Nehemiah gives us a great example of prayer. The way he approaches God in Nehemiah 1:5-11 gives us a blueprint for how we might pray. This is by no means the only way to pray, nor is it they key to prayer, but it is a helpful process to think through.
First, Nehemiah acknowledges the greatness and majesty of God.
“O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants….”Nehemiah 1:5-6a
This is a great place to start in our prayers. Recognition of who God is and how that impacts our lives and attitude, especially our approach, towards Him. Nehemiah acknowledges that God is great and that He hears Nehemiah’s pleas.
Second, Nehemiah confesses his failure and the failure of his countrymen to acknowledge that greatness of God and live accordingly. Especially their failure to uphold their covenant with God.
“…confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses.”Nehemiah 1:6b-7
It is important to reflect on our failures throughout life, and to repent of those failures. Confession and repentance is an act of humility. It acknowledges that we fail to practically live worthy of God. It helps to put our hearts in a right attitude before God.
Third, Nehemiah remembers God’s promises.
“Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.'”Nehemiah 1:8-9
This is a really key part of Nehemiah’s prayer. He doesn’t end at repentance but he shifts to matching his failures with God’s promises. If we simply end with repentance we can become very defeated; if we only focus on the promises we can become blindly arrogant. Both confession leading to repentance and promises that lead to rejoicing are necessary together. Note, also, that the promises relate to the failures. In light of the people’s failure to obey the covenant and their resulting judgment, Nehemiah recalls God’s promise of restoration.
Finally, Nehemiah asks God to work in light of the promise.
“They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”Nehemiah 1:10-11
It is because of God’s promise to restore the people that Nehemiah can confidently ask God to be with him and grant him mercy before the king. Nehemiah’s doesn’t begin with the asking; his asking has flown from his worship, repentance and reflection on the promises.
This is very similar to using the acronym ACTS to guide our prayers. The acronym stands for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. But there is a significant difference between this practice and the ACTS concept in that each of the movements relate to the one before. Just like Nehemiah’s prayer. Each shift in Nehemiah’s prayer is not a standalone theme. Nehemiah’s prayer flows and fits together. He acknowledges God’s majesty, his failure to keep this majestic God’s covenant, God’s promises to restore his people, and then he asks God to help in light of His promise.
This is a helpful format when praying individually, but especially as a group. Someone focuses on praising God, someone focuses on confessing, someone focuses on remembering God’s promises, and someone then requests God’s help. But take the time to reflect and meditate on how each of those stopping points influences the one to follow and how it all fits together.