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Nehemiah Chapter One

Nehemiah's prayer

Nehemiah is greeted with news that the walls of Jerusalem had been broken down and the gates burned with fire. His reaction to the news was that of grief - he wept, he mourned, he fasted and he prayed. There appears to be a progression: things began with weeping, went through a stage of mourning to fasting and then prayer. My own feeling of the first stage would be that of screaming "Why???!" and feeling great inner pain. That over, there was still more pain ahead and feelings of deep loss.

The term "mourning" is normally applied to one who's relative or close friend has died. Speaking personally, I felt like the woman I loved had died when her world came crashing down in flames October 1995. The good things seemed gone forever, yes, and a sense of loss, of longing and of mourning is all that remained to fill the gap.

Thankfully Nehemiah didn't remain at that low ebb. He took action to turn the circumstances around - he fasted and he prayed. It is almost as though he was unwilling to accept the circumstances as they were and acted despite the reality that was assailing him. It's very easy to lump "fasting" and praying together as one conglomerate unit, if we separate them, is there something more hiding between the lines?

Nehemiah started by fasting - a step of obedience, of humility and of self sacrifice. This was in keeping with the scripture that says: "If my people, who bear my name, will humble themselves and pray and turn from their wicked ways then I will hear their prayer from heaven I will heal their land". While fasting, our weakness is turned to strength by the Lord; we demonstrate out utter dependence on Him and Him alone. When faced with a loved one who's "walls are broken down" and who's "gates are burned with fire" the key element (IMO) is to hold to the Love + strength + patience of God as a means of keeping ourselves together as we are "there" for our SO.

Sacrifice is a dirty word these days but one deeply linked with fasting. I saw my S.O's world crumbling and felt powerless to stop things. At that point I had some tough issues to face and laying my own hopes and dreams down before the Lord was an act of sacrifice. I had to face my S.O. AS SHE WAS not as I would like her to be. Reality bites!

Out of the fast came prayer. Nehemiah's fasting and self-denial were the doorway to action - not the action in and of themselves. If we are to be of service to our SO's then we too should break through our own sense of hopelessness and despair to find hope - looking at the circumstances with realism, yes, but also looking past them to plot a course forwards. Much of the 1st chapter of Nehemiah is devoted to prayer. Yet, it doesn't say he "rose every morning at sunrise and prayed for an hour". I've always felt a sense of guilt when people hammer me with "You must read your bible and pray EVERY day" because for the most part I don't manage it! One great lesson I have learned is that I now have someone I care about deeply and I have to motivation to actually TRY to pray everyday.

The substance of the prayer is interesting: He recognises the reality of God, His awesome majesty and mankind's sinfulness in relation to that measure of perfection. Nowhere did he "Name it and Claim it" or trust in some sort of "prosperity teaching". He simply noted that the law of God had been broken & penalties paid. Yet, in doing so, he also calls on the mercy and love of God to remember the promises He made to gather those who had been scattered.

It's very easy to say "our victory has already been won at the cross by Jesus" but this side-steps the issue of really praying for our SO! What application of the principle is there? How does God want to apply that victory in the lives of our SO and us? Where will the healing begin? More to the point, when??!

A digression: once a year the high-priest used to enter the holy-of-holies in the tabernacle carrying the blood of animals, to make atonement for the sins of the nation of Israel. That is, he made atonement in their place as he was their appointed representative before God. For various reasons (notably the fact that the Mosaic law only allowed the high-priest to even enter the holy-of-holies and that only once a year) the people didn't take the steps themselves.

Nehemiah mirrors this same action. On behalf of the nation of Israel he came to God asking for mercy, fully associating himself with the sins of his forefathers which caused the Diaspora in the first place. Sins had been committed, the people had turned from God, yet their re-building process began when one man took it upon himself to come to God, confess, repent and seek His face.

Where does this leave us? Well, as Christians God has called us to be a "royal priesthood" before Him (see 2 Peter) and as such we have the right to stand before God on behalf of our SO (who may not want to do so themselves!) Just as Nehemiah associated with the sins of the people we too can confess and ask forgiveness and call on the mercy of God displayed at Calvary. We can ask that the blood of Christ be poured out to cover the situation our SO faces.

At this point in time nothing appears to have changed yet the process stemmed from these steps in Nehemiah. The process of healing for an SO should equally follow from this sort of prayer...

Nehemiah Chapter Two


by Paul Hawke