The king said to me, “What is it you want?”
Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it.” (Nehemiah 2:4-5 NIV)
Nehemiah is an interesting character in the Old Testament. He was a Jew living during a time of exile who had risen to become the cupbearer to the king of Persia, a very important position. But when Nehemiah found out about the condition of his fellow Jews who had returned to Jerusalem, he was in great distress and determined to do something to assist them.
When Nehemiah went before the king, performing his regular duties, the king noticed his sadness and asked him about it. Nehemiah explained why he was sad and was then asked what he wanted. And Nehemiah asked to go to Jerusalem with the king’s blessing to rebuild the fallen walls of the city.
But between the king’s inquiry and Nehemiah’s answer, Nehemiah offered a quick prayer to the God of heaven. The contents of the prayer are not recorded for us. But we can imagine he was praying for God to give him the words to say. And that the king would be receptive to his request. It is also likely that Nehemiah had prayed about this encounter before he came before the king.
Nehemiah’s example here is very instructive. How often, when we are in a serious conversation with another person, do we involve God in the conversation? Not talking about him. But talking to him. Do we speak with our own wisdom or ask God to guide us during the conversation, giving us the appropriate responses?
Nehemiah’s example demonstrates that prayer need not be long and obvious. His prayer was quick and unobserved by those around him. But it was effective. And it helps us to see how we can “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). There is never an occasion when it is inappropriate to pray for God’s leading.