Genuine Empathy & Powerful Praying

christian faith prayer Mar 05, 2024

He’s a politician. He has to be. Or he could lose his life.
He has no campaign manager. No yard signs. No ad budget.
He never traversed the country shaking hands, kissing babies, and attending fundraising galas. Yet he wields considerable power.

He also prays – a lot!

Especially after hearing distressing news in response to his inquiries. How’s the capital city? How are the refugees? Who escaped?

Nehemiah’s in the cabinet of arguably the world’s most powerful ruler of the time – King Artaxerxes of the Persian empire. When fellow Jews come to the city where he’s stationed, he peppers them with questions about things back home. Their report is demoralizing. The refugees are not doing well, in large part to the physical condition of the city – Jerusalem.

Political, cultural, and religious capital of the Jews, Jerusalem represented God’s favor with His people. The city lay in ruins as did the people’s relationship with God – on the whole. Yet many individuals, Nehemiah included, remained faithful to God and looked forward to the day when all would be restored. First their relationship; second their city.

In Nehemiah chapter 1 we see this man take the initiative to inquire about the welfare of others. Say what? He has a cushy job! He doesn’t need to be concerned about anyone else, certainly not those living in his exiled nation’s beleaguered capital city. All he needs to do is keep his head down, do his job, and his life will be fine – even better than most of his countrymen.

But Nehemiah’s a genuine leader.

Power-wielders only needs a position. Leaders require position, capacity, and skill.

Real leaders always begin by leading themselves. In the first chapter Nehemiah models three leadership practices: initiative, empathy, and prayer.

Nehemiah doesn’t wait for status reports about Jerusalem and his countrymen to come up in conversation. He takes the initiative!

His response to the distressing news does more than prompt an emotion; it produces empathy. The emotion of sadness isn’t the same thing as empathy. Genuine empathy always leads to action.

If action is absent, so is empathy.

Nehemiah’s empathy first leads to fasting and prayer. Not just a “toss up a few words and hope they land” prayer, but a powerful model of prayer we can use in just six steps! In seven short verses Nehemiah incorporates six steps:

1. Recall God’s goodness.
2. Request God’s attention.
3. Repent of wrongdoing.
4. Remind God of his promises.
5. Remind God of his relationship.
6. Request God’s favor for others and yourself.

It’s not that God needs reminding because He’s forgotten anything! It’s to make God aware of Nehemiah has done his “due diligence.” He knows who God is and wants God to know it.

Isn’t that true for us in relationships? We want others to know us, and we want to know they know us! They’ve done their homework. They’ve paid attention!

Recalling God’s goodness is both a statement of gratitude and hope.

Requesting God’s attention isn’t because God is absent-minded or needs to be pulled away from His other divine activities. It’s a sign of respect – similar to training a child to say, “Excuse me, I have a question” when you’re busy with another person or activity.

Repenting of wrongdoing is thorough, specific, individual, and corporate. One test of fake vs. real repentance is whether someone is willing to use language appropriate to the offence. If someone says, “I’m sorry I borrowed your item longer than expected” when they stole it, they’re not repentant!” They’re not interested in reconciliation based on earning your trust; they want reconciliation based on excuses – and that’s building on sand!

Nehemiah’s repentance is both individual and corporate. He’s not tattling on others to God. He’s interceding for them. He’s making an appeal on their behalf, not trying to get God to prosecute them. Big difference!

Reminding God of His promises and relationship is an appropriate appeal to God’s compassion and faithfulness. If someone approached you and said, “I know I wronged you, and I’m sorry. I also know you’re a selfish jerk, so I won’t expect any kindness,” you’d likely not have any! But if they said, “I know I wronged you, and I’m sorry. I also know you’re a kind and compassionate person, and I ask for your mercy,” you’ll probably respond with just that!

Requesting God’s favor for others and yourself is, again, a testament to His character. He has invited us to be partakers of His grace at work on this earth. He doesn’t force us to say “yes,” but He delights when we do. Just as we desire to have the blessing of those who are important to us, so it’s appropriate to ask for God’s blessing on us – and others we love.

Nehemiah’s Six Steps Prayer Model is powerful, timeless, and easy to implement for any age. Why wait? Start today – no wine (or whining) necessary!

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