For a few years now, I have felt good about my slow but steady pace of reading reflectively through Scripture. It is a spiritual discipline I’ve moulded in a way that works for me. Prayer, however, is one that, although certainly not absent from my life, could use some work. I am not uncomfortable praying aloud in a group setting, but it is my private prayer that feels stunted, although not for lack of resources, knowledge or even practice. Perhaps more for lack of discipline, prioritizing and routine.
Reading Nehemiah encourages me regarding prayer. When Nehemiah receives word from his brother about the disrepair of Jerusalem, he despairs. He freely mourns, fasts and prays, and his prayer is recorded in Scripture.
Later, Nehemiah is downcast before the king and, when the king asks what he might do to help, the scriptures say that Nehemiah “prayed to the God of heaven,” then proceeded to continue speaking with the king. Unlike his previous lengthy multi-day fasting and praying, here Nehemiah appears to offer a quick, silent secret prayer, not interrupting the conversation with the king. And even later, Nehemiah will continue to pray for help against their adversaries while both keeping guard and rebuilding the city walls.
Perhaps it’s not that much different from other places, but I noticed the variety of situations in which Nehemiah’s prayers were present and how each differed in kind. All this encouraged me and spurred me on a bit. I am reminded how helpful journalling is for me, how often it weaves in and out of prayer.
I’m also reminded of the importance of having a healthy sleep schedule, so I can be up before my girls to get a few minutes to read and pray and reflect before the day’s demands. Nehemiah reminds me to offer quick, short, secret prayers throughout my day, recognizing God’s presence in all manner of things.
Although I have admired and appreciated Nehemiah’s passion and enthusiasm in prayer, I’m a bit disheartened by this book as well. Apparently, it doesn’t matter when in history one looks, biblical or church, if there isn’t a strong leader continually guiding and coaching the people toward faithfulness, the people tend to fall away.
Nehemiah gets everyone set up in Jerusalem and then goes back to Babylon for a while. Later, upon returning to Jerusalem, he finds things falling apart. It takes Nehemiah’s leadership to keep them on track. This is a reminder of the importance of good leadership, but what does it say about the masses? Why can’t the people follow faithfully without a convicting leader?
It reminds me of my youth group days. I had a wonderful, passionate and godly youth pastor. During his time, the youth group grew wildly, and his passion for God was contagious. It certainly had a huge impact on my faith development.
Then, in my last year of youth group, the youth pastor was called elsewhere to another ministry position, not uncommon for youth pastors. But in his absence, despite other youth leaders’ attempts, the youth group dwindled. Within a year, a youth group of nearly a hundred dwindled to a dozen. He had been the glue holding us together , and when he left we fell apart, just like the Israelites and Nehemiah.
For a long time, I’ve wished, wanted and believed that truly healthy communities of faith shouldn’t be dependent on a strong leader or leadership team, that a community of believers should be able to communally lead and perpetuate faithfulness. Perhaps that isn’t the case, or at least it’s not the norm.
Prayer and lasting: two lessons from Nehemiah.
Joshua Penfold (email@example.com) loves the bewildering, bizarre but beautiful Bible.