Sunday Sermon: ‘Strategic Praying’

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The Apostle Paul tell us in the book of Philippians – “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” [1] Prayer is God’s answer to worry. But it’s not just any kind of prayer that defeats worry. It’s specific prayers for specific things. Or as many Bible versions translate it – ‘supplication.’ What is the prayer of supplication? It’s specific prayers for specific things. It’s strategic praying.

When I think of the concept of strategic praying, my mind goes to a man in found in the Old Testament and his name is Nehemiah. Nehemiah was a man to whom God gave an impossible task to accomplish. God called Nehemiah to do what others had tried to do and failed. Yet Nehemiah not only got the job done; he did so in a remarkable fashion. He accomplished in less than two months what others had not been able to accomplish in years? What was the secret to Nehemiah’s success? Although Nehemiah proved to be a great leader, he is also known as a man of prayer.

I. Nehemiah Receives a Burden

Nehemiah 1:1 The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. And it came to pass in the month Chisleu, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the palace, 2 That Hanani, one of my brethren, came, he and certain men of Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews that had escaped, which were left of the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem. 3 And they said unto me, The remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province are in great affliction and reproach: the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire.

A. Who was Nehemiah?

1. Someone Living in Some Bad Circumstances

You could say that Nehemiah was in some bad circumstances. He was a Jew living hundreds of miles away from Jerusalem. His ancestors had been some of the Jews who had been captured when Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians. No doubt his relatives knew the young man we call Daniel as well as the relatives of another famous Jew found in the Bible by the name of Esther.

2. Someone Living in Some Good Circumstances

But Nehemiah was also someone living in some good circumstances. Though Nehemiah has grown up living outside of his homeland of Israel, live has turned out pretty good for him. Verse 1 says that he’s living in Shushan the palace. What’s a Jew doing in a Persian palace?

In verse 11 Nehemiah tells us that he was the ‘king’s cupbearer.’ The cupbearer not only presented the wine to the king, he tasted it before the king drank it. Some have suggested that perhaps he also tasted the king’s food. Why would the king always have someone to drink his wine and tasted his food? It was because the king was fearful that someone might try to assassinate him with food poisoning. If the cupbearer could eat the food and drink the wine and still live, it must be ok.

Think about the luxurious life Nehemiah must have lived. Not only did the eat the best of the food and drink the best of the wine, he probably wore the best of the clothing and had living quarters someone near the king.

Why do I take the time to point this out? I do so to emphasize the fact of how Nehemiah responded to the news.

Nehemiah 1:1 The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. And it came to pass in the month Chisleu, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the palace, 2 That Hanani, one of my brethren, came, he and certain men of Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews that had escaped, which were left of the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem. 3 And they said unto me, The remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province are in great affliction and reproach: the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire. 

4 And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven… 

Nehemiah could have said, “Too bad; sure hope someone comes to help them”, and then gone on with his life. Yet he didn’t. The Bible says that Nehemiah wept and mourned and fasted with prayer. Nehemiah internalized the problem and took it upon himself to seek God for a solution.

B. Why Did the News Affect Him so Deeply? 

Why did this news affect Nehemiah so deeply? There’s a good chance that he had never been to Jerusalem. His ancestors had been brought from Jerusalem to Babylon one hundred and fifty years before he was born. As long as someone didn’t try to poison the king, Nehemiah was set for life.

1. What Was the Problem? 

First of all, what was the terrible news that bothered Nehemiah? The city has yet to be restored and therefore the people living there are struggling. Years before Nehemiah, various Jews had been allowed to return to Jerusalem and although several had tried to rebuild the city, up this point no one had been able to get it accomplished.

2. Why Did This News Bother Nehemiah?

a. A Broken Down Jerusalem Meant a Broken Down Nation

As long as Jerusalem, the capital of Israel was in ruin, the nation was in ruin. That’s why terrorists went after major landmarks and not the local convenience store on 911. It wasn’t just a matter of killing people. It was a matter of slapping our nation across the face.

Though Nehemiah was a Jew living in a Persian palace, he was still a Jew and he was proud of his homeland.

I don’t know how you feel about it, but as long as I am living in America, I feel that I have the responsibility to pray for this country. Yeah, we’ve sinned a lot and yeah, we deserve to be judged and punished. But I’m still proud to be an American and I am still obligated to pray for this country.

b. God Put a Burden on Nehemiah’s Heart

I think that the second reason the news bothered Nehemiah was because this was a burden that God placed upon his heart. God was ready to restore the city and He was looking for a man He could use. People who accomplish great things are people who have been giving a great burden and they become committed to resolving the problem – even if it means personal sacrifice. Consider some of the burdens some of God’s people have carried.

The Bible says that Samuel grieved over King Saul. [2] Jeremiah the prophet has often been called the weeping prophet because he wept so much over the spiritual rebellion of Israel. [3]  Scripture says that Jesus wept of the fact that the city of Jerusalem had not received Him as their Savior. [4] The Apostle Paul said that he had ‘great sorrow and heaviness of heart’ over the fact that the nation of Israel wasn’t turning to Christ. [5] Ambrose told Monica, the mother of Augustine, that it was “impossible that the son of so many tears should perish.” [6] 

Who are these people? They are people to whom God has given a particular burden and therefore they pray without ceasing for God to help. They are the prayer warriors.

II. Nehemiah Responds to the Burden 

Nehemiah 1:4 And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven… 

Nehemiah wasn’t cold and indifferent. He was broken. This had become a great burden on his heart. Scripture says that he not only ‘wept and mourned’ over the problem; he also ‘fasted and prayed.’

A. Nehemiah Responds by Fasting

The Bible says that Nehemiah ‘fasted’ over this problem. What does it mean to fast? Throughout scripture fasting and brokenness seem to go together. Fasting is an expression of the magnitude of the burden in our heart. I’m sure that many of you have had a problem some time in your life that was so great that it took away your appetite. Your stomach is in knots and food is the last thing on your mind.

Most often we think of those who fast as abstaining from food. Yet there are other kinds of fasts found in the Bible. Daniel fasted for three weeks by abstaining from ‘tasty food, wine, and the anointing of his body.’ [7] Daniel did not go cold turkey from everything. He denied himself luxuries during this time of intense prayer. Paul also mentions husbands and wives abstaining from a physical relationship in order to dedicate themselves to prayer. [8] 

Exactly how Nehemiah fasted we’re not told. Obviously he still had to taste the king’s wine and perhaps his food. But apparently there was some way in his life that he denied himself in order that he might dedicate himself to prayer. Anne Graham Lotz writes in her book, ‘The Daniel Prayer’, “Forsaking everything to make the time to get alone with God and pray is a form of fasting…We associate it most often with abstaining from food, but it can also be abstinence from business, emails, phone calls, ministry, entertainment, web surfing, meetings, housework, shopping, cooking, talking, television, technology – the list is unlimited. While in prayer we turn to God, in fasting we turn away from everything else.”[9] 

I think that the reason we’re told that Nehemiah fasted is to help us understand the depth of this burden in his life. Nehemiah was willing to do without the blessing of earthly things in order to find the blessing of heavenly things.

B. Nehemiah Responds by Praying

Nehemiah 1:4 And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven… 

Nehemiah not only mourned and fasted, he prayed. I find it interesting to note that the word used here for prayer means ‘intercession.’ Perhaps some of you will remember from my sermon last week that intercessory prayer refers to a prayer where we make a personal connection with the person we are praying for. We’re not just praying ‘for’ them. We’re praying ‘with’ them. Through the medium of prayer, we’re in this with them.

May I ask you a question? Are you interceding for anyone? Do you have a burden for anyone that is so great it impels you to pray and even to deny yourself certain luxuries in order to pray? Church – here is one of the leading reasons our world is in such terrible shape. Last week we studied these words from Paul – “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions…” [10] As the people of God, we have been commanded to intercede for others, even our national leaders.

1. What did Nehemiah pray?

Nehemiah 1:5 And said, I beseech thee, O LORD God of heaven, the great and terrible God, that keepeth covenant and mercy for them that love him and observe his commandments: 6 Let thine ear now be attentive, and thine eyes open, that thou mayest hear the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee now, day and night, for the children of Israel thy servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee: both I and my father’s house have sinned. 7 We have dealt very corruptly against thee, and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the judgments, which thou commandedst thy servant Moses. 8 Remember, I beseech thee, the word that thou commandedst thy servant Moses, saying, If ye transgress, I will scatter you abroad among the nations: 9 But if ye turn unto me, and keep my commandments, and do them; though there were of you cast out unto the uttermost part of the heaven, yet will I gather them from thence, and will bring them unto the place that I have chosen to set my name there. 10 Now these are thy servants and thy people, whom thou hast redeemed by thy great power, and by thy strong hand. 11 O Lord, I beseech thee, let now thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servant, and to the prayer of thy servants, who desire to fear thy name: and prosper, I pray thee, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man. For I was the king’s cupbearer.

a. Nehemiah Confessed the Sins of the Nation

First of all we see that Nehemiah prayed with confession for the sins of his people.

Nehemiah 1:6 Let thine ear now be attentive, and thine eyes open, that thou mayest hear the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee now, day and night, for the children of Israel thy servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee: both I and my father’s house have sinned. 7 We have dealt very corruptly against thee, and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the judgments, which thou commandedst thy servant Moses. 

Here is an important principle that we must not overlook. The Bible says – “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” [11] God is always willing to forgiven, however, for there to be forgiveness, there must be a confession of sin.

1 John 1:8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 

There must be confession in order for there to be forgiveness and there must be confession in order for God to hear and answer our prayers. What does it mean to confess our sins? To confess literally means to say the same thing about it as God does. Nehemiah understood that the reason they were in Babylon was because of their sin. Nehemiah prayed –

Notice that Nehemiah did not pray – ‘they have sinned against you’, but ‘we have sinned against you.’ Though it was Jews who lived a century before Nehemiah who had committed the sin against God and caused the deportation, Nehemiah still included himself in the confession. Why? There are several possible reasons:

i. Nehemiah Was a Jew Praying for His Fellow Jews

ii. Nehemiah Was a Sinner in Need of God’s Grace and Forgiveness

iii. Nehemiah Was Among Those Who Had Not Been Obedient to God 

David Guizk writes in his commentary on Nehemiah–

“…after 70 years of captivity in Babylon, they were given the opportunity to return to their homeland, the Promised Land. Out of the some two or three million Jews deported from the land, only 50,000 decided to return to the Promised Land. That’s only something like 2%!”

God’s plan was that the Jews would be chastened for seventy years and then return back to their land. their deportation the Lord said –

Jeremiah 29:10 For thus saith the LORD, That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place. 11 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. 12 Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. 13 And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart. 14 And I will be found of you, saith the LORD: and I will turn away your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you, saith the LORD; and I will bring you again into the place whence I caused you to be carried away captive. 

What happened? Many of the Jews returned, but even more didn’t. Why didn’t they return to Jerusalem? It was because they had lost interest.  Did you know that it is a sin to lose interest in the things of God? Did you know that the Lord despises lukewarmness? [12] Did you know that it’s a sin to not do what you know is the right thing to do? [13] 

Perhaps part of Nehemiah’s confession was over the sin of indifference to the will of God.

b. Nehemiah Prayed For God to Help Them 

Nehemiah 1:8 Remember, I beseech thee, the word that thou commandedst thy servant Moses, saying, If ye transgress, I will scatter you abroad among the nations: 9 But if ye turn unto me, and keep my commandments, and do them; though there were of you cast out unto the uttermost part of the heaven, yet will I gather them from thence, and will bring them unto the place that I have chosen to set my name there. 10 Now these are thy servants and thy people, whom thou hast redeemed by thy great power, and by thy strong hand. 11 O Lord, I beseech thee, let now thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servant, and to the prayer of thy servants, who desire to fear thy name: and prosper, I pray thee, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man. For I was the king’s cupbearer.

i. You’re a Just God

ii. You’re a God Who Always Keeps His Part of the Bargain

iii. You’re a God Who is Always Ready to Forgive Once We Confess Our Sins

Therefore God, be gracious unto us, and especially unto me as I seek to be used by you to help restore Jerusalem.

III. Nehemiah Requests in Accordance to the Burden

Apparently Nehemiah realized that it was no accident that he had been made aware of this problem. Apparently he realized that the Lord had given him this burden because the Lord wanted to use him. Therefore Nehemiah made several requests of God.

A. Nehemiah Requested That God Would Use Him

Nehemiah 1:11 O Lord, I beseech thee, let now thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servant, and to the prayer of thy servants, who desire to fear thy name: and prosper, I pray thee, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man. For I was the king’s cupbearer. 

I mentioned earlier to you that Nehemiah prayed intently over this burden. What I failed to tell you is how long he prayed. Nehemiah began praying somewhere around our month of December. He went before the king to request permission to leave and restore Jerusalem somewhere around our month of April. Nehemiah and his friends prayed intently over this matter for at least four or five months. Why does God sometimes require us to pray for a long time over a matter? Chuck Swindoll suggests –

1. To make us wait upon God

2. To clear our vision

3. To quieten our hearts

4. To activate our faith

One of the things I have tried to teach you on this series on prayer is that prayer is often a process that we have to work through. The goal is not us convincing God that He must do what we want Him to do. The goal is for God to convince us that what He desires is best. Perhaps when Nehemiah first started praying, he prayed for God to send ‘someone’ to go and rebuild the walls. Then about half way through he began to realize that God planned to use him to rebuild the walls. Maybe there was some resistance on Nehemiah’s part at this point. But the burden wouldn’t leave. It was a God-given burden. And therefore Nehemiah had to continue to pray and as he did, the Lord began to change his heart. By the end of the four or five months Nehemiah was at the point to where he was willing for God to use him.

B. Nehemiah Requested That God Would Bless Him 

Nehemiah 1:11 O Lord, I beseech thee, let now thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servant, and to the prayer of thy servants, who desire to fear thy name: and prosper, I pray thee, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man. For I was the king’s cupbearer. 

What’s happened through Nehemiah’s extensive season of prayer? Not only has the Lord convinced him that he is the one God is going to use, the Lord has also given him a plan. In his prayer Nehemiah prays, “grant me mercy in the sight of this man (the king), for I was the king’s cupbearer.” God has revealed to Nehemiah that part of the solution is going to come through this Persian king named Artaxerxes.

Nehemiah 2:1 And it came to pass in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes the king, that wine was before him: and I took up the wine, and gave it unto the king. Now I had not been beforetime sad in his presence. 2 Wherefore the king said unto me, Why is thy countenance sad, seeing thou art not sick? This is nothing else but sorrow of heart. 

“Do you know something about my wine that I don’t know?” 

Then I was very sore afraid, 3 And said unto the king, Let the king live forever… 

“Don’t worry; your wine hasn’t been poisoned.” 

..why should not my countenance be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ sepulchres, lieth waste, and the gates thereof are consumed with fire? 

Here’s one more twist to the story. There had been a report circulated by Israel’s enemies that certain Jews were trying to restore the city so that they could instigate a rebellion. And now Nehemiah is standing before the king, telling him that he wants to see Jerusalem restored. How will the king respond? “Off with the head!”

4 Then the king said unto me, For what dost thou make request?  So I prayed to the God of heaven. 

1. Nehemiah Prayed That God Would Open the King’s Heart and Grant Him Permission to Go

Nehemiah 2:5 And I said unto the king, If it please the king, and if thy servant have found favour in thy sight, that thou wouldest send me unto Judah, unto the city of my fathers’ sepulchres, that I may build it. 6 And the king said unto me, (the queen also sitting by him,) For how long shall thy journey be? And when wilt thou return? So it pleased the king to send me; and I set him a time.

2. Nehemiah Prayed That God Would Open the King’s Heart and Grant Him Protection as He Traveled 

Nehemiah 2:7 Moreover I said unto the king, If it please the king, let letters be given me to the governors beyond the river, that they may convey me over till I come into Judah.

3. Nehemiah Prayed That God Would Open the King’s Heart and Grant Him Provision to Get the Job Done 

Nehemiah 2:8 And a letter unto Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the palace which appertained to the house, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall enter into.

IV. Nehemiah is Rewarded For Bearing this Burden

Nehemiah has really gone out on a limb. Not only has he told the king that he thinks that Jerusalem should be rebuilt and restored, he’s asking for permission to go and rebuild it, protection as he travels, and provision from the king’s resources. How will the king of Persia react to such requests?

Nehemiah 2:8 And the king granted me, according to the good hand of my God upon me. 

Who caused the king to be so kind and gracious? God did. The four to five months that Nehemiah was praying were not wasted. God was doing something amazing.

A. God Was Changing the Heart of Nehemiah

B. God was Opening the Heart of the King

C. God was Preparing the Heart of the People

Application  

 

 

Are you will to let God give you a burden to pray over? Are you willing to get emotionally involved and intercede as though it was your problem as well? Are you will to give up some time and conveniences in order to dedicate yourself to pray? Are you willing to pray until you know that God is moving?

The Bible teaches us that there is great power in strategic prayer.

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[1] Philippians 4:6 ESV

 

[2] 1 Samuel 15:35

[3] Jeremiah 9:1

[4] Luke 19:41

[5] Romans 9:1-3

[6] Crosswalk, July 7, 2016  http://www.crosswalk.com/faith/spiritual-life/the-son-of-so-many-tears-a-christian-mothers-story-11540219.html

 

[7] Daniel 10:3

[8] 1 Corinthians 7:5

[9] Anne Graham Lotz, The Daniel Prayer, (Grand Rapids, Zondervan 2016) 71-72.

[10] 1 Timothy 2:1-2

[11] Psalm 66:18

[12] Revelation 3:15-16

[13] James 4:17

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