Friday, January 11, 2013

Nehemiah 1: A Leader's Prayer

Neh 1:4-11 When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. Then I said: "O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commands, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father's house, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses. "Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, 'If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.' "They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man." I was cupbearer to the king.

Nehemiah has been considered by many bible teachers as a leader par excellence. Today, we meet him as a man of prayer. His first reaction after hearing about the distress and disgrace of the returnees in Jerusalem and also the derelict conditions of the walls of Jerusalem was to weep, fast and pray before the God of heaven. From his prayer, we learn some important attitudes of great spiritual leadership.

(1) A Vision of a Great & Gracious God ("O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God"): Our leadership is only as great as the God we believe in. A great leader has a great vision of God. For Nehemiah, the God of Israel is not only the Creator-God of heaven, and also the "great and awesome God" who "keeps his covenant of love with those who love and obey his commands." Despite his exilic experience and the conditions of Jerusalem and its walls, Nehemiah's view of God remains exalted and undiminished--his vision of God is as one who is faithful to his covenant and who keeps his promises to those who love and obey his commands. Not only is Nehemiah's God great, but He is also gracious.

(2) Identification with the People ("I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father's house, have committed against you."): A great leader identifies himself with his people--their sins become his sins. Like Jesus, a great leader bears the sins of his people and brings them before God. On the breastpiece of Aaron's priestly garment, there are sewn twelve stones on which the twelve names of the twelve tribes of Israel are engraved. Aaron carries these names before him as he enters into the Holy of holies (Exodus 28:29). Nehemiah similarly bears the sins of Israel before God and identifies with their sins when he confesses them before God. It's not "they have sinned" but "we have sinned" - "We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses" (1:7).

(3)  Knowledge of God's Word ("Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses"): A great leader is a man who knows God's word thoroughly. Nehemiah holds God to His promise made in His word: "'If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.' Nehemiah is able to pray boldly because he knows God's promise to gather the exiles if they return to him in repentance.

(4) Boldness ("Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man"): Nehemiah is a cupbearer who serves the drinks in the royal palace for the king. A cupbearer is trusted by the king and his job is to ensure that the drinks are safe for the king and free from poisons. So Nehemiah is a man who has the opportunities to stand before the king daily. On one occasion, he prays for success and favour before the king. His plan is to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall. He needs the king to release him from his position for a period of time and the king's favour and blessings for his planned trip.

A great leader is firstly a great man of prayer because he knows his God. Prayer is an indication that we believe that God is great and awesome. There are some things that only God can do--and prayer will bring God into our circumstances.

Father, we thank You for this great privilege of prayer - of confessing our sins and petitioning You to grant us favour and success. Amen.

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