Praying with our eyes open
If you take a moment to think of the top intercessors in the Bible, the chances are that Moses, Abraham, Daniel and, of course, Jesus figure on the list. Nehemiah, a less-known character, might not immediately come to our minds. Nonetheless, a brief dive into his book will reveal a depth of relationship with God which is a true trademark of intercessors. Intercession itself rises from intimacy with God. Abraham, for instance dared to try the limits of God’s mercy (Genesis 18:23-33) and Moses dared to disagree with God (Exodus 32:10-12). They both had dialogues with God, not monologues. But I don’t think either one would have presumed to do so without knowing God personally.
If we seek to learn how to intercede, we must press in to know God. We must know what He loves – and what He hates. We need to know the promises He has made in His Word. We must also hear from Him how He sees individuals, work places, villages, cities, nations and continents. Sometimes, even often, His perspective on a situation is fairly different to ours and we need to see how He sees to be able to pray what He would. Occasionally, however, God will use news that we hear to propel us into prayer.
This was the case with Nehemiah. He was a man who was affected by the news. At the start of his book, his own brother relates to him the state of Jerusalem. It has been destroyed. The picture is grim. And naturally Nehemiah is touched by the report. Being in exile has not made him forget his beloved country. So far, we can all relate to the story.
What I find exemplary, however, is Nehemiah’s response to the news. We find out that he:
- hears the bad news
- mourns, fasts and prays
- takes action
Intercession is his first recorded response to negative news. He confesses the sins of his people and then pleads with God to remember His promise to them. He bases his prayer on God’s words. However, intercession is not the end of Nehemiah’s involvement in the situation. At the very end of his prayer, he asks God to give him favour with the king. Nehemiah first prays for the situation and then prays for God’s favour to be able to make a difference. He is not moved into action through selfish ambition or a desire to appear important. Neither is he operating with the fuel of good intentions. Perhaps it is precisely because Nehemiah’s work was born out of intercession and not just good intentions that he had the courage and tenacity to finish it!
As we know, God answered Nehemiah’s prayer by using him to lead the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s city walls. Indeed, intercession seems to have a direct link to practical action. We experienced this on a personal level several years ago. My husband and I drove around and frequently prayed for the region of Fourons/Voeren in Belgium. Although the area has a dark history of division and prejudice, my husband was drawn to it. Little by little, our love for the region grew until we found ourselves moving into one of its villages quite unexpectedly. It is quite fascinating for me to realise that intercession paved the way for us to live in the area for three years. Once there, we naturally continued our prayer for the region and witnessed positive changes! Intercession led to action and, as in Nehemiah’s case, action led to change.
May we all learn from Nehemiah’s response to news. Whatever reports we hear or see, may we take his way forward in intercession and action.
You will find Nehemiah’s full prayer in Nehemiah 1:4-11.