Monday, January 30, 2006

Nehemiah: Man of Prayer (1)

In any assessment of what makes the lives of some Christians healthy and heroic, and others halting and hollow, prayer--its presence or absence, vitality or sickness—is crucial. Prayer is the most practical test there is in assessing growth in grace. It is like a thermometer that measures spiritual temperature.

Talk about prayer makes us think of its great practitioners in the Bible: in the New Testament we would have to single out the apostle Paul, whose frequent exhortations to pray issue from a life that was in close communion with God. But it is to the Old Testament that we must go to find the richest examples of all. The Old Testament seems to have more time to explore Bible characters and relate both their blemishes and brilliance.

Several come to mind: folk like Abraham pleading for Sodom (Gen. 18:16-33); Jacob in his midnight struggle (Gen. 32:22-32); Moses expostulating with God over a stubborn, rebellious people (Exod. 32:1-34:9); David, up there with the best of them and towering over most—no one can pray aright who does not know and love the psalms; then there is Daniel—the ninth chapter of Daniel is perhaps the greatest written prayer in the Bible.

Others also come to mind: Gideon longing for guidance (Judges 6); Hannah in her tearful, tormented state longing for a child in old age (1 Sam 1); Solomon in the newly completed temple longing for God's presence (1 Kings 8:22-9:9); Elijah daring to ask fire from heaven to consume a drenched sacrificial altar (1 Kings 18); King Hezekiah spreading out before God a bullying letter from an Assyrian tyrant and saying in effect "Now, Lord, read this!" (2 Kings 19,20); Isaiah, again and again, pleading for God to 'come down' and initiate a sovereign work of revival in beleaguered, backslidden Judah (Isa. 63:7-64:12).

Then there are two giants of prayer, Ezra and Nehemiah, who emerge historically at the end of the Old Testament story, though our Bibles place their respective books half way through. It wasn't until the fifteenth century that these two books were separated; they follow where 2 Chronicles leaves off—a book in which Ezra may also have had a hand.

Over the next several posts we will take a close look at Nehemiah to see what he has to teach us about prayer.

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