Prayers for Desperate Times--Nehemiah’s Prayer”    

Nehemiah 1:1-2:10       February 15, 2009


SI:  We’re nearing the end of a nine week study of prayers for desperate times. 

   We’re looking at nine different believers in the Bible who were facing

   an overwhelming crisis, and they prayed, and God answered.


We’re reading this morning from the book of Nehemiah.

   It’s a record of the rebuilding of Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity.

One thing that makes this an interesting book is that it’s written in the first person.

   It’s Nehemiah’s memoirs of the highlights of those years of rebuilding.


So we get a peek into the this man’s mind as he tells us what he was thinking

   and why he did the things he did.

And this book is also a prayer journal.

   Ten of Nehemiah’s prayers are recorded in this book—

   prayers he prayed at particularly desperate times in the rebuilding.


There are no miracles in this book—but there are lots of answered prayers.

   That’s helpful because God rarely answers our prayers with miracles—

   he answers in other ways—and we need to be ready for those answers.


INTRO:  You have all heard the fairy tale of the Genie in the magic lamp.

Person rubs the lamp, out comes the Genie—You have three wishes

   First, Genie, give me a castle.  And, poof!  There is a castle.

   Second, Genie, give me wealth.  And poof!  There is a pile of money.

   Third, Genie, give me 100 more wishes!

Some people wish prayer like that—that God should answer soon and painlessly.

   But that is not the way God usually answers the prayers of His people.


I was talking to someone recently who told me that she had become burdened

   by two family members who were estranged from each other.

This rift had gone on for a long time and was very sensitive.

   These two people seemed to have become hardened in their positions.

   So she started to pray that God would heal it.


Some time after that, one of these relatives came by to visit.

And when he did her heart skipped a beat, because she realized

   that God had arranged this visit.  But it also skipped a beat because she realized

   that she was going to have to say something to open this sensitive subject.

God wasn’t going to work apart from her words.

   He wasn’t going to just go poof! and this rift would disappear and these two

   people would love each other again. 


So she prayed, Lord, I can’t say anything unless the time is right. 

   I can’t just bring this up cold  It won’t work.  You have to bring it up.

   And, of course, she was doubting it would come up.

But guess what, it did.  The subject came up. 

   And so she took a deep breath and said: 

   I’m glad you brought this up.  I’ve been praying about it and I want to tell

   you some things that you might not want to hear.

And from that difficult conversation, came a softening and reconciliation.


Are you ready for answered prayer?

We’ve seen over and over in these great Bible stories—

   prayer changes things and prayer changes us.

The Lord wants you to be sanctified—wants you to be more like Christ.

   His goal is your salvation. 

   He is working that out, even in the way he answers your prayers.  



Nehemiah was a Jew living in Persia, working as cupbearer for the King of Persia,

   but he heart was in Jerusalem.  Jews had finally returned, rebuilding the city.

   Glad that God’s salvation plan for Israel restored.

And then he heard from his brother that the rebuilding of Jerusalem

   stopped and all the work that had been done so far was destroyed.

   When Nehemiah heard this he broke down and wept. 


And he started praying.  And it’s a powerful prayer.

   As we read it, did you notice how much it had in common with many of

   the prayers we’ve studied in this series? 

“O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love . . .”


This is just like Hannah’s prayer, Jehoshaphat’s, Hezekiah’s, Daniel’s.

   The sovereignty of God.  God’s covenant faithfulness.  Bold requests.

Nehemiah felt a burden and he started to pray.

   But as he prayed for God to fix this thing and rebuild Jerusalem,

   he realized that God was not going to do a miracle.


He realized that God’s answer would come through a conversation

   that Nehemiah himself must have with the king, his master,

   the Persian King Artaxerxes—the man who gave the order to stop rebuilding.

A man with a huge ego.  A man who did not like to reverse his decisions.

   You get the idea.  So Nehemiah ends his prayer this way:

   “Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.”


The Lord can do miracles if he wants.

   But often he answers in different ways.

When you pray to God in desperate times, or in distressing and broken

   situations like Nehemiah faced, you must be prepared for his answer.

   Because through the answers he gives, wants to change you.


Let’s look at this passage and see five ways God answers our prayers.


MP#1  God answers your prayers in His time.

Book of Nehemiah is a memoir of rebuilding of Jerusalem, also a prayer journal.

1:1 month of Kislev (Nov/Dec) Nehemiah has conversation, burdened

   begins to pray immediately “give your servant success today

2:1 month of Nisan (March/April) four months had passed

   and Nehemiah had not even been able to talk to the king about it.


Why didn’t Nehemiah just go in the very next day and ask the king of he could

   rebuild Jerusalem?  Persian court etiquette did not allow a person to bring up

   a matter it the king did not ask them first—especially something that contradicted

   an earlier decision of the king.


Nehemiah wasn’t afraid of getting in trouble, but knew if he brought it up unasked,

   then the king would get suspicious and it would never happen.

So Nehemiah was praying:  Lord, you are going to have to open this door.

   And please do it today!  Nehemiah went in to court, and it didn’t happen.

   And it didn’t happen the next day, or next—four whole months went by.


Why didn’t God answer Nehemiah’s prayer right way.

   Because God answers prayer in his time—and his time is best.

We always want it today.  But the Lord sees the big picture.

   Sometimes, when look back, see how God’s timing was so much better.


In Nehemiah’s case, those four long months of waiting were so distressing

   that is started showing on his face.  King noticed and asked:  Why so sad?

Because that was the angle, Nehemiah’s answer took on a personal note.

   King saw this was genuine feeling, not a hidden political agenda.

   If Nehemiah had blurted out the first day, king suspicious.

Queen present, special occasion—King could show off being generous. 

   So see how God’s timing worked out for the best.


May be some of you right now who have a burden—person, situation.

   Your prayer is, Lord, fix it today. 

   Maybe you’ve been praying that for a long time, God’s timing is best.

How is he changing you?  Making you patient.

   Developing your trust.  Jesus himself lived this—

   My time has not yet come, time has not yet come—time came he went.

Big sense, we are waiting for his return, will set all things right.


MP#2  God answers your prayers through your words.

The Lord begins to answer Nehemiah’s prayer when king Artaxerxes asks,

   Why are you so sad?  I know you aren’t sick.  Must be sadness of the heart.

Nehemiah’s heart started to pound, mouth dry, “I was very much afraid.”


Some commentaries say Nehemiah was afraid because he had broken etiquette

   and displayed emotion.  Fearful the king might punish him.

But it’s obvious that the king not asking a threatening question.


Nehemiah was afraid because he suddenly realized:  This is it, I’ve got to speak.

   All my months of private prayer have come to this, I’ve got to say something.

Filled with all those doubts and fears that come when you’ve prayed,

   and prayed and now the opportunity is here and you have to speak.

Is this the right time?  Should I put it off?

   Am I really willing to put myself out there and risk this conversation?


Christian I mentioned earlier.  Prayed for these family members to be reconciled.

   But when she suddenly realized, the opportunity I have prayed for is here,

   and I’ve got to be the one to bring it up—that’s scary.

Has that ever happened to you? 

   Maybe you were burdened about a person or situation. 

   Know that God has to work it out but you are probably going to be the person

   to bring it up and get the ball rolling.  The Lord orchestrates the time and place. And then when the moment arrives, you know you have to speak!


So what did Nehemiah do?  “I was very much afraid, but I said to the king . . .”

   He didn’t change the subject or punt.

   He opened his mouth and began to speak and the Lord blessed his words.


How does God answer your prayers?  In His time and often through your words.

It may be that situation you are most concerned about will require you

   to say something to somebody. 

When that opportunity arrives, recognize it for what it is.

   It’s the answer you’ve been praying for.

In spite of your fears, you have to speak—

   and know that even if stumble and stutter, Jesus will use your words.

   He is the Word, accomplish his purposes through you.


Change you, make more confident in him.  Strength made perfect in weakness.

MP#3  God answers your prayers through your plans.

King Artaxerxes said:  You’re sad the city of your fathers’ is in ruins.

   “What is it you want?”

Nehemiah sent a quick, silent prayer to God.

   “Then I prayed to the God of heaven and I answered the king.”

   If it pleases you, want to go back and rebuild the city in Judah.


Then Artaxerxes asked another question—How long will you be gone?

   “So I set a time”  The time not mentioned, learn in 5:14 and 13:6 (12 years)

Then Nehemiah raised other matters.

   Letters of safe conduct to governors, Letter to keeper of forest for lumber,

   Explains scope of building, citadel by temple, city wall, governor’s residence.

King granted all these, and gave officers and cavalry as well.


What if Artaxerxes had asked.  How long?

   And Nehemiah had said:  I don’t know, just going to walk by faith. 

   And what if Nehemiah had not thought through all the political ramifications.

Would have set out on this project and run into impossible bureaucracy.

   His intentions would have been good, but in long run, his prayers not answered.


This is the point—when the Lord burdens you with broken people and situations,

   when he puts you in distressing situations, and you begin to pray—

   you should also begin to plan.  He has given you a mind.

He sometimes uses those plans to bring to fullness the answer to your prayers.


Don’t trust plans, trust Christ.  That way if God overrules, even if fall apart—

   you won’t be devastated, will still have what is mot important—

   assurance of Lord’s hand on your life.

But even so, the Lord honors prayerful planning.


Something I admire about many of you in this congregation.

   You are quick to ask each other’s counsel.  Not just me for pastoral matters.

Lots of conversations in which you ask for prayer and advice—

   How should I think about this matter with children or work.

Proverbs:  “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisors they succeed.”

Isaiah:  “The noble man makes noble plans and by noble deeds he stands.”   

   Our God is a planning God.  Planned your salvation before creation, before fall.

   Knew you and planned the best for your.

Grow in wisdom.

MP#4  God answers your prayers, but you must see.

Nehemiah had a spiritual vision of life.

   He was able to see answers to prayer.

Vs. 8  “And because the gracious hand of my God was upon me, the king granted my requests.”

   If you don’t have spiritual eyes, you might not even see an answered prayer.

   It might seem insignificant to you.  Or you might attribute it to something else.


I know a Christian man who did not have a good relationship with his son.

   He is a very orderly, practical man and his son is an artistic free spirit.

   He didn’t understand his son, son didn’t understand him.

   That frustrated this man and angered him and grieved him at the same time.

He prayed and prayed that the Lord would do something. 

   Help them to connect.  Give him wisdom to know what to do.


He was talking to a friend about it and his friend said.

You have to ask your son about his art and really listen to him.

   Keep asking him about it and talking about it

   until you really understand it and get interested in it yourself.


This man just shook his head and said—That will never work.  Gave all the reasons.

He had prayed for God to give him the answer but he couldn’t see it when it came.

   Because he was blinded by his own ideas about how God should answer.

Thankfully, the end of the story is that his friend didn’t let up on him.

   Man finally saw this was the wisdom he had been praying for. 

   Today he and his son actually work together.


Nehemiah was a very practical person. 

   Thought about building projects and 12-year plans and political maneuvers. 

But when answers to prayer came, he recognized them for what they were.

   He didn’t call them his success.  He didn’t call them luck.

   He didn’t say, that’s just a little thing, still so much to do.

He was able to see, with spiritual eyes, the gracious hand of God.


Verse 8 explains why Nehemiah kept this memoir—

   wanted to give testimony to the gracious hand of His God.

Over and over again, key points and desperate times,

   Nehemiah said, the Lord did this.  The Lord did that. 

You have to see answers to prayer, even if small.  Even if not what expect.

Depth of spiritual insight.

MP#5  God answers your prayers for your present need.

Passage seems to end on a negative note, verse 10.

   “When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about this, they were

   very much disturbed that someone had come to promote the welfare of the Israelites.”

Verse a foreshadowing of things to come—men became a thorn in Nehemiah’s side.


They had economic stake in keeping Jerusalem broken and defenseless.

   Even though Nehemiah had the king’s letter, men still tried to derail his work.

Nehemiah had an answer to prayer—but that didn’t make his life smooth.

   Huge crises later that made talking to Artaxerxes seem like a piece of cake.


But hope you see that this is not a negative note but a positive one.

   The answered Nehemiah’s present need. 

   And in the future, as new problems arose, the Lord would do the same.

It’s often been said that God’s grace is like the air we breath.

   We need it for life every moment. 

   We can’t breath a lot and store it up for later, or take a day off without it. 

Answered prayer is like God’s grace.  

   You can’t store it up.  You can’t live off past experiences.

    You can talk about them.  Enjoy benefits from them. 


But new challenges are going to arise. 

That’s important to remember when you are praying in desperate times. 

   Don’t ever think—if Lord just answered this prayer—my life would be smooth.

It will be smooth for a while.  But we live in a fallen world.

   Heaven is our promised rest.

When you receive an answer to prayer, even a significant breakthrough,

   recognize that it is an answer to prayer for today’s needs,

   tomorrow there may be new troubles, even bigger than you can imagine. 

But that’s ok, because you can pray and God will meet your present need.


Know a minister, he and wife were called to adopt children from another country.

   Getting them to America, impossible.  Prayed, Lord answered prayer.

And it was smooth sailing after that. 

No, guess what?  They’re still praying—for things didn’t even know would face.

   They are just as dependent upon God as they ever were.

   And he’s still answering their prayers for present needs.

Daily dependency.


CONC:  Are you ready for answered prayer?

The Lord is not a genie in a bottle.  He can go poof if he wants to.

   But he usually doesn’t, because he loves you.

   And his way of answering your prayers is best.


Prayer changes things and prayer changes you.


Lord wants you to:

   Grow in patience as you wait for him.

   Grow in boldness as you speak the truth in love when he opens the way.

   Grow in wisdom as you plan and lay those plans before him.

   Grow in spiritual insight as you see his answers, maybe even answers

   that other people can’t see.

   Grow in dependence as you ask him for your daily bread.


Martyn Lloyd-Jones often quoted Luke 18:1—in the King James Version.

   “Men ought always to pray and not to faint”

He would say that this is the essence of the Christian life.

   Do not faint—keep praying—and be ready for God’s answer.