Learning from Scripture Text: Nehemiah 1:5-11
February 24, 2019 Rev. Donald W. Hackett, D.Min.
Centre Presbyterian Church New Park, PA
Faith Conversation with Children – Crafted Prayer
- Prayers we say together.
- By Rebecca Weston (1890)
Father, we thank you for the night, And for the pleasant morning light;
For rest and food and loving care, And all that makes the day so fair.
Help us to do the things we should, To be to others kind and good;
In all we do, in work or play, To grow more loving every day.
Our text today transports us back again to the royal chambers in Persia around 460BC. Remember Nehemiah? He was a Jewish official serving the Persian King over 140 years after Jerusalem was conquered by the Babylonians. Many of the Jewish leaders and families were exiled to Persia to serve. Nehemiah had risen to the high rank of cupbearer.
As a cupbearer, Nehemiah was in close relationship to the king. He trusted Nehemiah and would know if something was upsetting him. As turns out, this normally cheerful cupbearer had a big concern on his heart. Exiles had been allowed to return to Jerusalem over the last 80 years and the Temple was rebuilt 70 years ago, but life there was still very hard. The walls and gate surrounding the city were rubble and the people scattered and in danger from attack. Nehemiah is about to ask the king a big favor. This is the prayer he offers as he plans to speak to the king. Let’s read it together:
Text: Nehemiah 1:5-11
I said, “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 your servants, the people of Israel, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Both I and my family have sinned. We have offended you deeply, failing to keep the commandments, the statutes, and the ordinances that you commanded your servant Moses. Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples; but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are under the farthest skies, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place at which I have chosen to establish my name.’ They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great power and your strong hand. O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man!”
In this series on how we can experience a rich life with God, we started with prayer. Most relationships start and are nurtured by meaningful conversation. It is true in a marriage. It is true with parents and children. It is true with best friends and it is particularly true in our friendship with God. One of the beautiful things about prayers is that it can happen anywhere, anytime, out loud or quiet, long or to the point, and God is always attentive and engaged with you in the conversation.
Prayer is one of the main doors to your relationship with God. You decide to do it, you move into it, and as you enter that door, it takes you to a whole other place. You are going deeper into the heart of God when you pray. Little by little, e prayer it draws you closer to God. The door to God we are looking at today is Study. The spiritual practice of study occurs when we dig into the Bible to discover more about God. Prayer and study go hand in hand.
Nehemiah knew how to pray, how to talk to God, because he had studied God. As we look at his prayer we see that Nehemiah is quoting truths and even phases from a number of Old Testament passages found in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Micah. For example he opens with “Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments,” Where did that come from? How did Nehemiah know that was true about God. Nehemiah studied God daily. He knew his Hebrew texts.
1. Addressing God
He starts with phrases of adoration in knew from the Scriptures:
Deuteronomy 7:21 Do not be terrified by them, for the Lord your God, who is among you, is a great and awesome God.
1 Kings 8:23 “Lord, the God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth below—you who keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way.
What a great way to address God and enter the conversation…with awe and respect and stating what is true about God. The more we study God, the better we are able to connect with God. Betsy McPherson, I so appreciate the way help many of us dig into the Bible everyday. Your faithful practice blesses us all. I know there are days you would like to take a break. When I see your email I get so encouraged that you are persistently studying Scripture and helping others as you do. Thank you. Through regular study, we learn the heart of God.
2. Request & Promise
Next Nehemiah makes a request:
“let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel.
Nehemiah knew that is what God promised to Solomon at the dedication of the Temple.
2 Chronicles 7:15 Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.
We can have that same confidence in our prayers. In Hebrews 4:16 we are given this invitation: Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
God’s help and grace are not just for Nehemiah, they for us as well. The more we study the Bible with the aim to draw close to the heart of God, we will see there is so much waiting for us.
One last observation on this prayer and then I want to get you a very practical application. In this prayer, Nehemiah has a confession.
I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.
Nehemiah knew God desires an open and honest relationship with us. When we cover up, hide, or deny the truth of our actions, our relationships go sour. Nehemiah knew Solomon’s prayer in 1 Kings 8 where he pleaded with God. Solomon asked that if the people sinned and were sent into exile, but there had a change of heart and returned to God, would he please hear their prayers. Nehemiah is repeating the prayers of Solomon. In praying this Nehemiah is not only confessing his own sins, but he also owns the sins of his family and his ancestors: We have acted very wickedly toward you.
As we study the Bible, we realize the sins of others often hid in our own hearts as well. We all struggle. We all need help. I encourage you to read the Psalms these next few months as a way to pray. Slowly read a Psalm or two a day and when you get to a phrase that seems to echo what is in your heart, stop and reflect on it. Say the words out loud. Let it become one of your prayers to God.
The first day of Lent is Ash Wednesday on March 6. We will host a 30 minute service in our Sanctuary at 12 noon and 7pm. It is designed for the whole family. The atmosphere will be quiet, reflective, with a short mediation, and conclude with celebrating Communion together. You do not have to dress up, just come as you are on any normal Wednesday. This will be a time to get our hearts ready for God.