Ezra & Nehemiahby Robert M. Solomon
Evangelist Billy Graham once observed, “To get nations back on their feet, we must first get down on our knees.” Nehemiah knows this secret, so he prays day and night for four months. As he does this, a plan begins to form in his mind: he will approach the king about going to Jerusalem to help build its walls.
Nehemiah knows full well that the king’s servants risk losing their lives if they appear sad before him (Nehemiah 2:1). It would have been seen as disrespectful or suggesting that the servant was unhappy with the king—or even plotting against him. Despite this, Nehemiah chooses to reveal his true feelings. The king, being a discerning man, notices his sad face and asks him what is the matter. This is a dangerous moment for Nehemiah, as he reveals to his readers, “I was very much afraid” (v. 2). Earlier, Artaxerxes, after hearing the Jews’ enemies accuse the Jews of rebellion, had ordered the rebuilding work in Jerusalem to stop (Ezra 4:11–23).
Without mentioning Jerusalem, Nehemiah opens his heart to the king and reveals his grief over the condition of the city of his fathers (Nehemiah 2:3). Sensing that his cupbearer has a request, the king asks him, “What is it you want?” (v. 4). Nehemiah must have taken a deep breath—but not just to calm himself psychologically. He takes the opportunity to pray an “arrow prayer”—a quick, short prayer—even as he talks to the king. “Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king” (vv. 4–5).
Nehemiah then makes his courageous request: he asks the king for permission to be sent to Jerusalem to help rebuild it (v. 5). This is a potentially explosive situation—how will the king respond?
We can apply two practical truths from today’s reading. First, we must appreciate the importance of prayer and see its relationship with planning for personal action. Pray, plan, then personally participate—this is Nehemiah’s order of action. We get into problems when we get the order mixed up. At all times, we must devote ourselves to prayer, for it connects us to God (Colossians 4:2).
Second, the answer to our prayers may be our own participation and may involve taking risks. As we pray continuously, we trust God to lead us (see 1 Thessalonians 5:17). Prayer warriors and godly risk takers often belong to the same tribe.
What do you think of the order: Pray, plan, and personally participate? What could happen if we get the order wrong or miss one of the components?
Why is risk involved in following and serving God? What fears keep you from “making the most of every opportunity” (Ephesians 5:16)? How does prayer help?