The Changing of the Guard 15 – Prayer and Precept

And it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.” So He said to them, “When you pray, say: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come.  Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil’” (Lk. 11:1-4).

Christ’s disciples were to be world-changers. They were to take the Gospel to every corner of the globe (Acts 1:8). They were to convert and disciple the nations (Matt. 28:19-20).

They were to throw down vanities, captivate minds, and demonstrate true piety (II Cor. 10:3-6). They were to be salt and light (Matt. 5:13-16), occupying the land for Christ (Lk. 19:13).

They were, in short, to be ‘doers of the Word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22). They were to take action.

But the first action they were to take was to pray.

Before they established political agendas, called for caucuses and conventions, rallied the forces, or deluged the ballot boxes, they were to pray.

They were to work for the coming of the Kingdom. They were to see that God’s will was done on earth. But – they were supposed to start at the start.

And the start is prayer.

It always has been. It always will be.

The Nehemiah Model

The disciples could look back across the pages of history and see how essential it was for world-changing action to be preceded by world-changing prayer.  They could look back to the example of Nehemiah for instance:

So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven. And I said: “I pray, Lord God of heaven, O great and awesome God, You who keep Your covenant and mercy with those who love You and observe Your commandments, please let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open, that You may hear the prayer of Your servant which I pray before You now, day and night, for the children of Israel Your servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel which we have sinned against You. Both my father’s house and I have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against You, and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses. Remember, I pray, the word that You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to Me, and keep My commandments and do them, though some of you were cast out to the farthest part of the heavens, yet I will gather them from there, and bring them to the place which I have chosen as a dwelling for My name.’ Now these are Your servants and Your people, whom You have redeemed by Your great power, and by Your strong hand. O Lord, I pray, please let Your eat be attentive to the prayer of Your servant, and to the prayer of Your servants who desire to fear Your name; and let Your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” For I was the king’s cupbearer (Neh. 1:4-11).

Nehemiah really did something.

He prayed.

He prayed a prayer of confession. He prayed a prayer of contrition. Instead of immediately throwing his political weight around, exercising his political clout, and calling in his political favours, he prayed. Instead of charging boldly before the throne of Artaxerxes, he humbled himself before the throne of God.

He prayed.

He knew that ultimately he would have to exercise his political options. He knew that he would have to win the king’s favour (Neh. 1:11), obtain the king’s blessing (Neh. 2:1-5), and utilize the king’s resources (Neh.  2:6-9).

But for now, he just prayed.

For an entire month he prayed (Neh. 1:1; 2:1).

His response to the political crisis in Jerusalem speaks volumes for his character and for the character of his faith. He understood clearly the consequences of sin (Jer. 14:1-22). He had a good grasp of the dynamics of history (Job 42:1-2). He showed a thorough understanding of divine providence (Prov. 21:1). He obviously understood the multi-generational nature of the kingdom task (Lam. 5:19). He displayed a keen awareness of the power of prayer (II Chron. 7:13-14). His response gives testimony to his utter dependence upon God, and his confidence in Biblical problem solving (Psa. 34:17-18). He wanted to do things God’s way, in God’s time, with God’s help, in accord with God’s will.

So, he prayed.

The Life of Prayer

Prayer is an essential element in any program of change. This is what Jesus was trying to teach His disciples. This is what Nehemiah was trying to convey to his constituency.  If we want to change our nation politically, or any other way, then we must pray. The solution to our grave moral, economic, cultural, sociological, and civil dilemmas cannot and will not be achieved without prayer.

Prayer changes things.

That is why the Scriptures are brimming over with exhortations to be constant in prayer.

Oh, give thanks to the Lord! Call upon His name; make known His deeds among the peoples! Sing to Him, sing psalms to Him; talk of all His wondrous works! Glory in His holy name; let the hearts of those rejoice who seek the Lord! Seek the Lord and His strength; seek His face evermore!
(I Chron. 16:8-11).

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you
(Matt. 7:7).

Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak (Matt. 26:41).

Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man (Lk.  21:36).

. . .  praying always with  all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints  (Eph. 6:18).

We are to pray.

We are to pray with wholeheartedness (Jer. 29:13). We are to pray with contrition
(II Chron.  7:14). We are to pray with all faith (Mk. II: 24). We are to pray with righteous fervour (James 5:16). We are to pray out of obedience (I Jn. 3:22) and with full confidence (Jn. 15: 7). We are to pray in the morning (Mk. 1:35), and in the evening (Mk. 6:46), during
the night watch (Lk. 6:12), and at all other times (I Thess. 5:17). God has given us access to His throne (Heb. 4:16) and fellowship with Christ (I Cor. 1:9). And He expects us to make use of that glorious privilege at every opportunity (I Tim. 2:8).

Nehemiah did.

 At every turn, Nehemiah made supplication to the Lord God on high. When he appeared before Artaxerxes to make petition to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, he prayed  (Neh. 2:4). When he entered the ruined city to begin the task, he prayed (Neh. 2:12). When threats of violence and conspiracy jeopardized the fledgling reconstruction project, he prayed  (Neh. 4:2). When there were conflicts and crises among the people that required his judicious hand, first he prayed (Neh. 5:19). When an attempt on his life threatened the entire project, he didn’t panic- he prayed (Neh. 6:9). When his own brethren turned against him, he prayed  (Neh. 6:14). And when the work on the walls was complete- you might have guessed it-he prayed (Neh. 13:31).

Nehemiah’s whole political platform was built on prayer.

The Foundation of Political Action

Of course, praying wasn’t all that he did. But it was the foundation of all that he did. Like anyone called by God into the ministry of political action, he invested himself in careful planning (Neh. 2:5-6). He laid the groundwork with cautious attention to detail (Neh. 2:7-8). He enlisted qualified help (Neh. 2:9). He encouraged his workers (Neh. 2:17-18). He motivated them (Neh. 4:14-20). He organized and delegated the various tasks (Neh. 3:1-32). He anticipated difficulty and made provision for it (Neh. 2:19-20; 6:1-14).  He improvised, when he had to (Neh. 4:21-23), and worked (Neh. 4:23). He sacrificed (Neh. 5:14-19), led (Neh. 13:4-30), and governed (Neh.7:1-7). But undergirding all these necessary political activities was his constant reliance upon Almighty God. Undergirding them all was prayer.

Nehemiah knew that it is pointless to attempt anything apart from God’s blessing and purpose:

Unless the Lord builds the house, they labour in vain who build it; unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows; for so He gives His beloved sleep (Psa. 127:1-2).

The prayer life of Nehemiah indicated that he wanted, more than anything else, to do God’s will. He wanted to be accountable – accountable for his actions, for his intentions, and for the fruit of his labour.

He didn’t want God to simply “okay” his plans. He wanted to do what God wanted him to do.

Prayer held him accountable to that. It gave him the resolve to stick to that. Prayer gave him access to God’s will, God’s way, God’s purposes, and God’s plan.

Nehemiah was confident that God would give him success (Neh. 2:20). He was sure God would give him strength (Neh. 6:9), show him favour (Neh. 2:18), and see him through
(Neh. 2:12). He was unwavering in his optimism because the work was conceived by God, not by him (Neh. 7:5). It was God’s project, not his.

Thus, it is clear that Nehemiah didn’t pray in order to get something. He prayed in order to be something (James 4:3). He wanted to be conformed to God’s will. He wanted to be used in God’s work. He wanted to be obedient. And his life of prayer enabled him to be those things.                                          

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