How’s your prayer life? Mine can be pretty pathetic. I have good days, and I have bad days – probably more bad ones that good ones. Why? Because I lack self-discipline. Because I have misplaced priorities. Because I care more about the approval of man than the approval of God. Because my heart is often cold and apathetic. Because I feel overwhelmed by the seemingly urgent demands of life and ministry. Because in the prayer closet I suddenly struggle with “attention deficit.” Because I have much indwelling sin in my heart. Because I have an Adversary who is committed to prayer prevention. Because I can think of a thousand reasons to procrastinate.
More than likely, many of you struggle with prayer, too. D. A. Carson writes, “What is both surprising and depressing is the sheer prayerlessness that characterizes so much of the Western church. It is surprising, because it is out of step with the Bible that portrays what Christian living should be; it is depressing, because it frequently coexists with abounding Christian activity that somehow seems hollow, frivolous, and superficial. (D. A. Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation, p. 9)
Over the past several months, our church has been studying through Ezra & Nehemiah on Sunday nights. One thing that we immediately noticed about Nehemiah is that he was a man of prayer. In chapter one, after hearing about the disgraceful condition of Jerusalem, Nehemiah “sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven” (Neh. 1:4). The words of this prayer take up the rest of the chapter.
In chapter two, four months have passed, and Nehemiah finds himself in the presence of King Artaxerxes. The king notices he is distraught and asks him what he would propose to do. But before Nehemiah replies, it says, “I prayed to the God of heaven” (Neh. 2:4).
These two passages provide a study in contrasts. They illustrate the power and variety that should characterize our prayer lives.
Nehemiah’s prayer in chapter one is lengthy and emotional. It includes all the main ingredients of a healthy prayer life: praise, confession, Scripture saturation, intercession, and personal request. Nehemiah humbles his body by fasting from food and assuming a seated posture. He humbles his soul by speaking with great reverence and submission.
On the other hand, Nehemiah’s prayer in chapter two is brief and urgent. It is undoubtedly silent, for he is standing in the royal court, while the king awaits an answer. It’s related to his immediate situation, and demands an immediate response. If chapter one is a “letter” to God, chapter two is an “instant message.”
Both kinds of prayers should find a regular place in the life of the believer. We should have seasons of extended prayer, when we enjoy silence, solitude, and communion with our Lord. Sometimes, this will be private; sometimes with our family or church body. But we can’t always pray long prayers. We should also have a continual attitude of prayer and offer short prayers throughout our day. As Paul said, “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit” (Eph. 6:18).
Why not start this week by praying at least five or ten minutes per day? Surely, a small step of obedience is better than nothing at all. And you just might find yourself wanting to pray even longer.
May God help us learn to pray like Nehemiah – with great faith, reverence, variety, and urgency. We cannot expect God to bless our lives and our churches if we’re not seeking Him more passionately in prayer.