, he says in verse 7, “We have dealt very corruptly against thee…”

“God’s servant’s exaltation of God’s nature prompts a sorrowing acknowledgement of sin.”[vi] True acknowledgement of God will always lead to full admission of sin (Isaiah 6:5).

In Nehemiah’s prayer, we have the components of acknowledgement and admission. There is also the component of:

C. Appeal

Nehemiah’s appeal to God in this prayer is framed by the word “Remember”. He prays in verses 8 and 9:

“Remember, I beseech thee, the word that thou commandedst thy servant Moses, saying, If ye transgress, I will scatter you abroad among the nations: But if ye turn unto me, and keep my commandments, and do them; though there were of you cast out unto the uttermost part of the heaven, yet will I gather them from thence, and will bring them unto the place that I have chosen to set my name there.”

He has already mentioned the covenant-keeping character of God in verse 5. Now he restates one of those covenants to God, and appeals to Him to remember His own word.

This concept of calling upon God to remember is a familiar one in the Bible. In Exodus 32:13, Moses intercedes for the people, and prays to God, “Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou swarest by thine own self…” On the day he died, Samson prayed, “…O Lord GOD, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee…” Again, in I Samuel 1:11, we find Hannah praying, “…if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid…”

Now, in Nehemiah, we again find a servant of God asking for the Lord to remember. The idea is obviously not that God would ever or could ever forget His Word. It appears that by calling God to remember, these people were revealing to God that they remembered. His memory had never been the problem. It was the people who forgot.

Nehemiah appeals to God to remember His Word, and in so doing indicates that he himself remembered what God had said. He then restates the relationship of God to His people in verse 10, and says, “Now these are thy servants and thy people, whom thou hast redeemed by thy great power, and by thy strong hand.”

The whole point Nehemiah seems to be making is that he is not asking God to do something that is contrary to His will and word. Nehemiah is praying according to the will of God.

That is why he is able to offer his request in verse 11, and believe that God will in fact turn the heart of the king, and give Nehemiah the hearing and the mercy he needed from Artaxerxes.

When we are honest, we must confess that we are so often powerless because we are so often prayerless. We are too busy with life to pray, and yet there is a sense in which we are beaten by life because we do not pray.

Nehemiah needed to go to the king. But he needed to go to the Lord first. Nothing he had to do in his work for God was more important than prayer. He started with prayer, and in so doing leaves for us an example of the resource with which all Christian service must begin, and the reason why any Christian service succeeds.

[i] Packer, J.I., A Passion for Faithfulness, (Crossway Books, Wheaton, IL, 1995), p.61

[ii] Morgan, Robert J., Nelson’s Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations, & Quotes, (Thomas Nelson Pubishers, Nashville, 2000), p.623

[iii] King, Guy, Prayer Secrets, (Marshall, Morgan, & Scott, London, 1946), p. 74

[iv] Campbell, Donald K., Nehemiah: Man in Charge, (Victor Books, Wheaton, IL, 1979), p. 11

[v] Swindoll, Charles R., Hand Me Another Brick, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, 1990), p. 35

[vi] Brown, Raymond, The Message of Nehemiah, (IVP, Downers Grove, IL, 1998), p. 36