People often tell me that they want to pray better, but they don’t know how. Nehemiah shows us how. I’m going to break down his powerful prayer in chapter 1. It fits nicely into a helpful teaching tool that I use for praying better.
And I came up with a uniquely creative name for this teaching tool. It’ll knock your socks off. You’ll remember it forever. Are you ready? It’s called P-R-A-Y.
Wait. What? It’s an acronym outlining 4 little improvements for praying. Nehemiah used these in his prayer. You’ll improve your prayer life if you use them, too.
A better way to pray is to pray more about God than about you. Remember who you are praying to, whose word is true, who holds authority over everything, and begin your prayers with praise.
Your first sentence should talk more about God than you, include characteristics and works of God more than your problems. Say things like, “Our Father” (yes, Jesus used this in the Lord’s Prayer to teach us), or “God, you promise to forgive,” or “Jesus, you love me and you love people I find it hard to love.”
It focuses your faith, like it focused Nehemiah’s. He started his prayer like this: “Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love” (Nehemiah 1:5).
Nehemiah confessed his sins. “I confess” (Nehemiah 1:6). And he confessed the sins of his people. This led to repentance which is the catalyst for real, heartfelt change.
In today’s culture everyone wants to blame everyone else and heap guilt on other groups, but Jesus told a story once about a man with a plank of wood in his eye trying to pick a speck of dust out of another man’s eye. So confess about your own plank. If you can’t find one in yourself, ask someone to tell you.
The spiritual practice of confession as part of repentance is powerful. It is beautiful. It is personal change that is the path to changing the world. Start with the person in the mirror.
Even though God knows everything, he wants you to ask in prayer. Why? Because it’s part of a conversation that draws you closer to him, and then he can give you answers that you otherwise can’t hear.
When you ask first, you’re going to pay attention more closely for the answer. So ask, like Nehemiah did. “Give your servant success” (Nehemiah 1:11). When you ask, however, you need to be ready and willing for God’s answer. That leads to …
Remember this, and your prayers will become more humble and courageous. They will not be just a way of getting things from God like he’s a vending machine, but of getting closer to God. Like he’s your loving Father.
Nehemiah spoke the word “servant” 8 times in these 7 verses. He is not praying as the lord or the master, that’s God. He is praying as servant. This is all about God.
Everything going on in Jerusalem during Nehemiah’s day had to do with God. Everything going on in our world and our community has to do with God. That’s why we pray first.
Not asking God to get onto our agenda, but asking if we can get onto his. And when we do, we will change the world.
PRAYER: Dear God, what a perfect listener you are! You never get tired of listening, and even ask us to come more often in prayer. Please have mercy on me for all the things I do instead of praying, and help me change. Draw me closer to you in my life of prayer, God, and open me eyes to see the beauty of your answers. Amen.
FURTHER MEDITATION: Craft a P-R-A-Y prayer for today. Next level: teach someone else how P-R-A-Y can help them improve their prayer life.