It’s a powerful prayer from a person who was not a formal leader of his people, though he would become one. He had a responsible civil service job in the Babylonian empire, serving the king.
He was Jewish and he had spent his whole life hearing stories about Jerusalem in the good days and in the days of rebellion and destruction. His people had been taken into exile, those that weren’t killed. He had heard stories about the promises of God and the rebellion of people.
The time of exile had ended and there was permission to go back to Jerusalem, sort of. But there weren’t resources for rebuilding and there wasn’t political freedom for doing the work. One day, Nehemiah heard from his brother that the rebuilding efforts had been blocked. The walls of Jerusalem remained broken, open to attack. The gates were burned, offering no safety. And it broke his heart.
I talked yesterday about waiting for God and a friend asked whether we couldn’t maybe do something while waiting.
In the case of Nehemiah, he wasn’t exactly sitting around waiting. Morning and evening he was confessing and lamenting and asking God for forgiveness and favor for his prayer. And during the day, as well as we can tell, he was still working his job.
Though casual readers of the book think he prayed once and got instant success with the king, it’s more likely that he spend four months confessing and lamenting and asking God for forgiveness and favor.
At this moment, I have neither plans for fixing things nor answers for the future. I am simply aware that our efforts to fix relationships with God and each other by building bigger churches and followings seem to not be healthy. There are broken walls and burned gates.
I wonder what would happen if I spent time morning and evening with Nehemiah’s prayer: “Our people have sinned, my tribe has sinned, I have sinned.” What would I learn? What would I hear? What would God open up?
I wrote about the book of Nehemiah by having conversations with Nehemiah. I read some of it the other day as I was thinking about Nehemiah’s prayer. I was surprised. My own words helped me. If you’ve never looked at it, I invite you to.: A Great Work: Conversations with Nehemiah for People Who Are Doing Great Work.