I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king. Nehemiah 2:4–5
When I stopped to browse through a box of books marked “C. S. Lewis” at a used bookshop, the store owner appeared. As we chatted about the available titles, I wondered if he might be interested in the faith that inspired much of Lewis’ writing. I prayed silently for guidance. Information from a biography came to mind, and we began to discuss how C. S. Lewis’ character pointed to God. In the end, I was thankful that a quick prayer had reoriented our conversation to spiritual matters.
Nehemiah paused to pray before a pivotal moment in a conversation with King Artaxerxes in Persia. The king had asked how he could help Nehemiah, who was distraught over Jerusalem’s destruction. Nehemiah was the king’s servant and therefore in no position to ask for favors, but he needed one—a big one. He wanted to restore Jerusalem. So, he “prayed to the God of heaven” before asking to leave his job so he could reestablish the city (Nehemiah 2:4–5). The king consented and even agreed to help Nehemiah make travel arrangements and procure timber for the project.
The Bible encourages us to pray “on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests” (Ephesians 6:18). This includes moments when we need courage, self-control, or sensitivity. Praying before we speak helps us give God control of our attitude and our words.
How might He want to direct your words today? Ask Him and find out!
What patterns of speech do you need God’s help to change? What types of situations in your life could benefit most from prayer?
Dear God, I surrender my words to You. Use them for Your glory. Help them to inspire and encourage others.
To learn more about the act of prayer.
As the cupbearer to the king, Nehemiah held an important position in the court of Artaxerxes. Royal cupbearers “were charged with tasting the king’s wine (to prevent poisoning) and guarding the royal chambers” and were “among the most trusted of officials [who] enjoyed extensive influence with their masters” (Mark Throntveit, Ezra–Nehemiah). It wasn’t unusual for exiled Israelites to hold important positions. Daniel ruled over Babylon (Daniel 2:48–49); and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were in charge of the affairs of Babylon (3:12).
In Nehemiah 2:1–8, Artaxerxes asked Nehemiah three questions. Before Nehemiah replied to the first two questions, he described his emotions. In verse 2, he said, “I was very much afraid.” In verse 4, he “prayed to the God of heaven.” Then in verse 6, he’s bold enough to simply give an answer. This presents the progression of his frame of mind.