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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Good Prayer

This includes the Biblical text in italics with my comment in regular style:
In Nehemiah 1 we read the recollections of a Jewish man living in exile and serving the foreign king. His brother visits him and tells him that things in Jerusalem are awful (he uses the word “shame”--very terrible in this culture) and the people are in dire need. 

As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. The degree of commitment to his people and love for Jerusalem is a great model for prayer. It should be grounded in authentic care and concern, i.e., love.
 And I said, “O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, Note that the praise of God begins this prayer. I read Thomas Merton today and he said we use such extraordinary praise of everything from toothpaste to sandals that there is little left to really say about God. Everything is “awesome” now. But in truth, God is awesome and great beyond our imagining. Note, too, that Nehemiah establishes the proper relationship with God. We (Israel) are His servants (a word which can imply worshipper, ambassador, beloved and trusted servant). In prayer, the right relationship is vital; we are God’s command, He is NOT at ours. The prayer continues..
confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father's house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. Note the corporate guilt (the people) and the personal (I and my fathers). Even on the personal level the whole family is seen together. This corporate sense (i.e. A church mentality) is communal and reminds us God is in Covenant with a People of which we are part. It also sees sin as a barrier to our relationship and a cause of much of our problems. The need for CONFESSION and REPENTANCE cannot be overstated in a prayer life.
 Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’ Saved by God’s grace and mercy, saved by faith (trusting God and entrusting themselves to His care) the people of Israel by God’s mercy and kindness were offered a covenant—which had expectations and conditions. The Torah is guide and instruction, the Lord’s will for His people, as well as Law and Rules. The fruit of disobedience is death and exile. Notice the prayer is a long remembrance of God’s acts. All good prayer is rooted in salvation history and remembers. Hence, reading the Bible to learn the past is needed to pray. They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. (always grace and redemption. The Lord gives life, He gave life, He is mighty to save) O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” The final petition has to do with Nehemiah’s intent to ask the King (whom he serves as cupbearer) a favor on behalf of his people. In the end, our prayer is best when it is focused on mission and ministry, when it seeks to benefit others as well as ourselves.
Nehemiah gives us a wonderful model for prayer. Remember and Praise, remember and confess, remember the covenant and rededicate yourself (in Jesus the new covenant). And in your tears and heartbreak have hope and trust; for our God saves!

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