What kind of prayers does God listen to? How do you gain God's maximum attention? Nehemiah shows us.
On November 19, 1863, Edward Everett, one of the most brilliant orators of his generation stood to speak before a vast audience of American citizens. The press had also come from around the nation had come to hear he and one other man speak. Edward Everett spoke first. He delivered a one hour and fifty seven minute oration, interrupted periodically by cheering and thunderous applause. A divided nation had come to this moment in history, in desperate need of direction and healing, following the end of the civil war. The newspapers the next day praised and printed Edward Everett’s speech with front page prominence.
Then it was time for the second speaker. He stood, adjusted his steel framed glasses and proceeded to speak for 2 minutes. Then he sat down. A member of the Philadelphia Press Corp whispered to him, “Is that all?” He replied, “That’s all.”
Today, 142 years later, none of us can quote even one word of Everett’s 2 hour speech. But most of you know something about Abraham Lincoln’s 2 minute speech, which included the words, “our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal…”
The newspapers gave Lincoln brief inside coverage. The social elite found his remarks crude and insufficient. But Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address has become a national icon of freedom.
I found it interesting to discover in my research of this event . . . little known to the public, that the following week, Abraham Lincoln received from Edward Everett a note that read, “I wish that I could flatter myself to have come as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes.”
“Gettysburg Address; Microsoft ® Encarta. 1994 Funk & Wagnall's
There was once a man who prayed to the God of heaven on behalf of his divided, hurting, sinful nation. It’s recorded for us in Nehemiah chapter 1.
And if you were to pray his prayer today at conversational speed, you could pray it in less than two minutes.
Yet in just two minutes, Nehemiah gained the maximum attention of God.
What is the prayer that God listens to? How do you gain the maximum attention of God?
We have already discovered in our study through Nehemiah that the prayer that grasps the greatness of God grasps the attention of God, involved several steps.
We called the first of four steps along the prayer P.A.T.H. the step that involved a clear priority of sovereignty.
Nehemiah prayed in verse 5 of chapter 1; “I beseech Thee, O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God.”
You reign over all of creation; You rule over all that is. There is boldness in coming, but fear and awe and humility mixed in.
I can still remember my 5th grade teacher asking me to stay after class and come to his office for an appointment. Now I had been asked to stay after class before, for less pleasant reasons. We called it detention in those days. I can still remember in Jr. High washing windows outside the classroom building. I had done something way undeserving of that kind of punishment, but it was a relief to be in detention on the same afternoon that my soccer team was holding practice. This way my parents would never know. I can still remember being up on a ladder washing a second floor window, glancing over my shoulder and seeing the family car pull into the school parking lot. My father had come early to watch us practice. What a Dad! Came to spend time with his son. We did spend some time together, later by the way. Oh but this time, the teacher wanted, he said to sit down and discuss something of importance to the 5th grade class. He wanted to talk over an important matter with me. I and all the 5th grade boys admired this man – tall, strong, deep voice but a gracious man – I remember he always smelled like coffee. I can remember going in to his little office and sitting on that chair and having that appointment with him like it was yesterday, even though it was, um . . . 12 or 13 years ago! I came with confidence because he invited me, but trembling because of who he was. And I said, “Yes, sir” an awful lot.
Proper praying balances boldness in that you have been invited there, with trembling in that you are aware of who He is who invited you. You tend to say “Yes sir” a lot. You would never say, “Now listen here,” but, “Yes, Sir.”
True praying places God on His throne and mankind at His feet.
David wrote in Psalm 145
- I will extol You, my God, O King, (extol – from
the Hebrew word “room”: to lift high, to raise
up”) and I will bless Your name forever and
2 Every day I will bless You, and I will praise Your name forever and ever.
3 Great is the Lord, and highly to be praised,
And His greatness is unsearchable.
4 One generation shall praise Your works to another, and shall declare Your mighty acts.
5 On the glorious splendor of Your majesty
And on Your wonderful works, I will meditate.
6 Men shall speak of the power of Your awesome acts, and I will tell of Your greatness.
7 They shall eagerly utter the memory of Your abundant goodness and will shout joyfully of Your righteousness.
8 The Lord is gracious and merciful;
Slow to anger and great in lovingkindness.
9 The Lord is good to all,
And His mercies are over all His works.
10 All Your works shall give thanks to You, O Lord, and Your godly ones shall bless You.
11 They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom
And talk of Your power;
- To make known to the sons of men Your
mighty acts and the glory of the majesty of Your kingdom.
You see, prayer does not begin with the believer going into the presence of God and saying, “Lord, here I am, but, O great sovereign Lord, there You are.”
Prayer is not the communication of our will to God but the surrender of our will to God. And as we will see in the life of Nehemiah, good praying is not us having our way with God, it is God having His way with us.
One author wonderfully illustrated the alignment of our will to God’s will through prayer with this question: “If I throw out a line from my boat with a hook on the end and I catch hold of the shore and pull. Do I pull the shore to me, or do I pull myself to the shore?”
E. Stanley Jones, Quoted in The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart Charles Swindoll, p. 453
“Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus . . . and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near…” (Hebrews 10:19-22)
Prayer is not pulling God closer to your boat; it is pulling your boat up to God. That perspective of His sovereignty shapes the way you pray.
When our Lord taught His disciples to pray He said, “Whatever you ask in My name (that is, in the name of Jesus), that will I do.” (John 14:13a)
Most of you like me end your prayers by saying, “In Jesus name, Amen.” That’s a Biblical thing to say. We are going to God by the authority of our great High Priest, Jesus Christ. Just remember that to pray in Jesus’ name means that when you finish praying you should have prayed something that Jesus could sign His own name to.
Jesus taught them that they were pray in a way that when they finished it was something that He Himself would not hesitate to lend His name to.
Everybody likes John 14:13a, not so many like John 14:13b. “And whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”
Prayer that Christ signs His name to is prayer that recognizes the glory and majesty and will and design of the Father.
When our children first began to color, they had the same problem every other child has – the first problem is choosing the appropriate color. They just don’t do it – so you have green hair and blue lips; the moon is pink and the sun is brown. And the second problem is they don’t know yet how to stay in the lines. It’s just all over the place. And you say, “Isn’t that really something.” And then they want you to stick it on the refrigerator.
As children of the Heavenly Father, we learn how to color our prayers with the appropriate elements; and we also learn to stay in the lines – we pray in Jesus’ name – that means we pray for the ultimate honor and glory of God.
Then, as we observed Nehemiah, prayer involves an acknowledgement of sin.
He prays in the last part of verse 6b, “I and my Father’s
house have sinned.”
The prayer God listens to is a prayer that not only confesses His sovereignty, but confesses our sin.
By the way, if you don’t acknowledge your sin, God turns, as it were, a deaf ear to you.
In fact, there are two categories of people whose prayers are not acknowledged by God.
First of all, the prayers of unbelievers are not heard.
In Psalm 34:15 David wrote, “The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry. . .the righteous cry and the Lord hears.”
The word righteous has to do with one’s standing before God, not one’s perfection before men. We have the righteousness of Christ, having placed our faith in Him alone, Paul wrote in I Corinthians 1:30.
Part of the deception of the heart and, as well, the global deception of Satan is that people can be heard by God who at the same time refuse the truth of the gospel of Christ.
Polls reveal that twice as many people pray to God than believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Just ask them for yourself – “Do you pray to God?” “Sure I pray to God . . . and God has answered some of my prayers.” “But do you believe in Jesus Christ? “Well, now you’re getting fanatical.”
John 9:31 says, “We know that God does not hear sinners, but if anyone fears God and does His will, He hears him.
The first prayer an unbeliever speaks that God listens to is the prayer of repentance and the request for personal salvation through Jesus Christ alone.
The second category of disqualified people are not only unbelievers, but disobedient believers.
David said, “If I regard iniquity in your heart, God will not hear my prayer.” (Psalm 66:18) Does that mean that you can’t pray unless your heart is sinless? No. If he did none of us could ever pray. The word “regard” means to cherish and defend. “If I cherish and defend sin in my heart, God won’t hear me.”
You can go ahead and pray, but God isn’t listening.
Peter even became more specific for the New Testament believer when he wrote those startling words, “Men, live with your wives with understanding, lest your prayers be hindered.” (I Peter 3:7)
For married men, your relationship with your wife is either an obstacle or an aid to your prayer life.
In other words, if you’re a married man, one of the best ways to get God’s attention is to give your wife yours.
“Live with your wife with understanding so that your prayers be not hindered.” Some of you men haven’t been heard by God for months.
And all the wives said, “Amen.”
You men are thinking, “But there are times when my wife is beyond understanding.”
And all the men . . . probably shouldn’t say “Amen.”
Fascinating to think that your fellowship on earth affects your fellowship with heaven.
David said, “I acknowledged my sin to Thee and my iniquity I did not hide . . and Thou didst forgive my sin.” (Psalm 32:5)
Nehemiah said here in his prayer that gained God’s maximum attention, “I and my father’s house have sinned notice in verse 7
“. . . we have acted corruptly against Thee . . .”
Prayer that gains the maximum attention of God is prayer that places a priority on God’s sovereignty. It also acknowledges personal sin.
Third, prayer that God listens to is prayer that has a confident trust in scripture.
Did you know that the Bible is not so much a Book of answers as it is a Book of promises.
And as Nehemiah prays in chapter one of his memoirs, he repeats from memory at least 10 different passages from the law of Moses that record the promises of God to His people Israel.
Let me show you a few. Back in verse 5 Nehemiah refers his prayer to Yahweh (Lord) which is His covenant keeping name. It hearkens back to the time in Exodus chapter 3 where God told Moses at that burning bush that Moses was going to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt to a land flowing with milk and honey. And Moses said in effect, ‘Yea, right – and their going to ask me just what God I was talking to.” And God said, “Tell them my name is “I AM THAT I AM” I AM is the Hebrew verb Hayah, and Yahweh is the name derived from that verb.
Yahweh is the name Nehemiah refers to because Yahweh was the name which signified the promise of God and the promise keeping nature of God.
So at the very outset of Nehemiah’s prayer he is subtly saying in effect to God, “You are the God who keeps your covenant promise.”
There isn’t any subtlety in the next phrase – notice 1:5b. who preserves the covenant and lovingkindness of those who love Him and keep His commandments. This is a paraphrase/quotation from Exodus chapter 20:6 where God says to Moses, “[I am a God] who shows lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”
Nehemiah is claiming the promise of God made centuries earlier from Mount Sinai.
Look down at verse 8 where Nehemiah says “Remember the word which Thou didst command Thy servant Moses. Then he quotes from Leviticus 26:33 “If you are unfaithful I will scatter you among the peoples” then he quotes in verse 9 from Deuteronomy 30:2 & 4 “but if you return to Me and keep My commandments and do them, though those of you who have been scattered were in the most remote part of the heavens, I will bring them to the place where I have chosen to cause My name to dwell.”
In other words, Nehemiah says, “Listen O covenant keeping God; You promised if we were unfaithful, we’d be scattered – and You kept that promise. Now, would you please keep Your promise that if we return to you then You will restore us in the place where Your name dwells. That last phrase, by the way is a quote from Deuteronomy 12:5.
Then in verse 10 of Nehemiah chapter 1 Nehemiah simply parrots back to God a paraphrase of Exodus chapter 32:11 where Moses also interceded for the rebellious people of Israel, so Nehemiah now prays, “They are Thy servants and Thy people whom Thou didst redeem by Thy great power
and by Thy strong hand.”
The majority of Nehemiah’s prayer is the reciting and paraphrasing of scripture.
The prayer of Nehemiah was “Bibling” with the promises of God in His word.
He had a grasp of the word, and the word had a grip on him.
He has sifted through the word, and the word now sifts through him.
How important are His promises to you?
The reason you believe in heaven is because God who cannot lie has promised you eternal life (Titus 1:2).
The reason you believe godly living is possible here and now is because the Bible says everything pertaining to life and godliness is available through His precious and magnificent promises (I Peter 1:4).
Don’t ever forget that the reason you believe you can even pray at all is because the Bible promises you can. (Hebrews 10:19)
Could it be that we do not know what to say to God in prayer, because we do not know what He has already said to us, in His word.
Could it be that we live fearful, anxious lives because we have forgotten the promise that Christ intercedes for us and on our behalf?
Robert Murray McCheyne said a hundred some years ago, “If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies; yet distance makes no
difference. He is praying for me even now.”
Charles Swindoll, Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, p. 455
Nehemiah knew what to say – because he knew what the word said. And he had confident trust in the scriptures.
Finally, the prayer that gains the maximum attention of God, is a priority of God’s sovereignty, an acknowledgement of sin; a trust in scripture and then, humility in supplication.
Verse 11. O Lord, I beseech Thee, may Thine ear be attentive to the prayer of Thy servant and the prayer of Thy servants who delight to revere Thy name, and [here it is], make Thy servant successful today, and grant him compassion before this man.”
Isn’t it interesting that the last thing Nehemiah prayed was a request. Chapter 2 will give us the details of what Nehemiah had in mind.
But did you notice here that Nehemiah is personally volunteering to become a part of God’s solution to the problem in Jerusalem.
Have you discovered yet that the greatest thrill in praying is not necessarily in receiving an answer, but in becoming the answer.
One author I have just come to know about through his insightful commentary on Nehemiah retold the news story that occurred several years ago. A young man in Philadelphia had come from Korea to attend a Christian college here in the States. He graduated and then went on to earn a masters degree from the University of Pennsylvania. One night he went out to mail a letter at the post office, and while he was out, he was held up by some teenage boys. They demanded his money. These young thugs became angry because he didn’t have a lot of money and actually beat him to death. The crime was outrageous. The Philadelphia police later caught and arrested them and their trial received international attention. The victim’s family flew from Korea for the trial. And at the end of the trial, the boys were found guilty of murder. Prior to the judge passing his sentence, the parents asked if they could say a word.
Before a packed courtroom, this Korean Mom and Dad got
down on their knees in front of the judge and asked him to give them the boys that killed their son. They didn’t understand the system – but they were believers, and they asked the judge to allow them to take these boys back to Korea. They explained that these young men needed the love of parents and the love of Christ they’d never had. The judge didn’t have that kind of power – he explained to them that American jurisprudence doesn’t work that way. While they were denied their request, their testimony shone brilliantly in a dark, broken down world
How many here have gotten on their knees before our great and holy Judge – the God of heaven and earth – the God of mercy and the God of justice and plead for a broken world. Prayers that focused on something besides ourselves and our lives and our problems and our aches and pains and our needs. And we volunteered ourselves to make a difference.
You want to make a difference? You want to become part of the solution in rebuilding a broken world? Don’t go out there just yet. You’re going to need the maximum attention of God.
You get that by praying like this. You start with the sovereign majesty of God; and then you ask Him to break your own heart over your own sin and then you lean heavily and entirely upon the promises of His word and you end it all with the submission of an available life.
Prayers like that don’t have to be two hours – they can be 2 minutes, or less. And when you pray like this man prayed, you can, with confidence, end your prayer by saying those wonderful words, “In Jesus’ name, Amen.”