It’s a common question. One that was asked as far back as the first century while Jesus was still on Earth. One of the disciples of Jesus looked at him and said, “Teach us to pray.” Which is a good question… If prayer is the way in which we talk to God, then it makes sense that we would want to pray properly. Prayer can be confusing. It can be difficult and we can often feel inadequate to pray. So let me suggest a simple way to pray…
Recently, I studied the book of Nehemiah. Nehemiah had a great task before him that he knew would only be accomplished with the help of God. So, Nehemiah prays a beautiful prayer in chapter one of his diary (you can read it HERE). His prayer gives us three simple and attainable movements to pray in our own prayer life.
In verses 5-7, Nehemiah starts by NAMING HIS PROBLEM. His family and his people had sinned against God. They were unfaithful and had walked away from their covenant with God. It’s important to notice that Nehemiah knows the problem lies with him… Not God. When we name our problem, it forces us to recognize our reality so that we can move forward and be redeemed from our problem. As long as we have sin blinders on, we won’t be fully honest and open before God which is required for salvation.
In verse 8-9, Nehemiah continues by NAMING THE PROMISE. His words are “Please remember what you told your servant Moses…” In other words, God I’m only asking for something you’ve already promised. And you promised that if we turn back to you, you’d bring us out of exile. This is huge… Because Nehemiah teaches us that we can actually pray God’s words back to Him.
Tim Keller says, “Our prayers should arise from our immersion in the Scriptures.” If you want to learn what to pray, spend more time in the Bible and pray God’s words back to him. Pay attention for the promises he has made to the his people… And then pray them in your own life.
Finally, in verses 10-11, Nehemiah finishes by NAMING HIS PLACE. He says, “God, we are only rescued by YOUR great strength… we are YOUR SERVANTS.” This is classic “Not my will, but your will be done” language. And it is necessary in prayer, because this is not a "name and claim it” prayer formula…
Nehemiah knew that at the end of the day, he served God, not the other way around. He had gotten to the point where he would be okay with whatever God decided because God was the one who did the rescuing… And an attitude like that requires humility. It’s a continuous process of naming your place before God, not in charge of God.
So there you have it… A simple way to pray. It’s not the only way to pray, but it’s a simple prayer that can have a big impact in your life.
One of the first sermons I ever preached was in high school. It was real bad… Like seriously, bad (I found the notes and my face turned red while reading it in my office this week). But there is an object lesson from the story, that even though I communicated poorly, is still true today.
The life of Moses is one big restart. He spends 40 years in Egypt as a prince, then he flees Egypt and spends 40 years in the desert. At the age of 80, God finally calls him and gives him his purpose. Can you image being 80 years old and finding out God’s purpose for your life? Here’s a freebie lesson for all the elderly folk who might read this: If you ain’t dead, you ain’t done.
Let’s get back to the story. Moses is 80 years old and it’s time to restart… Again. One day he’s out with his sheep, and off in the distance he sees a little fire. He walks over to it, totally mesmerized by this burning bush because though it was engulfed in flames, it was not burning up. The Bible tells us that the Angel of the Lord was in the burning bush.
As Moses gets closer, he begins to hear the voice of the Lord and God tells him the plans for starting over. Go read the story for yourself in Exodus 3, but for our purposes here, just know that God was calling Moses to go confront Pharaoh and lead God’s people out of slavery… What a job to start at 80 years old!
And like many of us, Moses accepted the call right away with no push back, right? Wrong. Moses had a past and felt totally unworthy to lead Israel. Moses decides that he knows best so he goes back and forth with God insisting that he really isn’t the guy for the job. He pretty much says, “I appreciate it God, but no thanks.” Finally, in Exodus chapter 4, God had had enough.
Moses protests one more time and finally God says, “What is that in your hand?” In Moses’ hand was a shepherd’s staff. Upon hearing this, God says, “Throw it on the ground,” and when it hits the dirt, it becomes a snake (Ew, Gross)! As the story progresses, it’s clear that the shepherd’s staff was going to be the one of the ways in which God expressed His power through Moses.
So here’s the object lesson in all this (And I stole this idea from my dad who stole it from someone else)… Everyone has something in their hand that God can use. God looks at each of us and says, “What is that in your hand?”
Maybe your staff is hospitality and God is calling you to host your neighbors on a consistent basis. Maybe your staff is financial security and God is calling you practice radical generosity. Maybe you’re great with kids and you need to go serve them. Maybe you’re an athlete and you can coach and mentor younger athletes. Maybe you are tech-savvy and need to help your church go digital in this COVID world.
Whatever your staff, God calls each of us to trust Him with it. He calls each of us to use it to build the Kingdom of God on Earth as it is in Heaven. And if you’re wanting to start over, maybe start over by looking at what God has already given you. Don’t try to be something you aren’t, but use your talents, your gifts, and your resources to be who God created you to be.
Often times, the key to starting over is already in your possession… What’s the staff in your hand and how can use it for God?