How valuable is prayer to you and me as a leader? Do we believe that God hears and answers us in our prayers? How often should a leader pray? What should they pray about? Leaders know the power of prayer. They live in the presence of the Almighty, committing and communicating every thought to Him. A leader of God’s people will lay everything before His king’s throne.

In our last article, we focused on Nehemiah’s vision and how he united the people under that vision. We want to continue our discussion of Nehemiah by looking at his prayer in chapter 1. Nehemiah heard about the great distress and reproach in Jerusalem. The walls were “broken down and its gates burned with fire” (Ne. 1:3). In response, Nehemiah weeps, mourns, prays, and fasts. The sorrow expressed indicates his love for God’s city and people.

Beginning in v. 5, Nehemiah’s prayer highlights four distinct and powerful characteristics that provide a framework for every leader’s prayer:

  1. Acknowledging the Almighty
  2. Confession of sin
  3. A reminder of God’s promise
  4. A specific request.

Let’s look at each characteristic and consider the application for leaders today.

First, the approach of Nehemiah to God is amazing,

“I beseech You, O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who preserves the covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments” …Ne. 1:5

Acknowledging the power and love of God is a beautiful part of his prayer. I realize there are numerous expressions throughout Scripture indicating a variety of ways to approach God. A glance at the Psalms highlights David’s approach to the mercy, grace, and love of the amazing Shepherd. Jesus taught the disciples,

Pray, then, in this way: Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name” …Mt. 6:9

There is no “one” way to begin a prayer. Communicating with God does not always involve a specific beginning and/or ending. There may be times we simply talk to Him. At the same time, we must not overlook the significance of acknowledging our understanding of who we bow before. Like Nehemiah, leaders need to know they have the attention of the Creator, the One who has the power to move heaven and earth with a word. He listens and acts for His people.

Second, reflect on Nehemiah’s confession of sin,

We have sinned against You; I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against You and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses”…Ne. 1:6-7

As leaders, we should all value the genuine, authentic, and transparent nature of his prayer and confession. Nehemiah was specific about the indictment against himself and his people.

We must never relegate confession to “…and forgive us of our sins, in Jesus’ name, Amen.” Far too often, this becomes a repetitive phrase used in every public prayer: opening, over the bread, over the fruit of the vine, over the offering, and in closing. While I never want to question the sincerity of someone’s prayer life, have we sinned that many times during our assembling together in worship, or are we repeating a phrase without any thought behind it? Confession is meant to be specific. We are not acknowledging we are sinners. We are asking God to forgive something specific in our lives. Let us set the example as leaders in approaching this needed area in our prayer life.

Third, Nehemiah reminds God of His promise,

Remember the word which You commanded…if you return to Me and keep My commandments and do them, though those of you who have been scattered were in the most remote part of the heavens, I will gather them from there and will bring them to the place where I have chosen to cause My name to dwell” …Ne. 1:8-9

What a beautiful sentiment. Certainly, God already knew the promise He had made. Still, Nehemiah speaks of this promise to acknowledge his desire for God to fulfill it, especially as it relates to his request.

The same holds for leaders today. Imagine the beauty of a prayer that asks God to remember His promise in relationship to His people and the place where He currently dwells. If we understand that the church is not the building but the people, we can learn the importance of remembering God’s promise to dwell in and among us. The church’s beauty is reflected in the image of God that is born out of our lives in the way we treat one another and those who live in the world around us.

Fourth, I love the specific request of Nehemiah,

Make Your servant successful today and grant him compassion before this man” …Ne. 1:11

I’ve wondered if this is the prayer Nehemiah offered when the king asks him in chapter 2, “What would you request?” The text says, “So, I prayed to the God of heaven” (2:4). Was this prayer the one we find in chapter 1, or at least a part of it? We have no way of knowing, but we know his request was a desire for success and compassion before the king.

I pray we all learn the value of this thought. In my sixty years of life, I’ve heard a lot of prayers in the public assembly. Again, I do not question the sincerity of any one of them. However, I have observed the generic way we approach our Father. We are thankful for “all” blessings. We ask for forgiveness of “all” sins. We request His help in “every” struggle in life. We even practice asking God to heal “all” those mentioned that need our prayers. What is this? Listen to a five-year-old pray and learn.

We must not allow the clock on the wall to dictate the length of our prayers to the point we are so generic that we need to save five minutes. Be specific.

Prayer is such a special and beautiful gift from God. The opportunity to come before His throne and talk to Him. Wow! We must excel in our leadership through prayer. If we only pray during assemblies, in specific meetings, or before a meal, we are missing out on the greatest tool in a leader’s tool belt. Leaders live before the throne of God, just like Nehemiah. Almost every chapter highlights his continual approach to the God of heaven. May we learn to practice the same.

Bob Turner
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Bob Turner is the current Director of SALT (Sunset Academy for Leadership Training). He teaches courses and conducts workshops in Leadership Development, Emotional Intelligence, Creating Vision, Strategic Planning, Communication, Conflict Resolution, Character, and Managing Change. He also serves as an instructor in the Sunset International Bible Institute’s master’s and doctoral degree programs. He and his wife, Sheryl, have been married for 42 years with more than 30 years of ministry experience. They have three grown children and ten grandchildren.