We have all experienced crisis and trouble at some point in our lives. And we all respond a little bit differently. It doesn’t matter if that crisis is a betrayal, a job loss, a natural disaster, or something else entirely….our response matters! Christ followers are supposed to be different from the rest of the world. So when we experience moments of crisis, when we experience trouble, when we are face to face with a devastating circumstance, the world is watching to see how we respond. Our response matters!
In the first chapter of Nehemiah, within the first four verses, Nehemiah is given heartbreaking news – the walls of his home city are demolished, there is no protection for his people, for the people of God. They are a city in crisis! He is broken and in disbelief. So he grieves and weeps…for days. It is in this grief that we can learn a good deal from Nehemiah.
First, amidst that weeping, in his mourning, Nehemiah never neglected to pray. In fact, he also fasted. You see, “he eased his sorrows and unburdened his spirit by pouring out his complaint before God and leaving it with Him” (Henry). How often do we mourn without the comfort of our Lord and Father? How often do we turn away and forsake Him because our heartbreak must be at least partially His fault?? The Jews were the chosen people of God. Nehemiah could have easily started cursing God, ‘Why did You let this happen?’ ‘How could this be?’ ‘Where were You?’ Instead, his first response in grief was to pray.
So how did he pray? He first lifted praise to the Lord, “O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God….” (ch. 1 vs. 5). That’s hard isn’t it? In the midst of heartbreak, the last thing we want to do is praise the One person who could have prevented the heartbreak in the first place. But praising Him during trials is an important response for our faith and His word tells us to be joyful when we meet trials (James 1:2).
He was in constant prayer, day and night. The idea of God’s people being left unprotected bothered Nehemiah to the depth of his soul. Instead of worrying and fretting, he prayed. And then prayed some more. I am a firm believer that God never tires of hearing our prayers. In Matthew 6:7, the Lord denounces vein repetition. However, “the prayer that is repeated simply because the worshipper is too persistent to be satisfied until it is answered” doesn’t fall into that category (Expositor’s). We should be circling every crisis we encounter with prayer until the matter is resolved (one way or another). If that means years of prayer, so be it!
He looked to God’s word: “Our best pleas therefore in prayer are those that are taken from the promise of God, the word on which He causes us to hope” (Henry). We need to be praying His word, praying the promises of God, just like Nehemiah, “Remember the word which You commanded Your servant Moses…” (ch. 1 vs. 8). Praying His word isn’t intended to remind God of what He has spoken, I don’t think He needs the reminder. But, rather, to acknowledge that we are aware of His promises, His commandments, and His goodness. We know that through heartbreak, through troubles, through sour lemons, God can bring goodness, mercy, joy, and triumph. Why? Because His word says so.
He was specific. In order to be specific in our prayers, we must be seeking God’s will in the first place. We must be actively doing our part. Nehemiah didn’t just hear the news, mourn, and pray. He began to plan a way to fix the problem, all the while praying, seeking the will of God – “He did not sit still and say, ‘Let God now do His own work, for I have no more to do,’ but set himself to forecast what he could do towards it” (Henry). And when he felt the Lord had shown him a way, Nehemiah began to pray specifically. Because of his position as cupbearer to the king, he knew he held a place of significance and favor. The cupbearer had to be trusted, after all, they were the ones who could most easily kill the king! Because of this position, he knew approaching the king was an answer to his problem. Nehemiah, like Esther, had been placed there for such a time as this. So he prayed for that meeting specifically, “…make your servant successful today and grant him compassion before this man” (ch. 1 vs. 11). We do not have to be vague in our prayers!!
He waited on the Lord’s timing. Chapter 1 of Nehemiah is set in the month of Chislev, and chapter 2, when he finally speaks to the king of the matter, is set in the month of Nisan. There are FOUR months between the two! Some sources believe these four months passed because Nehemiah was not in the presence of the king. Possibly due to winter months, or possibly because he only worked one quarter out of the year. But regardless, from the time Nehemiah heard of the crisis of Jerusalem until he was able to do anything about the matter, four months had passed! All the while, Nehemiah kept praying and kept seeking the Lord’s will. He was waiting for an opportunity to arise, for God to open the right door. He recognized the need to be preparing, and while he did not sit still, he didn’t rush into anything either. He wanted to be certain of the will of the Lord.
He continued to pray in the very moment he needed it: The king out right asks Nehemiah what is bothering him at the beginning of the second chapter. Perhaps Nehemiah didn’t hide his sadness as well as he believed, or perhaps due to fasting for four months, his physical appearance was altered to a point that the king couldn’t help but notice that Nehemiah’s countenance was not quite right. So the king implores Nehemiah to express his anguish. And after a moment of fear, he does, then, “The king said to me, ‘What would you request?’ So I prayed to the God of heaven” (ch. 2 vs. 5). You see, “the brief and sudden prayer reaches heaven as an arrow suddenly shot from the bow, but it goes right home because he who lets it off in his surprise is a good marksman well practiced” (Expositor’s). Nehemiah had already been in constant prayer about this situation, so it makes sense that as he steps forward to speak with the king that he would, one last time, ask the Lord for confidence, clarity, and compassion from the king. It would have been a natural reflex, just as it should be in our own lives.
In conclusion, our response to crisis, no matter the form, should be to pray and seek the will of God. He knows better than we do how best to move forward. He knows how the crisis will be fixed already. And He knows best how to equip each one of us for the moments we find ourselves in. Nehemiah sets a beautiful example of prayer in crisis, it would be wise to follow his lead. The world is watching. Our response matters. Will you worry, curse God, and shut down? Or will you pray, trust the Lord, seek His will, and move forward?