You can learn a lot about a person by the kind of prayer he prays. For instance, a selfish prayer indicates a selfish spirit. Have you ever heard a prayer that sounds like a Christmas list—I want this, and I want that. Some people try to impress you with their prayers, yet they come off as arrogant and prideful.
For leaders, there’s a model prayer in the book of Nehemiah. Remember Nehemiah? When he first heard about the downfall of Jerusalem, he prayed for four months.
This was not just a casual prayer. Instead, it gives us a pattern for successful praying. If you want to know how to pray, study the book of Nehemiah—particularly this prayer.
Here are four secrets to answered prayer from the life of Nehemiah:
1. Base your request on God’s character
Pray like you know God will answer you: “I’m expecting you to answer this prayer because of who you are. You are a faithful God. You are a great God. You are a loving God. You are a wonderful God. You can handle this problem, God!”
Nehemiah approaches God and says, “God, I want you to do something back in Jerusalem.”
“O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commands” (Nehemiah 1:5 NIV).
Nehemiah said three things about God:
- You’re great — that’s God’s position.
- You’re awesome — that shows God’s power.
- You keep your promises — that’s God’s covenant.
The first thing Nehemiah does is acknowledge who God is; that’s what praise is. Acknowledge who God is and his greatness. Nehemiah starts off by getting the right perspective. As you pray, say, “God, I want you to answer this prayer because of who you are. You’ve given us all of these things, these promises. You are a faithful God, a loving God, a merciful God.” You base your request on God’s character.
2. Confess the sin in your life
After Nehemiah based his prayer on God’s character, he confessed his sins. He says, “We’ve sinned.” Look at how many times he uses the word “I” and “we.” He says, “I confess . . . myself . . . my father’s house . . . we have acted wickedly . . . we have not obeyed.” It wasn’t Nehemiah’s fault that the Israelites went into captivity; that was 70 years earlier, before Nehemiah had even been born. In fact, he was most likely born in captivity. Yet, he includes himself in the national sins. He says, “I’ve been a part of the problem.”
When was the last time you confessed the sins of the nation? Or the sins of your family? Or your church? Or your friends? We don’t think that way. We’re very individualistic. Our society has taught us we’re only responsible for ourselves. And that’s just not true! You are your brother’s keeper. We are all in this together.
Leaders accept the blame, but losers pass the buck. If you want to be a leader, you accept the blame and share the credit. Losers are always accusers and excusers. They’re always making excuses why things didn’t or couldn’t happen; it’s always somebody else’s fault. Leaders accept the blame.
3. Claim the promises of God
Nehemiah prays to the Lord and says, “I want you to remember what you told your servant Moses.” Can you imagine saying REMEMBER to God? He’s reminding God what he’d said in the past. All through the Bible you’ll find God’s people reminding God about what he said he wants to do. David did it. Abraham did it. Moses did it. All the prophets did it: “God, I want to remind you of one of your promises . . . “
Does God have to be reminded? No.
Does he forget what he’s promised? No.
Then why do we do this?
Because it helps us remember what God has promised. Nothing pleases God more that when you remind God of one of his promises.
Do kids ever forget a promise? Never.
So you have to be very careful about making them. The Bible says we’re imperfect fathers, and if we imperfect fathers know that we need to fulfill our promises to our kids, how much more does a perfect Father, a Heavenly Father, intend to keep the promises he’s made in his Word?
4. Be very specific in what you ask for
If you want specific answers to prayer, you need to make specific requests. If your prayers are general, how will you know if they’re answered?
Nehemiah is not hesitant to pray for success. He’s very bold in his praying. Have you ever prayed, “Lord, make me successful!” If you haven’t, why haven’t you? What is the alternative? A failure? There is nothing wrong with praying for success if what you’re doing is ultimately for the glory of God.
Pray boldly. Pray that God will make you successful in life for the glory of God. That’s what Nehemiah did. This is a valid prayer: Give me success!
If I can’t ask God to bless what I’m doing, then I’d better start doing something else. If you can’t ask God to make you a success at what you’re doing, you should be doing something else. God doesn’t want you to waste your life.