Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Nehemiah (3)

Spontaneity in prayer may cloud the secret of Nehemiah's godliness; his instinctive response in a corner was the result of a life in constant touch with God. Behind this particular incident lay a disciplined, resolute 3-month period of intense prayer (see the dates in 1:1 and 2:1). A second word now comes to mind: stamina.

Stamina, or perseverance, in prayer is something Jesus urged that we “ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). Stamina lies behind David and Daniel's greatness: “O LORD, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch.” (Psa. 5:3); “When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.”(Dan. 6:10).

If you have ever listened to a great pianist or cellist play at a concert, you will be impressed, as I invariably am, by their seemingly effortless dexterity; fingers move with natural ease. Yet behind this display of spontaneity lies a lifetime devoted to painstaking discipline. Daily practice in chromatic scales is as dull as ditch-water! Yet, without it, greatness is unachievable. The same is true for athletes. There can be no success at any given moment without disciplined training. I speak not from experience here, but observation!

The disciplines of a godly life are equally learned by arduous repetition and refinement of godly behavior. If we only pray when we feel like it, we will never attain the heights that God intends for us—and we will have no one to blame but ourselves.

Stamina—stickability is another word for it—emerges later on in Nehemiah's story. Faced by what James called “trials of various kinds” (Jam. 1:2), which, for Nehemiah, included: ridicule (4:1-3), discouragement (4:10-12), financial bondage (5:1-5), subtlety (6:1-4), slander (6:5-7) and intimidating letters (6:19), the book of Nehemiah consistently encourages prayer.

Discipline! That is what we need. It is, however, such a strict, off-putting word. But, as John Owen remarks, “unless the most fruitful ground be manured, it will not bring forth a useful crop.'”

Honesty will demand that it is just here that we fail so miserably. And Nehemiah has much to teach those who are willing to learn.

1 comment:

ron baxter said...

Your piece was very encouraging as well as convicting (I just finished a Sunday evening time of prayer, which occurs far too seldom for my own spiritual health--ie, praying when it is convenient or I feel like it, rather than "without ceasing"). I love your quote by John Owen; how true it is. May the Lord bless you and thanks for the article.