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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:But I Prayed
Text:Nehemiah 1:1-11 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Prayer
 
Preached:2018
Added:2020-06-02
Updated:2020-06-02
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Pastor Ted Gray
07/08/18 – a.m.
 
“But I Prayed
Nehemiah 1:1-11
 
Great statesmen – those politicians who truly understand the essence of what it means to rule and govern in the proper way – have always relied, not on their own power, but on the power of God through prayer. As an example, the United States was blessed because of the dependence of their founding fathers on the Word of God. Their first president, George Washington, declared, “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.”
 
Likewise, in 1787, when James Madison proposed dividing the central government of the United Sates into three branches – Judicial, Legislative, and Executive – he quoted from Isaiah 33:22 as the reason: “For the Lord is our Judge; the Lord is our Lawgiver; the Lord is our King; He will save us.”  And, Alexander Hamilton, after the Constitutional Convention of 1787, said: “I sincerely esteem (the Constitution of the United States) a system which, without the finger of God, never could have been suggested and agreed upon by such a diversity of interest.”  
 
But long before the United States was founded, the people of Jerusalem, at a time of great trouble, also had a leader by the name of Nehemiah who realized where his real source of power was. 
 
Nehemiah lived during the time of Judah’s exile. He was the cupbearer to the Persian king, King Artaxerxes. Jerusalem had been conquered and taken captive by the Babylonians, but they, in turn, were conquered by the Persians. Several waves of Jews were allowed to go back to Jerusalem to resettle and rebuild it. But Nehemiah received word from Hanani, in verse 2 and 3, that “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.”
 
When Nehemiah heard this news, what did he do? Verse 4 records his reaction: “As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” He continued to pray, praying “day and night” (v. 6), and as he did so, he prayed with both structured, thoughtful prayers and spur of the moment prayers.  As he sat down and wept in verse 4, he continued to pray and fast, yet he was also thinking how to approach God in prayer.
 
As we read his prayer in verses 5 to 11, we see that Nehemiah prayed with structured, thoughtful prayers. His prayer of chapter 1, as well as his prayer of repentance in chapter 9, are among the most concise, well thought out prayers recorded in Scripture. As such, Nehemiah sets an excellent example for us. 
 
However, not only did he pray thoughtful, structured prayers, but Nehemiah also prayed spur of the moment "missile" prayers. In chapter 2, Nehemiah was called to the king after not seeing him in some time. The king noticed that Nehemiah looked sad. He asked, “Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of the heart. …What are you requesting?” Nehemiah responded, “So I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said to the king, ‘If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ graves, that I may rebuild it.’” (Nehemiah 2:2, 4, 5)
 
That was a missile prayer, one of those spur of the moment from the heart exclamations to the Lord. We read of another spur of the moment “missile” prayer in Nehemiah 6. There had been great opposition to the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem. He describes how those opposing him were trying to frighten those who were building the wall. In Nehemiah 6:9 he says, “For they all wanted to frighten us, thinking, ‘Their hands will drop from the work, and it will not be done.’  And then he prayed another one of those many “missile prayers”: “But now, O God, strengthen my hands.”
 
A third way that Nehemiah sets an example for prayer is that he prayed with persistence, month after month, year by year. In chapter 1:1 it is the month of Kislev, and in chapter 2:1 the month of Nisan. That represents four months of prayer before approaching King Artaxerxes with the request to return to Jerusalem. In chapter 4:8-9 we find him still faithful in prayer. And in chapter 9, one year later, he is still praying!
 
What an example he is for God’s people in every age! Nehemiah was a great governor “from the knees up,” for he realized the power of prayer. But it is not just in times of great social upheaval that the power of personal prayer is needed, but rather, in each one of our lives today that same appreciation for prayer, and commitment to prayer, must be evident.
 
Prayers with a Pattern
 
Nehemiah’s prayer, in chapter one, follows a pattern. It is a pattern, or model, similar to the acronym “ACTS.”   The acronym “ACTS” has become popular because it sets an example for us, giving us these priorities in prayer: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.
 
When we pray to the Lord, it is good to begin with adoration. Nehemiah began his prayer in verse 5 and 6, “O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love Him and keep His commandments, let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open, to hear the prayer of Your servant that I now pray before You day and night for the people of Israel Your servants…”
 
He addresses the Lord as the “God of heaven.” It is with adoration that he acknowledges that the eternal God is not just the Lord of this earth. He is not just some great ruler who commands the respect and adoration of a nation, but He is God of the Cosmos, for “In His hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are His also. The sea is His, for He made it, and His hands formed the dry land.” (Psalm 95:4-5)
 
Nehemiah also addresses the Lord as the “great and awesome God.”  He alone is uniquely great; He alone is truly awesome. His great and awesome power is not only seen in creation, but also in His faithfulness to His covenant promises. Nehemiah adores God, acknowledging in prayer that the Lord “keeps His covenant and steadfast love with those who love Him and keep His commandments” (v. 5).
 
Human promises are often made and broken, not so with the Lord. The Lord's over-all covenant promise, “I will be your God and you will be My people” is realized in this life through faith in Christ. It is through faith in His sacrifice on the cross that our sin is removed from us even though we have all broken God’s commandments. Yet, through saving faith in Christ alone, we are not only forgiven, but we are also credited – imputed – with the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ. He kept every commandment in perfect obedience and righteousness and credits His righteous perfection to everyone who by His grace believes in Him for salvation.
 
That is part of the covenant of steadfast love that Nehemiah addresses in his adoration of the Lord. Because we are unable to love God until He firsts loves us, the Lord initiates that love, giving the promise of a Redeemer in the Old Testament and telling of the fulfillment of that promise through the giving of His only begotten Son in the New Testament.
 
Do you see something of the adoration that is in Nehemiah's prayer? He pauses to contemplate who he is praying to, and then expresses adoration that the God of heaven would avail Himself to fallen sinners here on earth.
 
After expressing adoration for who God is and what he does, Nehemiah makes a confession of sin. At the end of verse 6 he prays, “confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against You. Even I and my father’s house have sinned.” Do you see how personal he makes this confession?  It is not “those Israelites” but “we Israelites.” In our prayers it is important to include that same personal confession of sin, as Nehemiah did as he confessed, “Even I and my father’s house have sinned.”
 
However, not only does Nehemiah personalize his confession, but he also makes it specific. In verse 7 he prays, “We have acted very corruptly against You and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that You commanded Your servant Moses.” In your prayers and mine it is crucial to specifically confess our own personal sin, with the assurance of 1 John 1:8 and 9: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
 
A third element of Nehemiah's prayer is thanksgiving. In verse 8 and 9 he expresses thankfulness for God's Word, especially for the covenant promises of God revealed in His Word. Considering who God is – “the God of heaven, the great and awesome God” – and considering who we are – sinners who have transgressed His law – how amazing is it that God would establish a covenant promise to be with us, to be our God, and to forgive us and grant us eternal life with Him in the Paradise yet to be revealed!
 
Adoration and thanksgiving often overlap each other in prayer because both elements are to be a major part of our prayer life. This is also taught in the answer to question 116 of the Heidelberg Catechism: “Why do Christians need to pray?” Answer: “Because prayer is the most important part of the thankfulness God requires of us.”
 
It is only after the adoration, confession, and thanksgiving that Nehemiah makes his supplication. And then it is not the long shopping list of things that comprise so many of our prayers, but one simple request, in verse 11: “Give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” ­
 
“This man” is a reference to King Artaxerxes, to whom Nehemiah served as cupbearer. Only the most trustworthy people were selected as cupbearers. Every king was aware that many plots were set against them, including poisoning their food and drink.  In his position as cupbearer, Nehemiah had the opportunity to not only serve the king, but to serve the King of kings by working to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. His meeting with the king, described in the next chapter, was crucial in bringing about the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls.
 
No wonder Nehemiah was a person of prayer! And as he prayed, he set such a good example for us! He prayed with structured, thoughtful prayers, with spur of the moment prayers, and he prayed with persistence, month after month, year after year. And in his prayers, he set priorities, praying with adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication.
    
Helps for Effective Prayer
 
How do we respond to a prayer like Nehemiah’s? How can we follow the good example he set?  What can you do, and what can I do, to be more faithful and God-honoring in our prayers?
 
First, don’t hesitate to use Scripture in your prayers, praying the Word of God back to the Author of that Word, as Nehemiah did in verse 8 and 9. Often when we read our Bibles we forget what we have read even by the time we get to the end of the chapter. But when we pray Scripture back to the Lord, the words we have read are imprinted on our hearts and minds.
 
As an example, take a chapter like Psalm 103 and personalize it, praising the Lord for His promises. For instance, to pray back verses 8 to13, pray:
 
   Thank you, Lord, that You are compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
    You will not always accuse,
nor will You harbor Your anger forever;
    You do not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
     For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is Your love for those who fear You;
      as far as the east is from the west,
so far have You removed our transgressions from us.
     As a father has compassion on his children,
so You, Lord, have compassion on those who fear You…
 
It is helpful to pray with an open Bible, and it is even better to memorize key portions of the Bible. Then you always have the Word of God in you, which will become a blessing to your prayer life, as well as every other aspect of your life.
 
The Scripture also links fasting with prayer. Nehemiah is but one example of many who fasted, both in preparation for prayer and while he prayed. Jesus set the example of fasting, and certainly expects His people to fast, for in Matthew 6:16 He doesn’t say, “If you fast,” but, “When you fast…”
 
Fasting can center not only on refraining from food, but fasting from activity that consumes time that could be spent in prayer. How much more of a vital prayer life would we have if we “fasted” from television, the internet, and other activities that consume time that could be spent in prayer?
 
Also, think through your prayers following an acronym such as ACTS and the model given by the Lord's prayer. A model, or pattern, gives us both structure and flexibility in prayer. We don't need to be tied down to any one pattern or structure.  In fact, it is good to follow different patterns or models of prayer. 
 
For instance, in Psalm 51 David starts out with confession first, then adoration, thanksgiving and supplication. If you put Psalm 51 into an acronym you would have “CATS” instead of “ACTS”, but a personal yet structured prayer would still flow from your heart.
 
The Lord’s Prayer is also put before us as a model. When Jesus taught the prayer to His disciples He put the prayer before them as a model, saying, “Pray then like this.” (Matthew 6:9). It is good to use the Lord’s prayer word for word, but it is also good to use the Lord’s prayer as a model, or pattern, for our prayers.
 
As an example, consider that the Lord’s prayer focuses on God’s name being honored, His kingdom coming, and His will being done. The prayer also includes petitions for our daily bread, and our need to be forgiven and to forgive, even as we ask not to be led into situations of temptation. Take those points and use them as a pattern, or model, for your prayer. Then you will have a prayer that follows the pattern of the Lord’s prayer, emphasizing what matters most to the Lord, yet personalized in your own words.
 
As you do so, it is helpful to keep a prayer journal, both to write out prayers at times, and also to record God's answer to specific prayer.  When we write we are forced to think about what we are saying, we are forced to pick out words with care, to go to a deeper expression of adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. In a certain sense, the whole book of Nehemiah is one prayer journal. In it Nehemiah records God's answers to his prayers.
 
The Lord answered his prayer of chapter one; King Artaxerxes granted Nehemiah’s favor. He granted him success in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. The Lord  answered the prayer of Nehemiah as recorded in chapter 2:8, where he writes, The king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me.”
 
The Lord answered Nehemiah’s prayer in chapter 4, again in chapter 6, still again, in chapter 9. Nehemiah’s letter is a powerful incentive to pray as it pointedly reminds us that for the sake of Christ, God hears and answers prayer!  Our prayers are effective, not because of what we do, but because of the intercession of Christ (Hebrews 4:14-16, 7:25) and also of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:26-27), as the Father graciously hears our prayers. It is because of God’s work and His grace that the prayers of a righteous person are powerful and effective (James 5:16b).
 
Yet, if you and I prayed as Nehemiah did, with structured prayers, short “spur of the moment” prayers, persistently, with adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication – how would God answer those prayers?  If we kept a record, as Nehemiah did, how would it read? Would there be answered prayer for a deeper appreciation for who God is – “The God of heaven, great and awesome who keeps His covenant of steadfast love”?
 
Would there be assurance of answered prayer for the forgiveness of our sin, not just our actual deeds of sin, and sins of omission, but our sinful nature as well? Would there be answered prayer for greater contentment in life, as we count our blessings in prayer instead of rehearsing our wishes?
 
Would there be answered prayer for supplications, even those that aren’t met as we might want, still met with the peace that surpasses understanding as we recognize that God responds with His will in our prayers, promising that if the thorn isn’t removed – and the petition isn’t granted – His grace will be sufficient?
 
* * *
 
The United States was blessed by founding fathers who recognized their great need for God’s guidance; they recognized their need for the light of His Word in governing their nation. Unless there is spiritual revival, the United States will surely continue to fall. Great statesmen – those politicians who truly understand the essence of what it means to rule and govern in the proper way – have always relied, not on their own power, but on the power of Almighty God through prayer. And the same must be true for every Christian.
  
By God's grace and enabling Spirit, may all of us follow the good example of Nehemiah. He was a great leader “from the knees up” as he realized the power of prayer, and found, through prayer, the peace, the strength and the guidance all of us need in our pilgrimage through life. Amen.
 
 
                                              - bulletin outline -
 
 
“O Lord, let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant, and to the prayer of Your servants
who delight to fear Your name, and give success to Your servant today, and grant him mercy in the
sight of this man.” Now I was cupbearer to the king. – Nehemiah 1:11
 
                                               “But I Prayed
                                               Nehemiah 1:1-11
 
I.   Nehemiah was a great leader “from the knees up” for he realized the
      power of prayer.  He prayed:
      1) With structured, thoughtful prayers (1:4-11; 9:5-38)
 
      2) With spur of the moment “missile” prayers (2:4-5, 6:9b)
 
      3) With persistence, month by month, year by year (1:1, 2:1, 4:9, 9:1)
 
 
II.  Nehemiah’s prayer, in chapter one, follows the acronym of ACTS
      and sets an example for us, giving us these priorities in prayer:
      1) Adoration (5)
 
      2) Confession (6-7)
 
      3) Thanksgiving – in Nehemiah’s case, for God's Word (8-9)
 
      4) Supplication (11)
 
 
III. Helps for effective prayer:
      1) Use Scripture in your prayers (8-9), including the Scriptural
           practice of fasting (4; Matthew 6:16-18)
 
 
      2) Think through your prayers following an acronym such as ACTS,
           and the model given by the Lord's prayer (Matthew 6:9-13)
 
     
      3) Keep a prayer journal, both to write out prayers and also to record
          God's answer to specific prayer
 
 
 
 

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2018, Rev. Ted Gray

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