The Changing of the Guard 16 – The Priority of Prayer

Nehemiah was not unique. All throughout the Scriptures the priority of prayer is more than evident in the lives and ministries of God’s world-changers. Abraham was a man of prayer (Gen. 15:1-21). Joseph was a godly man who feared the Lord, seeking Him in prayer (Gen. 42:18). Moses, too, was constant in his fellowship with God (Num. 14:11-38). Likewise, Joshua (Josh. 7:6-15), Gideon (Judges 6:36-40), Samuel (I Sam.12:23), David (Psa. 5:1-3), Solomon (I Kings 8:22-53), Elijah (1 Kings 18:36-37), Asaph (Psa. 73:1-28), Jeremiah (Jer.  14:1-9), Daniel (Dan. 6:10), and a whole host of others were first and foremost men and women of prayer.

When Jesus sat his disciples down to teach them to pray, they already knew all this. So, the Lord was merely reinforcing the pattern already established by Nehemiah and the others. He was merely reinforcing the foundational truth that prayer changes things.

It binds and it looses (Matt. 18:18). It casts down and it raises up (Mk. 11:23-24). It ushers in
II Cor. 3:17), wisdom (I Kings 3:3-14), and protection (Psa. 41:2). Clearly, “the effective fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16).

An Objective Standard

Prayer and politics!

What an odd combination! It sounds so esoteric. It sounds so otherworldly. And worst of all, it sounds so subjective.

What is to keep a Christian magistrate from “hearing voices from heaven” to, say, annihilate half the world one madcap evening. What limits can we possibly hope to impose on someone who can always appeal to a “higher authority?” What is to keep us from turning politics into a springboard for a whole host of petty tyrants all claiming the authority and anointing of an Ayatollah? The answer of course is that Christian prayer is hedged by the immutable rampart of the Biblical covenant. It is rooted in an objective, unchanging standard.

That standard is the Word of God. It is the Bible.

 Notice that Nehemiah’s prayer life led him directly to thecovenantal blueprint, the covenantal standard, the covenantal precept that underlies all things: the Bible. He prayed because he desired to do only the will of God. And because the Bible is the written and revealed will of God, it was only natural that Nehemiah’s prayer life would be inextricably tied to Scripture.

 Nehemiah made certain that God’s Law took a very prominent place in the life of the people (Neh. 8:1-8). He encouraged its reading (Neh. 8:18), its exposition (Neh. 8:13), and its application (Neh. 8:14-18). He established it as the absolute standard for worship
(Neh.13:10-14), for commerce (Neh. 13:15-18), for governance (Neh. 13:4-9), for administering justice (Neh. 13:19-22), and for family life (Neh.13:23-29).

He knew that to conform himself to God’s will, he could not simply toss up a few prayers heavenward. He knew he would have to confirm his prayer life by the objective standard of the eternal, established Word of Truth (Psa.119:152).

Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways, My ways,” says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it. For you shall go out with joy, and be led out with peace; the mountains and the hills shall break forth into singing before you, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree; and it shall be to the Lord for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off. (Isa. 55:6-13).

We must seek God in prayer. But because our thoughts are not His thoughts, and our ways are not His ways, we need to have the Word of God guide and direct us. It must be our only rule, our final appeal for all matters, in life and godliness.

Nehemiah understood that all too well.

He prayed so that in all his doing he might not fall into any error. He studied the Word so that in all his praying he might not fall into any error, either. Only the Word can protect us from such error (Matt. 22: 29). Only the Word can give perfect and objective guidance into all truth (Psa. 119:160), for it is a lamp to the feet and a light to the path (Psa. 119:105). Only the Word can keep us within covenant confines (I Cor. 4:6).

Diligence in prayer, thus, must be accomplished by a dependence on the Bible.

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success (Josh. 1:8).

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (II Tim. 3:16-17).

We also have the prophetic word made more sure, which you do well to heed as a light
that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit (II Pet. 1:19-21).

Adherence to the sure Word of God’s precepts is so important in revoking the curse of subjectivity from our prayer lives that God expressly forbids us from exceeding what is written (I Cor. 4:6). God’s will is found in God’s Word.  Period.

You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take anything from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you (Deut. 4:2).

Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it (Deut. 12:32).

Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him. Do not add to His words, lest He reprove you, and you be found a liar (Prov. 30:5-6).

It is essential that we steer clear of the insidious trap of “doing what is right in our own eyes.” We must tie our prayer lives to the objective standard God has given us in the Bible.

There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death (Prov. 14:12).

Therefore, laying aside all malice, all guile, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby (I Pet. 2:1-2).

Prayer is a mighty force to be reckoned with. And Biblical prayer is a mighty force for truth, justice, mercy, and peace (I Tim. 2:1-8).

That makes for real political action.

Conclusion

The ninth basic principle in the Biblical blueprint for political action is that we must pray. Prayer changes things. It moves mountains, changes hearts, and alters history. Thus, before we rally support, or call for conventions, or draft manifesto, we must pray. We must make certain that we don’t put the cart before the horse.

It is essential that Christians take up the ministry of political action. Now.  En masse. But, we must make certain that we do God’s work in God’s way, according to God’s will, or we will lack for God’s blessing.

And we cannot expect to know God’s work or will or way if we do not diligently seek Him.

Of course, we are to seek Him objectively and not subjectively. We’re not looking for “voices in the night.” We are to be ruled by the Bible in all our seeking.

The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple (Psa. 19:7).

The entrance of  Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple (Psa. 119:130).

For the commandment is a lamp, and the law is light; reproofs of instruction are the way of life (Prov. 6:23).

When we are ruled by prayer and precept, we are protected and preserved from both the canker of indifference and the cancer of extremism. When we are ruled by prayer and precept, we are assured of God’s direction and God’s anointing.

If  My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land (II Chron. 7:14).

Summary

Jesus called his disciples to be world-changers. They were to take action. But the first action they were to take was to pray.

Nehemiah was a paradigm of Biblical political action who modelled this priority on prayer in his own life and ministry.

Looking back over history, the disciples could readily see that Nehemiah wove prayer into everything that he said or did.

He understood that prayer changes things. It is a powerful force. It is a force for good.

But if prayer and politics sounds like a frightening combination, it is only because we have misunderstood the nature of Biblical prayer. It is not subjective.

Biblical prayer is rooted in the objectiveWord of God. It is grounded in the unchanging standard of the Bible.

If we are going to see the reign and rule of Christ manifested on earth as it is in heaven, we must pray. And if we are to pray properly, it must be rooted in God’s precepts.

Prayer and precept in politics. Such is the way of the called of God.

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