The depth of character can be found in the heart of a man’s prayer. When a man of God approaches the eternal throne the heart is laid open with the true nature of the relationship shared with the heavenly Father. Nehemiah son of Hacaliah was a man of prayer who found himself born in a world literally foreign to his upbringing. Some seventy years earlier his family had been taken away from the homeland of Israel to the captivity of a Babylonian king. Raised in a world given over to paganism Nehemiah was blessed with parents who instilled in his young heart a love for Jehovah and the holy city of Jerusalem. Everything around him was in conflict to what he learned of the Holy Scriptures. Yet his heart was filled with the Law of Moses and the grace of God.
In manhood he took his place as a servant of the king and queen. He would walk among the nobles in the palaces and serve as the cupbearer to the king. The temptations would be immense to walk with the great powers of the kingdom of Assyria and to see nothing but the glory of men in marble houses of nobility. But the heart of the son of Hacaliah was burned upon the pages of God’s word. His deep love was for a place he had never seen but knew the significance of the passing glory taken away because of sin.
While serving the king in the citadel of Susa, Nehemiah met Hanani one of his brethren who had returned from Jerusalem. He asked “concerning the Jews who had escaped, who had survived the captivity and concerning Jerusalem” (Nehemiah 1:2). The news was not good. There was great distress among the people and the city still lay in ruin with the walls broken down and the gates burned with fire. The news was so terrible that Nehemiah could not withhold his great sorrow and remorse. “So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven” (Nehemiah 1:4). This for a city and place he had only seen through the eye of faith. His remorse led him to prayer.
HALLOWED BE YOUR NAME. There is a striking similarity to the Nehemiah’s prayer and the prayer used by Jesus in the sermon on the mountain (Matthew 6:9-13). In his grief Nehemiah acknowledges how “great and awesome” (v5) God is. The reason God’s name is holy is because of the faithfulness of the Lord to keep His “covenant and mercy with those who love You and observe Your commandments” (v5). He understood the relationship of faithfulness is not based upon the action of the people but upon the grace of God. His grief came at the cost the people paid for their wickedness and the righteous judgment of the Lord who kept faithful to His promises (Jeremiah 25:11).
FORGIVE OUR SINS. A powerful message in the heart of Nehemiah was his acceptance of the wrong committed by his father’s generation that caused the people to be in bondage. He prayed for the children of Israel and confessed the sins of the people “which we have sinned against You. Both my father’s house and I have sinned” (v6). It is difficult to get people today to see their own sins and yet here is a man of God acknowledging the sins of a few generations – including himself. Nehemiah was not even born with Nebuchadnezzar took the captives to Babylon (2 Chronicles 36). Seeking forgiveness he acknowledged his sin as acting “very corruptly” against the Lord and all the commands given by the Lord (v7). Nehemiah’s prayer was one of godly sorrow that led him to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10).
PLEADING THE PROMISES OF GOD. Prayer is acknowledging the promises of God whether good or evil. Nehemiah recounts the promises made in the Law that God would grant life to the people if they obeyed Him but punishment if they disobeyed Him (Deuteronomy 28-30). The people deserved the punishment of seventy years because they had rebelled against the Lord and received the just measure of God’s grace in punishment. Included in the pronouncement of judgment the Lord had also shown His mercy by offering redemption if the people would turn their hearts back to Him. Nehemiah pleads the promise of Deuteronomy 30:1-10 as Daniel acknowledged in Daniel 9. The people had shown a heart of trust again in the Lord. The Temple was rebuilt and through the leadership of Ezra the people had begun to turn their hearts back to Jehovah.
YOURS IS THE KINGDOM AND THE POWER AND THE GLORY FOREVER. The cupbearer for the king affirms the redemption of the people was only possible by the power of God and His strong hand (v10). The decree of Cyrus (2 Chronicles 36:22-23; Ezra 1) to return the people to Jerusalem was not through man’s wisdom but by the providential care of the Lord. Prayer necessitates man to know the Lord is great and powerful and the breath of man is held in the hand of his Creator (Daniel 5:23). Paul described it to the people of Athens when he declared, “for in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). If there was any hope for the people it would only be by the grace of God.
THY WILL BE DONE. The conclusion of Nehemiah’s prayer is specific in what is in his heart. Hearing the news of despair from Jerusalem Nehemiah has determined in his heart to go and help restore the spirit of the people. He knows that as cupbearer he will have to gain permission from the king and his prayer is directed toward that plea. “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, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man” (Nehemiah 1:11). This was a bold plan on Nehemiah’s part to consider going to a place of desolation and he needed the blessing of God to accomplish it. It was not until the month of Nisan that Nehemiah was granted permission by the king to undertake the journey to Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2). By God’s grace and the courage of Nehemiah, the walls of Jerusalem were built in 52 days.
PRAYER REALIZED. Jesus taught the power of faith and prayer when He said, "If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,' and it would obey you” (Luke 17:6). Who would have imagined a cupbearer to a foreign king would come to Jerusalem and rebuild the city walls in less than two months? Only if this man was a person of prayer devoted to the mercy of God and faithful in the word of the Lord. The prayer of Nehemiah paves the way for all of God’s people to trust in Him fully and rely upon His power and mighty hand to accomplish great things in their lives. The measure of our lives will be determined by the measure of our prayers.