Even a casual reading of the Book of Nehemiah reveals how Nehemiah was a man of prayer. In only 13 chapters, we have many references to Nehemiah praying. Most of these give us the words of his prayers—many of them are short, simple, and to the point. (1)
On the day Ezra read from the Law and the covenant was renewed, Nehemiah included the national prayer of confession and repentance (9:4-38). The context of these references makes these prayers even more meaningful.
What did Nehemiah pray about? As you read these prayers you see him confessing sins, interceding for others, and seeking God’s protection and vindication. He asked for strength for the task before him. He requested that God remember his service.
But, the remarkable idea present in Nehemiah is his constancy in prayer. We see him praying at every turn in his life. We see him praying as a part of his leadership of God’s people. The consistent activity of his life was prayer.
Paul instructed the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). Praying without ceasing seems a formidable task. How can any modern person pray without ceasing? Were you to become a hermit or a monk, there would still be things that would “interrupt” ceaseless prayer. How is ceaseless prayer possible?
The Bible is its own best commentary. Another verse sheds light on ceaseless praying. Notice what Jesus said in Luke 18:1 (ESV), “And he [Jesus] told them a parable to the effect that they ought to always pray and not lose heart.” Then Jesus told them the parable of the persistent widow, who would not leave an unrighteous judge alone until he gave her justice. Jesus ended the story by asking, when the Son of Man returns to earth, will he find faith? Ceaseless prayer is faithful, unrelenting prayer. Ceaseless prayer will not faint. Such prayer is something far more than merely an attitude of prayer.
Jesus desires that we have a readiness to pray. Nehemiah demonstrated a readiness to pray. He could pray to himself or out loud, at a moment’s notice. Nehemiah never winced or withdrew from the spiritual battle involved in rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls. He pushed on forward with prayer. He was not afraid because he knew God heard him. He knew God’s promises, much like we have in Matthew 7:7-11. We are to keep asking, seeking, and knocking in prayer because God will respond to us. We can count on it because He is a good Father who gives good gifts to His children.
Also, Nehemiah demonstrated that ceaseless prayer flows from a lifestyle of prayer. You get the impression Nehemiah had such a lifestyle. In Nehemiah 1:6, Nehemiah tells God that he is “pray[ing] before you day and night.”
In the allegory, The Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian is dressed in his armor after experiencing grace. John Bunyan took the armor straight from Ephesians 6:10-20. But Bunyan identified a weapon we seldom notice. From verse 18, Christian was equipped with an important weapon, “all-prayer.” Just as the other pieces of the believer’s armor connote the idea that believers are soldiers in a spiritual war, “all-prayer” gets beautifully at the concept of ceaseless prayer which flows from a lifestyle of prayer. A lifestyle of prayer is a “with God” life—a phrase I borrow from Dallas Willard. It is a by-product of a Spirit-filled life.
Prayer is not a monologue performed before God, but an ongoing conversation. A conversation happens between persons, listening attentively to one another, and speaking to one another in turn. We should converse with God as if we fully expect to hear from Him and not be surprised when we do.
What do we learn about Nehemiah’s leadership? He was a leader who walked in a lifestyle of persistent, continual, vital connection with God. Therefore, we have this account which shows a powerful leader, humbly related in regular conversation with God. Through that ongoing conversation, God supplied blessing and sustained Nehemiah for the great task before him.
1 – Nehemiah 1:4-11; 2:4; 4:4-5; 4:9; 5:19; 6:9; 6:14; 13:14; 13:22; 13:29; 13:31