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)
This week, in our class on Lent and the Christian Disciplines, we discussed prayer again. I opened with this passage from Nehemiah and we talked through it on its own and in comparison to the Model Prayer our Lord presented the disciples. We talked about Nehemiah's penitent heart and manner, his sincere humility before his God. His acknowledgement of who God is and what He had promised to His people. If ever there was a model prayer, this is definitely in the running.
The challenge here is to evaluate my own prayer life and practice. Am I investing in it the way I should so that it is as rich and complete as it can be? Or am I approaching the work of prayer as a "necessary chore" that I'd like to get over with as quickly as possible? The latter accomplishes very little in terms of my spiritual progress. The former will change my life completely.
In preparation for this topic in class, I found a couple of posts from Christianity Today (www.christianitytoday.com) by Anna Broadway. I hadn't read Ms. Broadway's work until I found these posts, but she offers some great insight on personal prayer. She talks about "prayer walking" and truly praying for those around her in her NYC neighborhood. The focus on compassion (which she noted was distinctly lacking in her prayer life) was challenging. Foster had noted this in Celebration of Discipline as well. I left the class today knowing I want to learn how to pray in a deeper, more passionate way that seeks what God wants - not merely what I think should happen.
The Crooked Path being what it is - crooked - needs to be surrounded in prayer. Those prayers should become an integral part of who I am and seek to advance God's Kingdom here on Earth. They should be compassionate prayers that ask Jesus to reign not only in my life, but in the lives of all those I encounter, even if it is a casual one. My prayers need to be more than just talking to God; they need to listen to His voice and seek out a way to be His hands and feet in a difficult world.