Feelings and Prayer
There are plenty of lessons to learn from the life of Nehemiah—boldness of faith, perseverance, hard work, leadership, fearing God and not man—but for our first post in this series, we are going to focus on two subtle lessons we learn early on in Nehemiah’s story. In the first two chapters of Nehemiah, we learn how to feel our feelings instead of hide them, and we get two great lessons in prayer. To begin, it is reported to Nehemiah that the wall of Jerusalem has been torn down and the gates have been burned.
“When I heard this, I sat down and wept. In fact, for days I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven.” (Nehemiah 1:4)
Nehemiah feels his feelings. He doesn’t deny them or bottle them up. He hears news that breaks his heart and he weeps. He says he mourned for days, but he isn’t just crying and feeling sorry for himself: this isn’t an isolated, selfish sadness; Nehemiah turns to the Lord by fasting and praying. He takes his sadness to the Lord and asks for help.
“O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant of unfailing love with those who love him and obey his commands, listen to my prayer! Look down and see me praying night and day for your people Israel. I confess that we have sinned against you. Yes, even my own family and I have sinned! We have sinned terribly by not obeying the commands, decrees, and regulations that you gave us through your servant Moses.
“Please remember what you told your servant Moses: ‘If you are unfaithful to me, I will scatter you among the nations. But if you return to me and obey my commands and live by them, then even if you are exiled to the ends of the earth, I will bring you back to the place I have chosen for my name to be honored.’ The people you rescued by your great power and strong hand are your servants. O Lord, please hear my prayer! Listen to the prayers of those of us who delight in honoring you. Please grant me success today by making the king favorable to me. Put it into his heart to be kind to me.” (Nehemiah 1:5-11)
This is a great prayer for us to follow. Look at the structure: first Nehemiah recognizes the greatness of God and His unfailing love. Then he confesses that he has sinned against God, recognizing before God that he is a sinner. Then Nehemiah asks God to remember his covenant promises before humbly asking for the Lord to listen to the prayers of those who delight in honoring Him. Finally, Nehemiah says, “Please grant me success today,” and then gets specific about his needs. How would our days change if we started them with a prayer like this? Recognize the unfailing love and power of God, confess our sins, give honor to God, ask for success in our day, and bring our specific needs before God. Try to follow this structure this week as you pray. See how your day changes if you begin with a prayer like this.
Some time later, Nehemiah is at work and the sadness he is feeling is obvious to the king. Nehemiah does not cover up his feelings even in front of his boss. The king asks him what is wrong and Nehemiah answers boldly.
“…but I replied, ‘Long live the king! How can I not be sad? For the city where my ancestors are buried is in ruins, and the gates have been destroyed by fire.’ The king asked, ‘Well, how can I help you?’” (Nehemiah 2:3-4a)
So often we hide our feelings, especially at work! We don’t want to trouble others with our problems or we convince ourselves that they are only asking to be polite and they don’t really care. It’s a good thing Nehemiah did not let fear stop him from answering honestly about his feelings. Notice that verse 3 above starts with “but,” which is a conjunction. We use “but” to begin a phrase that contrasts what has already been mentioned.
“So the king asked me, ‘Why are you looking so sad? You don’t look sick to me. You must be deeply troubled.’ Then I was terrified,” (Nehemiah 2:2)
You see, Nehemiah, along with all of God’s people at this point, are slaves to the Persians. As a slave in the service of the king, it might have been very dangerous for Nehemiah to speak so boldly, but he does it anyway. We don’t face execution for sharing our feelings in the workplace—ridicule, maybe, a shift in other people’s opinions about us—but not death. But because Nehemiah is so bold with his feelings, he ends up receiving help from the king.
The second lesson in prayer is almost a blink-and-you-miss-it lesson. It’s right after the king asks how he can help.
“With a prayer to the God of heaven, I replied, ‘If it please the king, and if you are pleased with me, your servant, send me to Judah to rebuild the city where my ancestors are buried.’” (Nehemiah 2:4b-5)
Nehemiah doesn’t just answer the question. He says, “With a prayer to the God of heaven, I replied.” In the infinitesimal instant between a question and a reply, Nehemiah prayed to God. Have you ever prayed this way? A quick prayer before a decision or before speaking up, perhaps a quick prayer while waiting for a big meeting or a doctor’s visit? This type of prayer might be what we do the most. Our God is always available to us; remember the words of the apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “Never stop praying.” Like a perfect, loving Father, He is always there to listen to His children, even in the briefest of moments.
So let’s never stop praying to our loving, living God, and let’s feel our feelings, being honest about them to others, and bold enough not to cover them up.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.