Praying At All Times: Lessons From Nehemiah

The Bible tells us to pray, even to be praying at all times. But how much should we really pray? When do we pray? What do we ask or say? The answers to these questions are, in turn: without ceasing; at all times; and everything. 

The Book of Nehemiah, which tells of the man, Nehemiah, demonstrates for us how we are to be obedient in following this instruction to pray at all times. We will take a look at his actual prayers to find out how we can follow his example of praying about anything and everything. 

The Bible Says To Pray Without Ceasing

From “pray at all times” to “pray about everything”, to “pray without ceasing”, the instructions that God gives us in the Bible make it crystal clear that we are to be praying a lot, in fact, all the time throughout our lives. (unless otherwise states, Scriptures are taken from the New American Standard Bible)

Ephesians 6:18(a) – “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit…” 

1 John 5:14 – “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” 

Philippians 4:6

Philippians 4:6 – “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and pleading with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” 

1 Chronicles 16:11 –Seek the LORD and His strength; Seek His face continually.” 

Romans 12:12
Romans 12:12

Romans 12:12 (ESV) – “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.

Colossians 4:2
Colossians 4:2

Colossians 4:2 – “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving.”

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 – “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”

It’s clear to see God’s intention for us in the realm of prayer. He wants us to be prayerful all of the time. Let’s look at some examples from a little-known man who lived his life in prayer (and it doesn’t look like you might think).

Praying At All Times

One of my favorite books of the Bible is Nehemiah. It holds multiple examples of Nehemiah’s habit of praying no matter what was happening. Nehemiah was an Israelite living far from his home and working as the cupbearer for a foreign and idolatrous king. 

No matter what his work or what he was exposed to, he remained a devout believer in the One God, the God of his people. 

The first prayer of Nehemiah is recorded in the book of Nehemiah, Chapter 1. As the story tells us, Nehemiah found out from some visiting relatives that his own people were having major difficulties back home. The Temple of God in Jerusalem, the Holy City, had been burned and the walls of the city had been broken down by the Babylonians. 

Nehemiah was stricken. And his first response…was to pray! He sat down and wept, then fasted and prayed for days. His prayer goes like this:

Prayer After Receiving Bad News

Nehemiah 1:5-11 – “Please, LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps the covenant and faithfulness for those who love Him and keep His commandments: let your ear now be attentive and Your eyes open, to hear the prayer of Your servant which I am praying before you now, day and night, on behalf of the sons of Israel Your servants, confessing the sins of the sons of Israel which we have committed against you; I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against You and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses. Remember, please, the word which You commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the people; 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 gather them from there and bring them to the place where I have chosen to have My name dwell. They are Your servants and Your people whom You redeemed by Your great power and by Your stong hand. Please, LORD may Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant and the prayer of Your servants who delight to revere Your name, and please make Your servant successful today and grant him mercy before this man.”

Here are some of the things Nehemiah prayed about in this prayer:

  1. He gave praise and honor to God
  2. He asked God to hear his prayer.
  3. He said that he had been praying day and night.
  4. He confessed his own sins and the sins of his people (he had lived in Susa for years, but he still considered himself an Israelite).
  5. He reminded God of a promise that God had made many years before Nehemiah’s birth, to gather the scattered captives and return them to their homeland
  6. He gave God more praise and honor.
  7. He asked God to give him success as (we later find out) he had the hope of returning to help his people rebuild Jerusalem. 

After this initial prayer, Nehemiah went back to business as usual for four more months. One day, when Nehemiah was extremely sad, the king asked him what was the matter. Although Nehemiah was “overwhelmed with fear” that the king had noticed, he gave the king an honest answer, telling him of his wish to return to Jerusalem and help. 

Prayer Asking For God’s Help

Next, we see him sending a very brief prayer to God before proceeding with the conversation: 

Nehemiah 2:4-5 – “Then the king said to me, ‘what would you request?’ So I prayed to the God of heaven. I said to the king, ‘If it please the king, and if your servant has found favor before you, send me to Juday, to the city of my fathers’ tombs, that I may rebuild it.”

This prayer itself was unspoken and very short. The Bible doesn’t even tell us what he prayed for or said. But whether the prayer was to ask God to let the king grant him permission to go to Jerusalem, or whether he simply prayed thanks that the king had noticed and asked about his sadness, we don’t know. 

The prayer might seem insignificant, but that’s not at all so. After asking the king to send him to Jerusalem, the king immediately started making preparations. Not only did he allow Nehemiah to go, but he sent letters ahead to ensure his passage, arranged for timber to be donated to the cause, and sent military officers with him for protection. Later, we see that the king even appointed Nehemiah as governor of the area. 

And so, Nehemiah set about rebuilding the broken-down wall of protection around the city. He had help from many, no help at all from others, and he was mocked and threatened by others. But still, he built the wall. 

Prayer In The Midst Of Hostility

As Nehemiah and the others worked on the wall, several hostile officials from neighboring areas started to torment him. But Nehemiah continued his work and he encouraged the others. His prayer:

Nehemiah 4:4-5 – “Hear, O our God, how we are an object of contempt! Return their taunting on their own heads, and turn them into plunder in a land of captivity. Do not forgive their guilt and do not let their sin be wiped out before You, for they have demoralized the builders.”

Prayer In The Face Of Persecution

They continued building, even though the threats became worse, and talk of murdering the builders hung in the air.  And Nehemiah prayed.

Nehemiah 4:9 – “But we prayed to our God and because of them we set up a guard against them day and night.” 

Now the builders were becoming discouraged. They didn’t think they could continue, and said, “we ourselves are unable to rebuild the wall.” It certainly seemed to be an impossible task. 

Nehemiah beefed up the defense. As the persecution became more serious, he encouraged the workers and had half of his men working while the other half held spears, shields, bows, and armor. Laborers worked with one hand and held a weapon with the other. 

They were all armed at all times, and Nehemiah kept a trumpeter right beside him to sound a ram’s horn if they were attacked. 

Prayer For Verifying Intentions And Purposes

Meanwhile, Governor Nehemiah didn’t take advantage of the people like previous governors had done. He didn’t even utilize the special privileges awarded to him as governor, and he continued his construction work.

Nehemiah 5:19 – And he prayed, “Remember me, my God, for good, in return for all that I have done for this people.” 

He knew that this wall needed to be built, that it was in the people’s best interest, and hard as it was, would benefit them for years to come. 

Prayer For Strength

The enemies of the wall-builders then started requesting special meetings with Nehemiah. But over and over he refused, saying that he was doing important work and was unable to meet. When the enemies started spreading lies, Nehemiah simply told them he knew they were making them and there was no truth to them. He didn’t bite on their bait. 

Nehemiah 6:9 – For all of them were trying to frighten us, thinking, “They will become discouraged with the work and it will not be done. But now, God, strengthen my hands.”

Prayer For God’s Judgment, Not Man’s

But then the detractors tried to lure him into the temple, where he was forbidden to go by his belief system. They made up a fake threat and offered to hide him in the temple. But Nehemiah still didn’t fall for their schemes. He refused – and prayed:

Nehemiah 6:14 – “Remember, my God, Tobiah and Sanballat in accordance with these words of theirs, and also Noadiah the prophetess and the rest of the prophets, who were trying to frighten me.”

And so, they building, finishing the wall in only fifty-two days! It was so remarkable that the enemies lost their confidence when they heard about it, realizing it had been God all along who had accomplished this impossible task. 

The wall was built, the doors and gates attached, and it was time to let the people move back in. They were returning from all of the places they had been held captive, and Nehemiah realized that he needed to take count of them, which families they belonged to, and where they should settle. 

Prayer By The Levites

It was time for the Festival of Shelters, and what a celebration. The Jews were restored to their Holy City, and life was getting back to the old ‘normal’ that many of them had never experienced in their lifetime. 

When they were all together for the dedication of the city, the Bible was read out loud, then the Levites prayed a very long prayer (which you can read in Nehemiah 9:5-37), a prayer of praise, recounting all that God had done for His people since the days of Abraham. The prayer moved from praise to repentance, and back to praise again. 

The crowd of Israelites repented, vowing faithfulness and obedience to God. The names of the families who were resettling in the city were called out, and the wall was dedicated. 

Prayers During The Dedication Speech

The book of Moses was read aloud, then governor Nehemiah spoke, telling his own story of how this had all come about. He spoke four more short prayers during this speech. Or maybe the speech was given in the midst of his prayer. Either way, we can see that Nehemiah was a man of prayer, and that prayer was a natural part of his everyday life. 

Nehemiah 13:14 – “Remember me for this, my God, and do not wipe out my loyal deeds which I have performed for the house of my God and its services.” 

Nehemiah 13:22(b) – “For this also remember me, my God, and have compassion on my according to the greatness of Your mercy.”

Nehemiah 13:29 – “Remember them, my God, because they have defiled the priesthood and the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites.”

Nehamiah 13:31 – ‘Remember me, me God, for good.”

The Time For Prayer Is…Always!

Nehemiah knew how to pray continually, and demonstrates this throughout his amazing story. 

He prayed for so many different reasons. Some of these reasons may seem questionable, but let me explain if I can. 

Several times, we see him praying for God’s judgment on the wicked people who were trying to obstruct God’s work. This may seem forward and unforgiving. Remember that the evil men were committing blasphemy against God in the eyes of the Israelites. But instead of hardening his heart, Nehemiah gave the offenses to God, asking God to judge them, rather than deciding to punish them in his own way. 

We also see Nehemiah praying for God to remember him for different specific things that he had done or not done. These prayers were not prayed from a heart of self-servitude. Rather, Nehemiah was asking for God’s mercy upon him. He was an Israelite, one of God’s people who had sinned in disobedience over and over throughout generations and had been sent into captivity by God in order to humble them as a nation. Nehemiah was simply pleading for mercy from God, as he was rightly humbled by all of the turns of events he himself had seen. 

All of Scripture holds many examples of the prayers of God’s people. But these quick prayers of Nehemiah are a type of praying that we can all work to develop in our own daily lives. 

And remember this, sisters: No matter what is going on, there is always, always, always room for prayer!

If you would like to learn how to track your prayers, How To Start A Prayer Journal will even give you several templates to get started. And if you’d like to get better at showing praise to God, read How To Start Giving Praise To God. I highly recommend as a wonderful resource for everything prayer related.

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