1Early the following spring, during the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes’ reign, I was serving the king his wine. I had never appeared sad in his presence before this time. 2So the king asked me, “Why are you so sad? You aren’t sick, are you? You look like a man with deep troubles.”
Then I was badly frightened, 3but I replied, “Long live the king! Why shouldn’t I be sad? For the city where my ancestors are buried is in ruins, and the gates have been burned down.”
4The king asked, “Well, how can I help you?”
With a prayer to the God of heaven, 5I replied, “If it please Your Majesty and if you are pleased with me, your servant, send me to Judah to rebuild the city where my ancestors are buried.”
6The king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked, “How long will you be gone? When will you return?” So the king agreed, and I set a date for my departure. (Nehemiah 2:1-6, NLT)
The Daily DAVEotional
The book of Nehemiah is a classic study on effective leadership.
Nehemiah is a Jew in exile who happens to be the cupbearer to the King. When Nehemiah gets word that the wall in the city of Jerusalem is in ruins he’s understandably distraught. The king notices Nehemiah’s sullen demeanor, which could have been disastrous for Nehemiah given his position, but fortunately, the king is compassionate and inquires about the nature of Nehemiah’s anguish.
Nehemiah shares about the news he received concerning Jerusalem and to Nehemiah’s surprise, the king asks, “well, how can I help you?”
What comes next in the text is what I find most interesting. It says, “With a prayer to the God of heaven, I replied…”
Nehemiah prayed to God before making his request to the king, a request which was certainly bold in nature.
It might be easy to overlook the significance of this verse. After all, it seems quite reasonable that Nehemiah would pray before making such a bold request of the king.
But think about it for just a moment. Did Nehemiah really pray? It’s not likely he had the time to pause, kneel, close his eyes and pray to the Lord, at least not as we tend to think about prayer.
This “prayer” was made in the middle of a back-and-forth conversation with the king. Nehemiah did not have the time to beseech the Lord in the traditional way we think of prayer. It would not have even been appropriate for Nehemiah to make a traditional prayer in the king’s presence while he awaited a response from Nehemiah to his question.
So if Nehemiah didn’t actually pray, how is it that the text can say Nehemiah prayed?
I think the key is the phrase “with a prayer to the God of heaven, I replied…”
Nehemiah didn’t stop to pray as we think about it. Instead, he prayed AS he replied to the king. In other words, at the same time he was engaging the king, he was inviting the God of heaven to give him wisdom, to give him favor in the eyes of the king and to grant the request he was about to make.
This may be a paradigm shift in how you think about prayer. Prayer is not JUST a focused time where we lift our requests up to God. Prayer is not JUST a dedicated time of solitude where we pause, reflect and lift up our praises and requests to God. Instead, prayer is an attitude of dependence and reliance on God that we can practice at all times. Prayer, essentially, is directing our thoughts towards God, whether it is audible or not, visible or invisible.
In Nehemiah’s case, he obviously didn’t stop, pause and lift up an audible prayer to God. Nehemiah’s prayer was in reality more of a heart attitude toward God in which he, in that moment, was acknowledging his dependence on God and exercising faith that God would speak through him and grant him favor in the king’s eyes.
And God honored Nehemiah’s prayer and granted his request before the king.
You may not be able to set aside hours each day for dedicated prayer. You may not be able to set aside even 30 minutes, though this discipline can have many benefits. But no matter how much time you may have to set aside for uninterrupted prayer, Nehemiah’s example demonstrates that we can pray at any moment and dedicated, focused time in prayer is not requisite in order to connect with the God of heaven!
What has been your practice and discipline with prayer in the past?
How have you thought of prayer in the past? How have you defined and understood the nature and practice of prayer?
In what ways does Nehemiah’s example challenge your view and understanding of prayer?
In what ways can you implement Nehemiah’s example and make prayer more of an ongoing connection with God in which you are constantly directing your thoughts towards Him?