Nehemiah is a real, historical Israelite who, along with many other Israelites, had been extracted from his hometown Jerusalem by enemies, and exiled. He’s working as an attendant for the King of Persia when he receives news that the Israelites still in Jerusalem are experiencing social unrest, persecution, and disgrace as a nation. Furthermore, physical structures around the city are being torn down and burned.
Sound familiar? What should we do? Here’s what the Bible says Nehemiah did, in his own words. “When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. Then I said: ‘Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love’” (Nehemiah 1:4,5).
He didn’t rise up and riot. He didn’t protest or post passionately on social media. The first thing he did: he processed these things with God in prayer.
Have you ever shared with your friend that you’re struggling with a problem, and they say, “I’ll pray for you”? Doesn’t it feel like they’re bailing out? If they truly mean it, let me suggest that they might be closer to God than you are.
I’ve even unloaded my problems on friends who have asked, “How have you prayed about this?” and they caught me. I hadn’t prayed first. So basically, I was coming to my friends for help before coming to God for help. That might be a huge compliment to my friends, but not to God.
When we don’t pray first, it reveals the low priority of God in our hearts, in our problem solving, in our preferences for help and guidance.
Dig deeper into Israelite history and you’ll see that as the exact reason God sent pagan nations and corrupt kings to exile them. They had demoted God in place of immorality and idolatry. If God didn’t care, he would have let them go their own way.
But, as Nehemiah knows well, God did care, and today he cares about you, and he cares about our country and world. Not only is he “great and awesome” (he uses rulers and injustice and trouble and kings as his pawns) but he also “keeps his covenant of love.”
Why pray first? Because the God who has total dominance over virus confusion and world corruption is the God who has totally committed his love to you, and will never take it away.
Why pray first? Because God puts you first, even when it cost him his own Son Jesus. That price wasn’t too much for Jesus, though, because he rose from the dead with all authority over everything.
Why pray first? Because all of your problems, everything that worries you, and a world of hurt and hopelessness all belong to him, and you do, too.
God says, “Call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you” (Psalm 50:15). Do you hear the command? Can you believe the promise?
PRAYER: Loving and living Lord, I want to pray more. I want to pray first when I’m troubled, as first response and not last resort. In your mercy, remind me of your authority over all things, all nations, all diseases and all powers that you will use to deliver me. Remember today those for whom I pray … Amen.
FURTHER MEDITATION: Read Nehemiah chapter 1, including his passionate, powerful prayer. What does he say in his prayer that you would like to include more often in your prayers?