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

 

 

Which Soil are You?

Mark 4

1Once again Jesus began teaching by the lakeshore. There was such a large crowd along the shore that he got into a boat and sat down and spoke from there. 2He began to teach the people by telling many stories such as this one:

3“Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seed. 4As he scattered it across his field, some seed fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate it. 5Other seed fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The plant sprang up quickly, 6but it soon wilted beneath the hot sun and died because the roots had no nourishment in the shallow soil. 7Other seed fell among thorns that shot up and choked out the tender blades so that it produced no grain. 8Still other seed fell on fertile soil and produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted.” Then he said, 9“Anyone who is willing to hear should listen and understand!”

. . . . . . .

14The farmer I talked about is the one who brings God’s message to others. 15The seed that fell on the hard path represents those who hear the message, but then Satan comes at once and takes it away from them. 16The rocky soil represents those who hear the message and receive it with joy. 17But like young plants in such soil, their roots don’t go very deep. At first they get along fine, but they wilt as soon as they have problems or are persecuted because they believe the word. 18The thorny ground represents those who hear and accept the Good News, 19but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the cares of this life, the lure of wealth, and the desire for nice things, so no crop is produced. 20But the good soil represents those who hear and accept God’s message and produce a huge harvest—thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted.” (Mark 4:1-9, 14-20, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Mark chapter 4 contains one of the more familiar parables in the gospel narratives, but in my opinion, many Bible translations mis-title the parable as “The Parable of the Sower.”

If you’re not too familiar with the Bible, you should know that all of the chapter and verse divisions are not in the original texts but were added later to make it easier on the reader to find and reference. Here’s an interesting article about chapter and verse additions if you’re curious to learn more.

Additionally, any title headings have also been added by the various Bible translators to reflect their own understanding and commentary on the stories and themes that are presented.

So while most Bible translations title this story as “The Parable of the Sower” it seems to me that the story is really about The Four Different Soils.

Jesus himself gives the explanation for the story, explaining that the farmer is a person who brings God’s message to others. The seed represents the message that is being presented and the soils represent the heart conditions of the people who are hearing the message.

The first soil mentioned is the hard soil, or the path. A walking path in those days would have been hard and compact because of all of the foot traffic. Therefore, any seed that fell would not get buried enough to take root. It would just become bird seed. Hence, this soil represents a person whose heart is hard and the message of God does not penetrate enough to make any impact.

The second soil is the rocky soil. Seed that falls here is able to take enough root to germinate and sprout but because the soil is not very deep the roots are not able to go deep enough to become hearty and this plant dies as soon as the weather gets hot. Without an adequate root system, the plant cannot access enough water and nourishment to thrive.

Jesus says that this soil represents a person who experiences a lot of problems, represented by the rocks. They immediately receive the message with joy because it sounds good and they are looking for an immediate fix to the issues they are facing. But when things don’t work out as quickly or as precisely as they expect, they give up on the Christian life and move on to the next self-help option.

The third soil Jesus mentions is the thorny soil. Notice that the seed that falls in this soil takes root, sprouts up and it grows. But because the thorns are crowding it, these plants don’t have the space or ability to produce a crop. They are fruitless.

Jesus says this soil represents a person who hears and accepts the message but Jesus is just one of many things in their life. Jesus is not a priority. This person gets so weighed down with all of the cares and trials of life that their spiritual life never displays the kind of fruitfulness that Jesus would desire for them.

The last soil is the desired soil, the good soil. This soil is rock-free, thorn-free and has been cultivated so that the seed will quickly and easily take root. Because the ground has been properly prepared, the seed that falls in this soil takes root, grows and produces an abundant crop. It is fruitful!

When looking at these four soils, it is clear that the first soil represents a non-Christian. It’s my belief that the second soil also represents a non-believer. This is the person who appears to have a genuine conversion experience but it is fleeting and so the commitment to Jesus is very temporary.

The third person represents a genuine believer whose spiritual life is unfruitful and stagnant. This soil reflects a large percentage of believers in the church today, people who have made genuine decisions for Christ and who continue in their spiritual journey, but whose lives aren’t reflected by fruitfulness and growth. The reason for that, according to Jesus, is a lack of priority. Instead of Jesus being primary in their life, their pursuit is on worldly and material gains and issues.

The fourth soil represents a person who hears the message, accepts it and their lives produce a huge harvest. In short, their hearts have been cultivated in such a way that God’s message has the maximum effect on their life.

Notice that if you are the farmer and you’re scattering seed randomly in a particular area, it is likely the geological composition of the earth in that area is the same. In other words, if you were to take a sampling from each of the areas, and then analyze the composition of each of the soils, you’d get the same results from each sample. The chemical compounds and percentages would be the same in each case.

What makes the soils different is not that they are compositionally different, it’s they are cultivated to different degrees.

The farmer takes great care to cultivate the soil in which he is going to plant. He removes any rocks and extracts any weeds or thorns that might be a hindrance to producing the fullest crop possible. Additionally, he tills the soil, making it loose enough for the seed and for water and other nutrients to penetrate the surface and go deeper to where the roots will be.

What this means is that you can cultivate your heart just as a farmer cultivates the soil of his field. It may not be easy work, but you can do the hard work to remove the rocks and thorns from your life that may keep you from experiencing genuine growth.

You can till the hard dirt in the field of your heart to make it more receptive to the message. Having good soil isn’t luck and it isn’t automatic. Those who are producing a harvest in their life are doing so because they’ve done the hard work of farming their heart and cultivating its soil so that God’s message can have its maximum impact.

No matter where you’re at in your spiritual journey, you can do the same!

Reflection

Which soil best represents your life and why? Which soil do you want to represent your life?

What are the rocks and thorns that are dominating your heart? Name them. 

What steps can you take to remove rocks and thorns from your heart?

How can you till the soil of your heart so that it is more receptive to the message of God’s word?

What are the different ways God’s seed is being sown in your life?

 

Photo by Gabriel Jimenez on Unsplash

Are You an Idol Worshiper?

For my daily devotional reading, I’ve been following the Grant Horner Bible reading plan. I’m in my third year of following this plan, which invites the reader to read one chapter a day from each of 10 different segments of the Bible (Gospels, Old Testament Pentateuch, New Testament Letters #1, New Testament Letters #2, Wisdom Literature, Psalms, Proverbs, Old Testament History, Old Testament Prophets and finally, the book of Acts) for a total of 10 chapters each day.

One of the unique elements to this plan is that you begin to see how the scriptures are related to each other as you see certain themes and topics show up in completely different segments of your Bible reading. This was again the case for me a few days ago when I read the following similar verses from completely different chapters and segments of the Bible:

The idols of the nations are silver and gold, made by the hands of men. 16They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but they cannot see; 17they have ears, but cannot hear, nor is there breath in their mouths. 18Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them. (Psalms 135:15-18)

They told Aaron, ‘Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who led us out of Egypt—we don’t know what has happened to him!’** 41That was the time they made an idol in the form of a calf. They brought sacrifices to it and held a celebration in honor of what their hands had made.  (Acts 7:40-41)

Idols have always been an issue with people. We see the theme of idols repeatedly throughout Scripture. In the Psalms passage (and many other locations in Scripture) the author writes about the sheer irony of a person fashioning a figurine out of metal or wood or some other material – giving it eyes and ears and a mouth, even though it cannot see, hear or speak, and then bowing to that figurine as if it had some power to grant to us whatever we might request. It’s utter foolishness. To do this, the Psalmist says, will make you just as senseless as the idols you’ve created.

In the Acts passage, Stephen, who is about to be stoned, is giving a short history of the nation of Israel when he recounts this incident that occurred while Moses was on Mt. Sinai communing with God and receiving the 10 commandments. The people weren’t sure what happened to Moses or why it was taking him so long to come down from the mountain so they asked Aaron to fashion a gold calf which they subsequently began to worship as their God.

It’s easy to read passages like these and wonder how the Israelites could be so dumb to think that something they have just created with their own hands is somehow a god that will do your bidding! How can something you have created have the power to give you whatever you want and do whatever you ask?

People today are still in the habit of creating idols. We may not fashion figurines that we place on the mantel and worship, as we see in the Scriptures, but we create an idol any time our image of God suits our preferences instead of reality.

Think about it this way – in the Bible, we see people fashioning idols to represent gods the way they see them, whether they are in the form of an animal (calf) or people (eyes, ears, mouth). Even if we don’t create a physical representation of God via some figurine, we are still creating an idol any time we create a mental image of God that doesn’t comply with how God is revealed to us in the Bible.

In today’s world, it’s easier than ever to appeal to a “god” that bends to my political views and my cultural preferences.

Because God is infinite, there is always going to be a sense in which our views of Him are not completely accurate. So how can we avoid worshiping an idol? The key is our heart. God doesn’t expect that we would know everything about Him perfectly but He does exhort us to seek him with our whole heart and to worship Him as He’s been revealed.

This is another reason why it’s so important to read and understand God’s Word, for it’s the primary source for truthful information about who God is and what He’s like.

Reflection:

What are some ways you may be tempted to bend your understanding of God and His nature to fit your own views or preferences?

What is the source of information you have about God?

What steps can you take to increase your understanding of who God is so you are worshiping Him in spirit and truth?

 

To learn more about the Grant Horner daily Bible reading plan, you can google it, or go to this blog post, which I found to have a very thorough description.