by J. Mike Shannon
The secret of all genuine accomplishments for God is found in prayer. Prayer has been called the greatest force on earth. We all agree with that sentiment, but to say that the key to a church’s vitality and effectiveness is found in prayer seems a bit simplistic. This is because too often we pass off problems with a casual, “Just pray about it.”
If prayer is not a real force in congregational life, maybe it is because too often prayer has become a simple formality. It becomes merely a ritual we perform in public worship. It becomes “the bookends” that open and close meetings. Prayer can only become a force in a church when it is genuine and not perfunctory. Real and vital prayer is indispensable to the life of the church, while pious and ritualistic prayers are of little or no value.
Look at Nehemiah’s prayer in his first chapter as he considered the deep need of Jerusalem, and prepared to do his part. It was not a “tippy-toe” prayer. It was a genuine heart-felt communication with God.
Nehemiah began his prayer where all prayers should begin: in worship, adoration, and praise (v. 5).
Too often prayer becomes simply asking God for things. While God has invited us to take our requests to him, that should not be the only, nor even the main, aspect of prayer. In fact, just being with God should be enough. The things he gives us are the additional blessings that come from having a relationship with him. However difficult the challenge, and however doubt-filled our hearts may be, all prayer needs to begin by focusing on God Himself.
Nehemiah’s prayer also included confession (verses 6 and 7). He knew that God was not responsible for the problems, but that the difficulties they faced were the logical outcome of their actions. Nehemiah’s confession was not just confessing the sins of other people; he admitted his own failings. This confessional aspect of prayer was both personal and corporate. It is never appropriate to dwell on the sins of others until we have mourned over our own sins.
Nehemiah’s prayer was also characterized by boldness (verses 8 through 11); what some have called a “holy boldness.” It was not boldness in the sense of arrogance, but rather an attitude of assertive praying. Nehemiah was not afraid to tell God what hereally thought and he asked God for what he really wanted.
Prayer prepared Nehemiah to fulfill a nearly impossible task. He backed up his prayer with action and sacrifice. The task did not seem so big once he had been in the presence of God.
The old adage is very true, and every church leader should remember it:
If you have a big God then you’ll only have small problems;
if you have a small God you’ll always have big problems.