Praying Under My Breath
09 October 2016
Reading: Nehemiah 1-2; Psalm 133; Luke 22
4 The king then asked me, “So what do you want?” Praying under my breath to the God-of-Heaven, 5 I said, “If it please the king, and if the king thinks well of me, send me to Judah, to the city where my family is buried, so that I can rebuild it.” 6 The king, with the queen sitting alongside him, said, “How long will your work take and when would you expect to return?” I gave him a time, and the king gave his approval to send me. (Nehemiah 2:4-6 MSG)
I love this story! Nehemiah was the palace administrator for a pagan emperor. He was a captive, a Jew exiled from Judah after Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of Jerusalem, who worked hard and made good. Like Daniel and his friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, he had risen to a place of trust and influence.
Now he saw an opportunity to use his influence and skill to do a good thing for his beloved city Jerusalem and for the remnant of his people who live there. It was risky and challenging, but he felt the burden of it and stepped up to the plate.
When I read this story I’m always impressed by Nehemiah’s approach. He learned of the need, he identified with the people, he prayed to God, then he spoke to the king at the right time and place. He had prepared by thorough research and planning so he could answer the king’s specific questions. He combined his request to the king with a prayer to God.
This story reminds me of two important lessons:
• First, while we tend to compartmentalize things into “sacred” and “secular,” in God’s eyes there’s no artificial separation. Nehemiah was a skilled and influential administrator, not a priest or prophet. God stirred him to use his natural skills and “secular” position to rebuild and restore the city of Jerusalem.
• Second, if I am stirred emotionally by awareness of a need, I can go to God with it, identify with the people involved, think and plan a possible course of action, then make a proposal and answer questions. The rest is in God’s hands.
Father, I admire Nehemiah. Help me develop in myself the qualities I see in him – qualities that combine heart and head, passion and practicality, in a way that gets good things done. Amen.