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October 2013

THE PROPHET, THE KING AND THE POWER OF PRAYER

By Beverley Carter 

 
The prophet Nehemiah lived during the fifth century B.C., and his story is recorded in the Biblical book that bears his name. Early in Nehemiah’s career, he was the cupbearer to King Artaxerxes, the Persian King. Later on, Nehemiah became the governor of Jerusalem. The story of his unlikely career change is a testament to the power of prayer.
 
The story begins as Nehemiah’s friends return from their journey to Jerusalem. They said to Nehemiah, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.” Nehemiah was saddened by this bad news, so he prayed and fasted that God might forgive the sins of Israel and that He would help them rebuild Jerusalem. 
 
Some time later, when it was time for Nehemiah to serve wine to King Artaxerxes, the King asked him why he looked so sad. Nehemiah said to the King, “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?” In response, the heathen King asked Nehemiah, “How can I help you?” 
 
If we were in Nehemiah’s situation, we probably would have answered the King immediately. We might have said something like, “We need money, materials, laborers and military protection.” Nehemiah, however, waited a moment before responding. He “prayed to the God of heaven” before answering the King.
 
Nehemiah’s relationship with God was such that he would never consider making a big decision without first consulting God. His prayer was shot up to heaven like an arrow, and just as quickly, the answer came back. This is what we call an “exclamatory” prayer, which means “a sudden cry or call for help!” This example demonstrates that prayer for Nehemiah was as natural as breathing.
 
God answered Nehemiah instantaneously. He gave Nehemiah the wisdom necessary to find favor with the heathen King, who ended up fulfilling Nehemiah’s request to authorize the rebuilding of Jerusalem. Although this might seem like an impossible outcome from a human perspective, all things are possible with God, and God chose to grant Nehemiah’s petition.
 
We can learn several important lessons from Nehemiah:
 
Nehemiah truly loved God with all his heart and soul. He understood and experienced the unconditional and unlimited love of God as described by John the Evangelist, “let us love God because God loved us first” (1 John 4:19). Nehemiah’s habit of being in communion with God was so strong, like that of Daniel and others, that as soon as he found himself in a dilemma, he immediately sought God. In a sense, he flew away to God, just as the dove would fly to hide herself in the clefts of the rock.
 
Whenever we find ourselves in a similar situation, let us not be too hasty with our reply. We might think we know how to answer or what to do, but instead, let us send a quick prayer to God for wisdom. Doing so will avail ourselves to God’s input, helping our response to be the wisest possible.
 
Let us take a moment to reflect upon the context of this story. At that time, King Artaxerxes was the most powerful ruler in the world. As chief cupbearer, Nehemiah had regular contact with the King, which alone was a rare privilege. Furthermore, the position of cupbearer was one of prestige and honor. Nehemiah could have felt quite proud of himself for holding such an important position. In a prideful state, Nehemiah could easily have forgotten about prayer. Instead, he instinctively prayed at a critical moment. We would be wise to follow Nehemiah’s example. In doing so, I am sure our lives would produce more fruit for Christ.
 
This exclamatory prayer is a very important form of prayer. It does not take the place of daily devotions; rather, it compliments the longer-form prayers often utilized during worship. Because Nehemiah already had a close walk with God, he felt comfortable spontaneously sending a short yet meaningful prayer heavenward.
 
I want to have this kind of relationship with God. How about you? Of course, such a relationship takes time to develop. It comes through daily prayer, Bible study and obedience to His Word. We must not only read the Bible for information, but also for transformation!
 
Exclamatory prayers are of particularly great value to people who live in fast-paced and stress-filled cities. The example of Nehemiah shows us that a prayer can be offered anywhere, anytime and under any circumstances. If our prayer comes from sincere motives, then the God of heaven will answer.
 
Let us close by reading a verse in Nehemiah that has become extremely important to me: “…the joy of the Lord is my strength.” – Nehemiah 8:10. These are words to live by. No matter what is happening to us or around us, we can still have the joy of the Lord. How? This true and lasting joy comes from knowing that God loves us unconditionally; it comes from knowing that today’s trial will not last forever; it comes from knowing that Jesus is coming back soon. In the meantime, we have all of God’s grand and glorious promises to keep us joyful and peaceful.
 
Nehemiah knew and believed all of these things. It is the reason he could reach the ear of God at any time. I pray that God will help each of us to commune with Him daily through Bible reading and prayer, so that He will always know our voices when we call.
 

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