The Power of Prayer

When we pray for others we don’t often know the outcome this side of Heaven. There were some women who prayed for me several years ago and I thought I should share the outcome of their prayer.

Around 15 years ago my mom went to a Christian camp in Montana. While she was there she came across a group of women who were serving at the camp. In the midst of conversation my mother mentioned that she had a son in Mobile, AL. She had always known that God had a call on his life and she had a burden to see him go to seminary. These women mentioned that their church had a seminary extension center. They then took the time for a special moment of prayer with my mother, asking God to birth a desire and work out a plan for me to go to seminary.

I was around 23 years old at the time and had absolutely no plans or ambition of going to seminary. At the age of 25 I was gloriously saved and had submitted myself to a group of men from my church for oversight and prayer. They came together after a year and confirmed my call to ministry but felt it essential for me go to seminary. Through these men, perhaps one in particular, God provided for the full cost of my first few years of seminary. (I could not have afforded it otherwise).

I attended seminary through the extension of the very same church that these women were from and eventually graduated in 2012!

Recently I was talking with my mother and she shared the incredible story I just outlined for you. She has always known God had a call on my life and she could often see my path clearer than I could at any given moment. She wisely takes everything to God in prayer and when her prayers are answered she quietly points back to God and in doing so she has proven to me over and over again that God hears our prayers.  I know this because for years my room was next to my parent’s room and I have silently witnessed her pray for many people and seen many things come to pass.

I know without a doubt that much of my life is a product of the faithfulness of a praying mom. When it came to praying for me to go to seminary, she enlisted the help of a few women from a particular church, that had a seminary extension. I ended up not only attending seminary, but attending through the extension center at the church these women attended. These women prayed a small prayer with my mom, but heaven was listening and they played a small but crucial role in seeing me go to seminary.

I am humbled and blessed that God would listen to the prayers of these women, that he would move on the hearts of a few men, that he would organize and orchestrate things so clearly that I could see His hand. In a very real sense my ministry is a fruit of their faithfulness. One of many I am sure.

When Insults become cause for Intercession Nehemiah 4:4-5

Nehemiah 4:4-5

Words sting. We like to pretend they don’t, but they do. They produce pain and they cause us to retaliate. This is how arguments are started. We feel slighted or disrespected and we launch an attack on the other person. We level our own arguments for their inferiority or impossible reasoning. We return fire. We even feel justified, after all, we didn’t fire the first shot… they did. We were only responding in kind.

But what if instead of fighting back and lashing out we simply looked up? What if we took all of our hurts, our stings, our brokenness from whatever someone had said and we put it in the Lord’s hands? How would our lives be different if we took insults and turned them into intercession? That is what Nehemiah does. He doesn’t answer these men for all the insults they have hurled at him or his people. Instead he takes it to God in prayer.

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Hear, O our God, for we are despised. Turn back their taunt on their own heads and give them up to be plundered in a land where they are captives. Do not cover their guilt, and let not their sin be blotted out from your sight, for they have provoked you to anger in the presence of the builders. (Nehemiah 4:4-5 ESV)

There is comfort in taking your wounds to God. You are asking Him to plead your case. You know that He sees things more clearly than you do and He will meter out justice. Sometimes we forget that when we are on mission with God that we are not the ones who will answer enemy insults, but that our enemies will answer to God for their insults. They have not only attempted to discredit the workers, but they have attempted to discredit the work of God and God is more than capable of taking up for Himself.

Here Nehemiah prays an “imprecatory” prayer. This is the kind of prayer that sounds like you really have it in for your enemies. But a couple of things should be noted. Who can judge Nehemiah’s enemies more justly than God? If Nehemiah’s enemies are in the wrong, should they not be punished? Nehemiah is asking for justice, not revenge.

These men don’t just insult Nehemiah, but by implication by insulting his people, they are insulting God and standing against His plans. He is bringing back and restoring His people from captivity, a resurrection of sorts. A restored wall is a sign of a God who can bring his people back from the edge of destruction. Sanballat and Tobiah stance places them squarely at odds with God because they are at odds with his people. Nehemiah simply asks God to turn their desires for his people back on their own heads.

Pray without Ceasing (Nehemiah 2:4)

We had set out early that morning, a van full of teenagers on the way to camp. Before we left we had prayed, like we always do, and asked God for safety as we traveled. We loaded the van and seven hours later we are almost at camp. We are just getting past Chattanooga, TN and the traffic starts to clear. For the first time in a long time we had a little open space on the road. I pulled over to the far left lane. There was no reason to do so, but as I decided in my mind I should pull back in the middle lane a tire on truck that used to be beside us went out pulling him into the middle lane! Fortunately no one was injured, but I reflected that we had been in that lane just seconds before, had we been there when the truck tire blew we would have been in a horrific accident. I prayed quickly in that moment a prayer of thanks but once we arrived at camp I reminded our students that we had asked God for safe travels and he answered our prayers. Sometimes we are able to pray small prayers in the moment based on larger prayers that we have prayed before.

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Then the king said to me, “What are you requesting?” So I prayed to the God of heaven.(Nehemiah 2:4 ESV)

Have you ever had one of those situations where it seemed like nothing was happening, but then all of the sudden everything was happening? Nehemiah is in one of those moments. He has been in mourning for his people. He has been fasting, praying and asking God to use him, to use his position with the king, and then all of the sudden the king asks him a question. What do you do in a moment like that? When it seems like your whole future will swing or not swing on the hinge of the next few moments? You pray!

To be sure it wasn’t a long and drawn out prayer. He didn’t hush the king and ask for time to run to the chapel. He quickly and humbly in his heart prays to God. His prayer has been anchored in the foundation of intentional prayer where he has been for the last several months. Remember his emotion was brought into focus by prayer and fasting; now he sees the hand of God moving to answer his prayer. Nehemiah can’t help but confess his dependence on Him.

Nehemiah avoids every opportunity to declare himself a great man and instead has to declare that God is a great God! This is what humble leadership looks like. Before he will launch into any kind of four point plan, or share his dreams about a wall being completely rebuilt, or even ask the king for advice he goes straight to God and acknowledges that this could only be a work of God’s hand and so he moves forward holding on to that hand, not trying to navigate this alone.

More Than A One Man Plan (Nehemiah 1:11)

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.” Now I was cupbearer to the king. (Nehemiah 1:11 ESV)

When was the last time you prayed for revival? Did you place yourself in the center of the prayer? God use ME, use MY church, use MY denomination. Were you really asking for God to be revered in your town or were you asking for your own prestige? Sometimes our most holy prayers can be covered up in pride. We lasso our prayers short of heaven because we fill them with all sorts of selfish ambition. We are like James and John who approached Jesus and asked if they could be at the left and right hand of Jesus when He came into His kingdom (Mark 10:35-45). We want to be center stage… next to Jesus of course. Leadership isn’t there for the asking in the kingdom of God though; it is bestowed upon those whose chief characteristic is that of a servant.

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Nehemiah asks God not only would He hear his prayer, but the prayers of all those like him. Nehemiah recognizes that he is not alone in this task of prayer and asking God to do something great in Jerusalem again. He is part of a bigger plan. He is out for God’s glory and the restoration of his people, not his own name.

Sometimes we pray for revival and we are lazy. We ask God to move, but we want to sit back and ride the wave of success. We forget that sometimes God calls us to work. I think that is why when Nehemiah uses the term servant it’s important. He presents himself to God to take part, any part in rebuilding the wall. He is there to serve.

Think of it like this. Life is a drama. Everyone is an actor. God is the author and director. Nehemiah submits himself to God’s plan and says; place me where ever you will. Too often we try to tell God (the author and director) how his play should go. We try and take our minor rolls and pitch them to him like we should become the lead. We don’t understand that we have a place and a purpose if we would just listen to Him.

When God calls us to a task we are seldom ever alone in that task. We always have the Holy Spirit present but often He is working in the lives of other believers as well to bring about something great. Start looking around for others in your neighborhood, school, or workplace that God might also be calling to the same mission he is calling you too.

For me I began to seek to gather with our local student pastors for a time of fellowship and prayer. Overtime real friendships evolved and I saw relationships strengthened as we were all working for a common purpose on different fronts in our city.

He Knew God’s Will Because He Knew God’s Word (Nehemiah 1:8-10)

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.’ They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. (Nehemiah 1:8-10 ESV)

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Ever struggle with understanding God’s will for your life? Sometimes the prayers pour out quick when we are asking God for help in the midst of our troubles, but when we turn the corner and begin seeking his will we can run into another problem and that is trying to figure out what God’s will is. How many times have we prayed and said something like, “If it be according to your will?” We are uncertain and so we throw a disclaimer in there to be safe.

But Nehemiah didn’t pray like that. He prayed a deeply emotional but focused prayer and he didn’t have to throw any disclaimers because he knew the will of God. He knew the will of God because he knew his bible. In his request he quotes two passages of scripture that are actually promises of God (Deuteronomy 30:1-5 & Exodus 34:6-7).

I think this lays down an important principle for us. We should know God’s word well enough to ask him for his will. The closer you read the bible with a heart to understand God, the more you will understand God and the more you will want to pray and ask God to do what he has already promised to do. Nehemiah has simply turned God’s promises into petitions (Petitions are when you ask for something). This is how we should pray. We should take the promises of God and turn them back to God in prayer.

Picture it like this. I’ve got two children and I promise them a trip to their favorite coffee shop if they read me a book. Both read me a book and so both begin asking, “When can we go to the coffee shop?” As their father I am delighted to take them to the coffee shop, it is something I have already promised. I am not annoyed that they have asked and they are asking with a lot of brashness and boldness because they know it was already promised to them. [1]

When it comes to our community what are some of the promises from scripture that you might pray?

One of my favorite scripture passages to pray over the churches in my city is John 13:34-35. This is a commandment that Jesus gave his disciples. I pray especially over my church but also over churches in town that we would love each other as Christ loved us and that Christians in our city would be known for Christ-like love to the Glory of God.

[1] It is important to note here that all promises in scripture are not to all believers. For example many of God’s promises in the Old Testament are to national Israel. 2 Chronicles 7:14 is often misapplied to America when it was actually promised to Israel. Those are God’s words given to King Solomon in a dream they are meant for the Jewish People (who bear his name) about their land (Israel), there is no promise there for America. At best we could ask God to act in a similar way for us, but we cannot claim that promise. Americans cannot claim the promises that Nehemiah makes either for those are for national Israel. But God does make many promises to his people that are beyond the scope of national Israel (for example Romans 8:1-2, 1 Corinthians 10:13, 2 Corinthians 5:17, Galatians 5:16, etc. etc.)

Confession of Sin (Nehemiah 1:6-7)

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, 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 1:6-7 ESV)

We often want to see God move, but seldom ever are we willing to address the offenses that have caused our situation to begin with. We don’t mind confessing the sins of others to God. It is rare to see someone own their sin and even rarer for them to own the sin of someone else.

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Here in his prayer Nehemiah not only addresses the reason for Jerusalem’s wall-less situation (Israel’s sin). He confesses that it is his sin too. He wasn’t alive when all of this took place so he actually owns the sin of his ancestors. They are most likely dead and gone so he brings a petition before God confessing their sin and his sin. The wall is in ruins because that was a prophesied outcome for a nation who rejected their God by rejecting His commands.

This is where revival begins! When religious people care more about the character and nature of God than they do about what others think. They confess their sins and they confess the sins of their ancestors.[1] The illusion of control is totally removed from Nehemiah’s hands. He confesses that he is not in a position to make bargains with God, manipulate God or even compel God to act. He throws himself on a part of God’s character he knows to be true from the scriptures (as we will find out). He throws himself on mercy. It is only by God’s mercy that these sins would be forgiven and the wall restored.

We are good at pointing to the poorer communities and slums or those riddled with crime saying, “They need revival!” It is easy to look off and say, “They need revival!” Nehemiah didn’t do that here. He offers his prayer from perhaps the nicest section of Susa, a city with walls. Before revival would come and a wall would be rebuilt in Jerusalem, revival had to come in Nehemiah’s heart in Susa. Perhaps our desire to see others repent and turn to God is often a deflection from the issues that need to be addressed in our heart rather than a reflection of our heart. We should be primarily concerned that God should be honored and obeyed in our house! When real revival comes to our house, perhaps it will also come to the city.

Take a moment to confess your sins and the sins of the people around you. Be specific, don’t hold back or be general. What is it that is happening in our city right now that you know displeases God?

As I have studied more modern movements of Revival there seems to be a reoccurring theme of genuine repentance and confession of sin. I confess that too often pride has held me back from following the Spirit’s guidance in confessing my sin before God and others. Too often I have cared too much about what other people would think of me. But if we would really see God move, we must acknowledge and address the issues that are in the way, including our pride. We must own our part and perhaps even the sins of those before us in order to see real restoration and revival.

[1] I think at this point that it is fair to note that confessing the sins of your ancestors is necessary before holy God. Even if you are not guilty of such sins, you have an opportunity to distance yourself from sinful behavior and acknowledge before God that though you come from such stock, you desire something greater for you and your generation.

Know Who You Are Talking Too (Nehemiah 1:5)

And I said, “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, (Nehemiah 1:5 ESV)

There once was a young boy at the Louvre Museum in Paris who came up to the world famous painting, the Mona Lisa. He started to comment to no one in particular and then to a crowd as people began to gather around him. He said things like, “look it’s got lots of tiny cracks in it. The artist obviously wasn’t very good.” And “look at that smile, have you ever seen such a hideous half-way smile in your life?” The boy thought he was doing good as he continued to make his comments about the painting, but then the curator to the museum showed up. He gracefully said, “I’d like to correct some of your misconceptions about the painting. It is THE most famous painting in the world. It was painted by the master Leonardo da Vinci. There is much mystery surrounding this painting but one thing we know for sure… It is a master piece.

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oo often when we pray we talk to God like we have a full grasp of the situation, like what we see is all there is to the world! We pretend to educate God rather than being educated by him about the world he created! Instead of coming to him and asking, “God what is your plan,” we come to him with a plan in mind. Our list of petitions (requests) come off more as like a wish list at best or demands at worst. We totally forget who God is.

Biblical prayer starts with a recognition of who God is. It’s hard to petition God with my petty list of wants and desires after I have recognized who he is. My prayer turns from “me” focused to “God” focused. That’s how Nehemiah prays here and it is how Jesus teaches us to pray in the model prayer (Matthew 6:9). Beginning with reverence and honor for God helps us remember who we are talking to and the nature of prayer.

Too often the first word in prayer is “I,” “I need this” or “I want you to…” We are reflecting on the wrong person in prayer when we do that. We don’t have the power to accomplish anything otherwise we wouldn’t be praying. We are going to God to see how he will act and move in this situation. We are asking him to do what only He can do.

Take time today to reflect on who God is and ask Him for His will to be done in your life. Use the model prayer (Matthew 6:9-11) and pray it in your own words as you wait on Him to reveal His will for your life.

The Model prayer was a game changer in my personal prayer life. I used to come to God with a wish list of things I wanted Him to accomplish. I had prayer all wrong. When I started coming to him and asking Him to do his will in my life and submitting my life to Him I began to see God work in ways I never thought possible. There is a huge difference between asking God to do what you want and asking God to do what He wants in your life.