Nehemiah 1:4 For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed (Part I)
We are looking at how Nehemiah responds to the bad news he hears concerning the fate of his fellow countrymen back in Jerusalem. Much had been done to restore the city following the return of the first exiles, but there was still a great deal to do: the walls of the city were down and Nehemiah was deeply upset.
Facing bad news
Sometime we are able to take bad news in our stride; at other times we feel ambushed. Many things play their part in determining our resilience. This differs widely, not only from one person to another, but also according to what else is going on in our lives. One or two isolated incidents can make us come out fighting more strongly – but a string of setbacks can have an attritional and sapping effect.
In the early chapters of Vale of Tears I have written in some detail about some of the particular phases we may go through when a sequence of losses come our way. You might find it helpful to browse some of these sections online; for instance:
Embarking on the Journey
Facing the Reality of Grief
The Disorientation loss brings
Sadness and Sorrow
Breaking Grief’s Isolation
Beyond the Sequence of Losses
The Shock of Severed Hopes
There is no record of Nehemiah experiencing that full-blown depression that reduces many people’s ability to function – but even he might have needed time to adjust psychologically and spiritually to the full implications of the news. As in many of the topics we will be exploring in this series, Nehemiah is a fine model for us to follow, not least because he set his face resolutely to seek the Lord and turned all that he had heard into prayer.
Listen here to a track from our Patmos CD on turning disappointments into God’s appointments.
The Power of Endurance
We are going to follow up now on the phrase ‘for some days’.
I love it when God moves swiftly and decisively –but the fact is that many situations require prolonged soul travail over a period of time before the moment of release comes. There may be a hint of this when Jesus tells his faith challenged disciples, “This kind can be cast out only by prayer.” (Mark 9:29). Many translations add ‘and fasting.’
More explicitly, Jesus vividly commends persistence in prayer in the parables in Luke 18. If we judge by the number of times He refers to this concept, that it is the number one quality He associates with successful prayer, together, of course, with our sheer quality of faith. Paul likewise speaks of travailing in prayer – that is, bringing something to birth, like a woman in labour, before one is able to prevail in a given situation. Such prayer involves our whole being, as it did for Paul struggling with all his might to see Christ fully formed in the hearts of those he was seeking to disciple (Galatians 4:19, Col.2:1).
Jesus specifically commends persistence in prayer in the parables in Luke 18. If we judge by the number of times He refers to this concept, we might even conclude that He regards it as an essential aspect of prayer.
Paul likewise speaks of travailing in prayer – that is, bringing something to birth, like a woman in labour, before being able to prevail in a given situation. Such prayer involves our whole being, as it did for Paul struggling with all his might to see Christ fully formed in the hearts of those he was seeking to disciple (Galatians 4:19, Col.2:1). It’s no use uttering the shout of faith on the first circuit of Jericho – you’ll only give yourself a sore throat!
Intercessors and those most used in revival (or who have been called to challenge vested interests in the Name of the Lord) will be entirely familiar with the realities of such soul travail. Many of them had (and have!) exemplary prayer lives. Charles Finney, the American evangelist, used to send ‘Father Nash’, Abel Cleary and other dedicated intercessors ahead of him to pray through a town or region before he came in person to conduct his revival campaigns. Quite simply, God promises that it is ‘When you seek Me with all your heart that you will find Me.’ (Jer. 29:13)
Let’s take a moment to remind ourselves of some fundamentals. Everyone knows that Jesus spent much time in prayer during His time on earth, but not everyone realizes that intercession has also been His chief ministry since the resurrection.
We know from Hebrews 7:25 that ‘Jesus ever lives to make intercession for us. Christ can save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to make intercession for them.’
And Paul tells us that ‘He is at the right hand of the Father interceding for us.’ (Rom. 8:34)
Prayer is therefore the tool God works with. We can no more divide Jesus the man of prayer from Jesus the man of action than we can separate Jesus the Healer from Jesus the Preacher. To be a balanced Christian is to be as radical as possible in as many expressions of the faith as are viable. We are to be flat out therefore in all of those aspects and more – but a life of prayer must undergird all our efforts if we are truly to walk in step with Him.
‘With this in mind, pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. Be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.’ (Eph. 6:16)
To enter into the ministry of intercession is to participate in the ministry of Heaven itself. That is a really exciting thought, so let’s give Him plenty to work with today. Selah!