The Shortest (Non) Prayer in the Bible

Nehemiah 2

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!

Reflection

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?

Photo by Rock Staar on Unsplash

 

 

Living and Ministering in Digital Babylon

Based on recent Barna research, Faith For Exiles is the latest book by David Kinnaman.

As I read the words on the very first page, I was hooked. David Kinnaman, in his latest book, Faith For Exiles, was describing what it was like to drop his oldest daughter off at college, with all of the emotions that you would expect. Having just dropped our twins off at schools that are 3000 miles away, I could relate to Kinnaman’s fears and anxieties concerning the question of how your child will fare spiritually in this new and secular environment without our guidance. Is their faith strong enough? Have we built the right character into them? Did we do a good job of preparing them spiritually for what lies ahead?

TOP LEFT: Jacob (left) waits in line to get on a bus to enter summer training for the Naval Academy
TOP RIGHT: Joshua waits in line to enter summer training for West Point
BOTTOM: Sign at West Point directing new students where to go

Kinnaman’s 2011 book, You Lost Me, argued that the church has a dropout problem. Research at the time showed that 59% of Young Adults who claimed a faith upbringing had left the church. New research shows the problem has gotten worse, with 64% of Young Adults abandoning the faith of their youth.     

What accounts for such a mass exodus? Kinnaman, and his co-author Mark Matlock, argue that our culture is “especially and insidiously faith repellant.” The biggest culprit, they contend, is our smart devices, which have created a digital culture that actually works against us. As a result, believers are swimming upstream, fighting to maintain their values and their faith beliefs in a culture that is becoming increasingly opposed and in some cases hostile to these values and beliefs.

Click on the image to watch this short video from thebibleproject.com, which explains what exile is and how the theme of “exile” is woven throughout the Bible

The Old Testament highlights God’s promise that if His people followed Him and worshiped Him alone, they would prosper. But He warned them that if they were disobedient, He would bring judgment in the form of invading armies who would conquer them and take them into captivity. Much of the Old Testament is story after story of the nation of Israel forsaking God to pursue false gods. God continually sends prophets to warn them of impending doom but His message inevitably falls on deaf ears.

Click on the image to watch this short video from thebibleproject.com, which highlights what it was supposed to look like for the Israelites who were living in exile in Babylon and what it means for us as believers “living in exile.”

God finally hands his people over to the Babylonians, who take the Israelites into exile, where they live for 70 years in a foreign land, amidst a foreign culture that serves foreign gods and does not share their religious and cultural values. In fact, one of the goals of taking a conquered people into captivity was the systematic dismantling and eradication of their culture and the assimilation and adoption of the invading empire’s culture and values.

Imagine what it was like to be a Jew living in Babylon. How hard would it be to resist adopting the culture in which you’re thoroughly steeped, while trying to keep your own faith and religious views alive?

Young Adults spend an enormous time on their phones and the content is not always helpful to to maintaining a vibrant faith. Photo by KAL VISUALS on Unsplash

We haven’t been taken into captivity and we’re not living in a foreign land, as the Israelites did, but the authors make the case that the internet age in which we’re living has created what they refer to as “Digital Babylon.” A sobering graphic shows that the average 15-23 year old spends nearly 2800 hours in a typical year engaging with media on their phone. For the average 15-23 year old who is not a Christian, only 153 of those 2800 hours contain ANY kind of spiritual or biblical content. The Christian Young Adult fares only slightly better, with 291 hours of biblical content to offset the nearly 2800 hours of input they’re getting.

Our “smart” devices have created a digital environment that is slowly indoctrinating us to views and values that are contrary to our faith. This is what it means to live in “Digital Babylon”.

It’s not all bad news though. There is a segment of Young Adults, identified as “resilient disciples” who are thriving spiritually even in this current cultural context. The book is really about the practices of this group that enable them to maintain a vibrant faith. It turns out that we’ve already identified many of these practices as critical to thriving spiritually and as a result, we’ve already implemented many of these practices in our own ministry to Young Adults.

Our prayer is that our influence would increase and the Lord would show us new ways and avenues to impact Young Adults, who are seeking to live as resilient disciples in “Digital Babylon.”

We greatly appreciate your partnership and your prayers as we strive to this end!