“Remember me, O my God, for good” (Neh. 13:31). This prayer is reminiscent of the psalm of Moses to “establish the work of our hands” (Ps. 90:17). Nehemiah shows us two things for the work God has given His church. One, he shows us pervasive prayer as the animating feature of kingdom building. Two, he shows us the remarkable working of God in response to that prayer.
“So I prayed to the God of heaven.” (Nehemiah 2:4)
A church moves forward on its knees.
Nehemiah traveled from Babylon to Jerusalem with the call to build the wall. Years earlier the wall of Jerusalem had been broken down, the temple destroyed, and the people taken into exile. But God in His steadfast love would pave the way for His people to return to the Promised Land. The disobedience of the people would not derail His covenant promises.
Nehemiah faced a daunting task, not unlike the leaders of local churches in our day. He had to strategize, mobilize, and energize the people for the task before them. He had to deal with oppression from the outside and opposition from within. He led by personal example, by direction of the word of God, and by pervasive prayer.
Prayer is prominent throughout the book of Nehemiah. So much so that we can rightfully dub the book “Knee-hemiah.” My first pastor mentor used to say to the congregation, “A church moves forward on its knees.” In so doing, he was highlighting the necessity of prayer. He was bringing to bear Isaiah’s assessment, “All we have accomplished, You have done for us” (Is. 26:12). He was reflecting the heart of Nehemiah.
Nehemiah’s response to the plight of Jerusalem was prayer. Through a grief-stricken heart and tear-filled eyes, he turned to God. His prayer was not perfunctory but filled with persistence and passion, praying “day and night,” confessing his own sins and the sins of the people (Neh. 1:3-10). He closes with these words: “O Lord, I pray, please let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant, and to the prayer of Your servants who desire to fear Your name; and let Your servant prosper this day” (Neh. 1:11). The prosperity Nehemiah sought was not his own; it was the mission of God.
When Nehemiah, who was cupbearer to the king, approached the ruler for permission to return to the Promised Land, he prefaced the request of his tongue with the regard of his heart: “Then the king said to me, ‘What do you request?’ So I prayed to the God of heaven” (Neh. 2:4). Success was contingent on supplication. When the king granted Nehemiah his request, Nehemiah recognized that the good hand of God was upon him (Neh. 2.8).
Evidence of communion with God and recognition of His presence fills the book of Nehemiah. Progress on the wall discerns not only the hands of the workers but the hand of God.