Return to Prayer
It’s right there, staring at you:
The warning light on your car’s dashboard.
The unopened bill.
The calendar reminder to make a doctor’s appointment.
You know what you need to do, but you don’t want to take the next step. Why? Because you know it is likely to be bad news.
We can try to avoid bad news. We can pretend that it’s not there. But that doesn’t change reality. We have to face up to bad news when it comes. The key question is: How do we face an onslaught of bad news?
That’s what Nehemiah faced in today’s Scripture: a mountain of bad news that hit him like a truck. Fortunately, Nehemiah responded by turning to God in prayer. He sets an example for all of us.
< Nehemiah 1:3 >
After 70 years of captivity in Babylon, the people of Israel were allowed to return to their homeland, including Jerusalem, in 538 BC. Around 90 years later, a man named Nehemiah, still living in Babylon, asked his brother Hanani about the condition of Jerusalem & those who had returned to live there. The report he received was grim: the people were in trouble, the wall around Jerusalem had been broken down, & its gates were destroyed.
Nehemiah was stunned. No walls & no gates meant the people of Jerusalem were completely unprotected. They were vulnerable to any number of threats. Now, why would God allow this to happen? After all, these were his chosen people, & God had promised they would return to their own land & prosper after the exile. God also said (in Jeremiah 29): When you call me & come & pray to me, I will listen to you. When you search for me, yes, search for me with all your heart, you will find me. (Jeremiah 29:12-13)
God wants a relationship with us. To accomplish that goal, he often moves in our lives in one of 2 ways:
God moves in response to our desperation for him; OR
God allows trouble in our lives because he knows that will bring us to desperation for him.
When I think about that word ‘desperation,’ I think about growing up in Southern California. The summers there are boiling hot, & I think about going outside to play as a child. I often took no water with me, & in the scorching afternoon heat I would suddenly realize I was thirsty. To ignore that thirst & keep playing would eventually lead to dizziness, nausea, & maybe even a loss of consciousness. At some point, I would become desperate for water & hydration.
In a similar way, we can deceive ourselves into thinking our spiritual lives are fine – even when we have no intimate walk with Jesus, no fellowship with others, & no sense of being on mission to make disciples. The reality is we need the refreshing water of God’s presence in our lives.
God’s people were in a desperate situation, & Nehemiah knew it. Fortunately, the desperate situation moved Nehemiah to desperately seek God.
< Nehemiah 1:4-6a >
Hearing the plight of God’s people & Jerusalem humbled Nehemiah. He was so broken at the news that he sat down before the Lord for days in order to mourn, pray, & fast. He allowed the devastation of his people to drive his desperation to see God move.
It is interesting that the first words of Nehemiah’s recorded prayer were not focused on the bad news he had received. Instead, Nehemiah began by focusing on who God is – by throwing himself on the foundation of God’s character. Standing on the truth of that foundation, Nehemiah prayed that God would listen to his prayer & respond with compassion.
In the same way, our hope for moving forward spiritually is not based on overcoming our problems, but on the simple fact of who God is. If you find yourself in a place of devastation & desperation, then remember the character of God & surrender to him. This is the path to spiritual renewal & awakening.
And I admit that this can be very difficult.
When we see a problem or encounter a crisis, our first response typically is to try & fix it ourselves. Nehemiah did the opposite by retreating into prayer & fasting. By turning away from his problems, Nehemiah sought the ultimate solution to those problems. The reality is that retreating into prayer is actually the best way to move forward. Prayer should be our first response, not our last resort. When we seek God in prayer & fasting, God responds.
Fasting is not a popular spiritual discipline today, despite it being on John Wesley’s list of necessary disciplines. Ronnie Floyd, our Bible study writer, says this about fasting: “Fasting is abstaining from food with a spiritual goal in mind. When we fast, we’re willing to give up the most natural thing our body desires – food – in order to beg the God of heaven to do something supernatural in our lives.”
< Nehemiah 1:6b-10 >
As Nehemiah contemplated the circumstances of his people, he knew they must deal with their sin. Repentance was the only answer. It is interesting that Nehemiah included himself as part of the problem. He was not living in Jerusalem, yet he counted himself & his family among those who had sinned against God. Nehemiah sought restoration for his fellow Jews, but he began with himself. That’s important!
Before God brings revival to a nation or group of people, he brings it first into the hearts of individuals. One person’s confession & repentance can be the spark that ignites a great awakening. Nehemiah was that spark for the Jews in Jerusalem. God burdened Nehemiah about his own condition, & he used Nehemiah to rebuild & restore.
In September 1857, God used another spark by the name of Jeremiah Lanphier. He was a businessman so burdened to see God move that he began a prayer meeting in Manhattan, NY. While it started out small – the first meeting only had 6 in attendance – God began a wave of prayer & renewal that led to the NY revival of 1858. More than 1M people were converted to faith in Christ in one year!
Can you imagine what would happen if that kind of movement happened in our community today? Or in our country? Millions could come to Christ! And it all starts with prayer. You never know how God will use the spark of one desperate, praying believer to influence another person, who influences another, who influences another – until millions of lives are changed to the glory of God. You can be that spark!
How will you move forward with God this week? Allow me to suggest the following:
Pray every day. Stop trying to fix your problems on your own & take your problems to the only one who can really solve them.
Schedule time for uninterrupted prayer. Block out at least 15-30 minutes during the week for longer experiences in prayer. Guard that time & use it to focus on God as you pray for revival for yourself, your family, Shiloh Church, & the Reeds community.
Fast. Fasting can take your prayer life to a whole new level. I’m asking you to consider fasting from lunch each Friday for the rest of this series.
You know, we all receive bad news, but there is a way to deal with it: pray. There has never been a great movement of God that was not preceded by the extraordinary prayer of God’s people. It is a formula that God always honors.
When you call me & come & pray to me, I will listen to you. When you search for me, yes, search for me with all your heart, you will find me.
Let’s get started by praying together the prayer Jesus taught: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.