The following definition of prayer is from John Bunyan (1628–1688). He is best known for his well-known and widely published, The Pilgrim’s Progress. He defined prayer as a “sincere, sensible (which means ‘sensitive’ in today’s language), affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit, for such things as God has promised, or according to his Word, for the good of the church, with submission in faith to the will of God. (Prayer, 13)
How do we make a start at prayer? One of the many ways for the church to make a good start at prayer is by opening our hearts to the needs of others. Nehemiah serves as an excellent example. The first few verses of the book of Nehemiah paint a grim picture: “I [Nehemiah] was in Susa the citadel, [and] Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said to me, ‘The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.’” Nehemiah asked Hanani and his companions two questions: How are the Jewish people doing? And what is the condition of Jerusalem? He had a lively concern for others even for those he had never met. His first question was a people question. He did not ask about offerings or attendance. He never mentioned local politics or changing customs. He might have been concerned about all those things but he asked about the people.
The answer he received broke his heart. The people were in great trouble and suffering shame or disgrace. They were surviving in difficult circumstances and were subject to abuse. They were objects of reproach. Not only were the people suffering but the city itself had fallen into a state of decay. The wall was broken down and the gates had been burned. The city was defenseless and the symbol of her authority (the gates) had been destroyed. The Bible records the response of Nehemiah in verse four, “As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept…” He was a man struck down by grief. The tears flowed freely as he meditated on the deplorable condition of his homeland and his countrymen. What could he do? John Bunyan noted, “For right prayer bubbles out of the heart when it is overcome with grief and bitterness.” Nehemiah could and did pray. A prayer conceived in a compassionate, broken heart is birthed right into the very presence of God. His tears were wings that carried his petition to God’s throne. May the Lord give us the heart of Nehemiah for the people of Blue Springs and all the surrounding towns. Have a blessed week and I will see you on Sunday.