Sunday, October 4, 2009

An Earnest Prayer

As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. And 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 the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, '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 in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.' They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by 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 to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man." (Nehemiah 1:4-11, ESV)
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I’m borrowing liberally from my pastor and my men’s study group again. We’ve been on a series about “normal prayer” for several weeks. At the same time, our men’s study group began studying the life of Nehemiah (we wanted to look at a man who both started and finished strong after our David study). Thinking about the two, Nehemiah’s prayer in the first chapter stands out like a shining beacon.

If normal prayer is after the model Christ gave to the disciples, Nehemiah’s prayer fits it almost to the letter. He starts with a distinct reverence for the One he is approaching, calling out the awesome and steadfast nature of God. He is appropriately contrite and humble, taking ownership on a personal level for the sin of his nation, his family, and himself. And even before that, he prepared himself by fasting and mourning for several days. You might say he took his prayer life very seriously, especially given what he was about to ask.

And God does want us to bring our requests and petitions to Him in prayer. He loves hearing from us. The trouble is, sometimes we seem far too familiar when we approach the Almighty. We have our prayer list that we are checking off as we go (not a bad thing, mind you) and we view what should be an act of worship as just another task to complete. And we expect God to be pleased with our efforts.

God wants us to pray expecting His answer. He wants our worship as part of our prayer and as the framework for our relationship with Him. If we start our prayer by acknowledging his absolute holiness … and then try to really live in that way, it will change our attitude and approach to our conversation with our Maker. One of the most pointed and beautiful illustrations I’ve ever heard regarding prayer came years ago at a home group meeting. Our leader read to us several scenarios of people coming to prayer as if they were approaching God in His office. The working man came in at the appointed time as if it were another meeting to attend, made his requests, and left. The busy woman came in, dusted a few things, flopped down in a chair and sighed, made her requests, and left.

But the child crept in quietly, feeling a sense of awe just to be there. He crawled up in the chair and, when asked what was on his mind, replied, “Is it OK if I just sit here for a while? This is a pretty special place.” And so it is. Friends, we have been granted a one-on-one audience with the Creator of the Universe. We need a little childlike wonder in us to begin to appreciate that. We should, as Nehemiah did, give honor to the One who grants us entrance. It is an absolutely amazing opportunity!
As we travel the Crooked Path, may we stop often and reflect upon who God is and what He is doing in and around us. As we bring our sincere petitions and requests, knowing the outcome is in His most capable hands, may we find rest, reflection, and connection with the God who loved us to such a degree that He crafted a plan of redemption so expensive, He paid for it with the blood of His own Son. Now that’s Somebody worth communicating with.
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  1. When you pray, do you begin by actively recognizing who God is and what He has done, perhaps recite a verse from a Psalm or your favorite worship song?
  2. Have you fallen into the habit of just praying through a list without a thought to your connection to the Creator? How would you pray differently if you considered yourself having the exclusive ear of God when you pray?
  3. Do you feel like God is close and present when you pray, or does He seem distant and aloof? Is that because of who He is or because of how you approach your conversation with Him?

ESV - Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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