Sunday, February 26, 2006

Nehemiah (5)

In a final look at Nehemiah's prayer (see posts below for the first four in this short series) we examine one more word that summarizes this model prayer. Having looked at the prayer from the point of view of four epitomizing words (spontaneity, stamina, shape and structure), our final word is success.

At first, the word "success" sounds too worldly, too commercial to apply to prayer. It sounds like something that might emerge from the sordid amalgam of business stratagems applied to the church. But by "success" we mean something a little different. This prayer achieved its intention. It accomplished its goal. God answered this prayer!

But it did achieve this answer quickly!

Close readers of Nehemiah will note that a time interval occurs between the first and second chapters. There is, in fact, a gap of four months. The structured, disciplined prayer of chapter 1 provides the springboard for the impulsive prayer of chapter 2 for King Artaxerxes to send him to Jerusalem. Having initially heard through his (biological?) brother that things were going badly in Jerusalem Nehemiah planned just how he will get there. He has no earthly hope, of course, He's a servant to the Babylonian King, after all, many hundreds of miles away from Jerusalem. If he is to get back there, it will be by divine intervention.

Learning to wait for God's providential opportunities is one of prayer's most difficult lessons. And waiting for God to answer our prayer is another difficult lesson that, somehow, does not get easier as we grow closer towards heaven! We still tend to think that if we were in charge, we could see to it that the answer would be given in a more timely fashion. Such is our arrogance, and learning to "wait on the Lord" (one of the Bible's charming phrases) is a life-long lesson learned by fits and starts.

Nehemiah was not praying for himself and that might make it even more difficult to see why God would make him wait. To make us wait for things we ask for ourselves is much easier to understand; God might be testing our selfish motivation. But why the delay when the prayer is for someone else? Alas, "ours not the reason why" and we must learn to trust God, no matter what happens.

Praying for others brings its own rewards. "I seldom made an errand to God for another," said Samuel Rutherford, "but I got something for myself."

Nehemiah's prayer was for the good of Jerusalem, God's church. In answering this prayer, Nehemiah's life changed completely. I often wonder, did Nehemiah have any idea what he was praying for? Did he imagine the change that would result in his life as a consequence? It certainly brought him into increased usefulness and growth in grace. And his life was never the saem again.

Prayer for others made him strong in the Lord. Being made to wait made him stronger. Receiving an answer must have made him long to be in God's presence more:

'For who knows the power of prayer,
but wishes to be often there?'

No comments: