Pray The Church To Life: Atmosphere
“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, 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…” (Nehemiah 1.5-6)
Great Trouble And Shame
The condition wasn’t good. The city was burnt. The walls destroyed. The worship anemic. The people discouraged. The enemy strong. These were some of the challenges Nehemiah faced as he considered leaving Susa and traveling 1,000 miles to Jerusalem to labor for revival. The first few verses of Nehemiah 1 give us a glimpse into the desperate situation of the people of God and books like Ezra and the rest of Nehemiah provide even more background as to how fierce the opposition was and how God’s church was in “great trouble and shame.”
What Can You Do?
As you look at the condition of your local church or the church in your city or region what do you see? Do you see a Spirit-filled people proclaiming with boldness the penal substitution of Jesus? Is the church passionately engaged and actively laboring for the fame of Jesus among all people? Are churches being multiplied? Are people being saved? Is there aching and weeping because God’s glory is dismissed and His value ignored? Is worship fervent and powerful? Or, is the church lukewarm, puttering along in complacency with Jesus more of a mascot than a King? In far too many places the church is in “great trouble and shame.” What can you do?
Or, perhaps you’re part of a church planting or replanting team facing stone heart resistance, and rock hard ground, laboring and toiling for the glory of Jesus among people who are not just uninterested but hostile. You have almost no resources, a handful of discouraged people, a rusted legacy, and an oppressive and strong enemy. For example, "one study suggests that Christianity will be statistically irrelevant in countries like the Netherlands & Switzerland within a few decades. In a recent British poll of people claiming to be ‘Christian’, less than half believed that Jesus rose from the dead. Germany has seen a year-on-year decline in Christianity over the last 25 years yet Islam has grown. In France mediums, faith healers and fortune-tellers earn as much money as medical doctors" (Steve Timmis). This is the context and condition many finds themselves in. So, what can you do?
The First Answer, The Last Answer
When confronted with the condition of the church in Jerusalem Nehemiah’s first response was to pray. In fact, as you read the book of Nehemiah, you realize that he never stopped praying. In 13 chapters we see at least 11 different occurrences of prayer. Nehemiah prays in private and public. He prayed by himself and with the church. He prayed at planned times and on the spot. Some of the prayers are short and some long. Nehemiah prayed for himself and others. There are prayers of praise and confession and repentance and commitment. He has prayers saturated with Scripture and others a humble collection of just a few simple words. There is no set pattern to all of Nehemiah’s prayers but the ever-present reality that he prayed.
We see from Nehemiah 1.5-6 precious truths that drove Nehemiah to pray, and can help motivate us to do the same. God is strong and for us. We pray, in part, because God is completely capable of answering. He is the “LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God.” But that’s not all. He actually wants to answer prayer as the “God who keeps covenant and steadfast love.” So often what keeps us from praying is a functional disbelief that God is God and God is good. The other thing Nehemiah understood, and far too often we don’t, is that we are weak and needy and so much less impressive than we think (you're welcome). In fact, often our prayerlessness is arrogance. Pride is one of the greatest obstacles to prayer. We believe if we plan more, work harder, keep pushing, cast vision, make good decisions, the church will live. But what we see in Nehemiah is a man who did all those things but consistently in the atmosphere of prayer. Can that be said of you? To my shame, I know it can’t for me.
Jesus Prays The Church To Life
So where do we go from here? The great and good news for prayerless people who long for revival, is that there is only One who prayed without ceasing as He labored so the Church would live. Nehemiah is a precursor, an echo, to the One who would fast and pray and die for revival as the Savior who would crush Satan, cover sin, kill death, and promise resurrection. In places like John 17 we see Jesus intercede for the Church. We hear the strong words of this righteous man lifted on our behalf. Even on the Cross as Jesus died in our place we hear Him pray. Prayers of intercession, promise, praise, of completion. Jesus is the one who prays the church to life. Let me state that again, Jesus is THE ONE who prays the Church to life. He cares infinitely more about Her ‘trouble and shame’ then we ever do or ever will. The sure and certain hope is that even in our prayerlessness He is still interceding for us. And as Jesus prays the church to life the church will start to pray.
As we labor as church planters, Gospel leaders, blood bought sons and daughters, may we start praying like the One who never stops. As Marin Lloyd-Jones wrote, “Let us lay hold upon Him and plead with Him to vindicate His own truth and the doctrines which are so dear to our hearts, that the church may be revived and masses of people may be saved.”