Nehemiah’s story is intriguing. It’s a story about rebuilding the walls of the ancient city of Jerusalem. We hear a lot of sermons or teachings about the New Testament, but much less sermons on the Old Testament; and that makes sense, because we like good news, and the New Testament is all about that good news. The good news is that God took on humanity in Christ, and died, and rose again, that all who believe would have life forever. The Old Testament is harder to understand because 1) the events recorded happened so long ago 2) the history of those times is murky and 3) the good news written there is less obvious to see. But it’s amazing at how much good news exists in the Old Testament. In fact, Jesus said the Old Testament is all about him (see John 5:39).
The first chapter of Nehemiah shows us that Nehemiah’s prayer follows a pattern. This pattern is the “A.C.T.S” acronym (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication). I usually find acronyms to be a bit corny, however, this acronym has its basis in Scripture. Here is Nehemiah Chapter 1:5-11:
5 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,
6 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, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. 7 We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses.
8 Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, 9 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.’ 10 They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand.
11 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.”
Old testament figures are not people we can fully model our lives after. They all had significant flaws (they were human and not perfect). In fact, the best models — David for example, or Moses, or Noah — did evil in some great ways. We can model our prayers after Nehemiah’s prayer here, though, because we see in later chapters that is prayer was answered. The walls were rebuilt under Persian rule — what a miracle! Even more striking is that the true hero, Jesus, taught us to pray in a similar way, though not in the same order:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name. (Adoration)
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread, (Supplication)
and forgive us our debts, (Confession)
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
Yours is the kingdom and power and the glory, forever, Amen. (Thanksgiving)
When praying, we often jump straight to asking for what we need. Our prayers can be more than that. If we model our prayers after Nehemiah and Jesus, we can be confident that we are praying like we ought. Knowing this should help our faith as we pray.
Additionally, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t often feel like praying, or I don’t know what to ask for in prayer. Knowing how Nehemiah and Jesus prayed will help us when we don’t know what to pray. If we don’t have the Psalms in front of us to pray through, we can go through the Lord’s prayer in our minds, and pray it with sincerity of heart. May God bless you as you pursue him this way in prayer!