Praying Like Nehemiah?

A recurring theme stood out to me while reading through Nehemiah this time. Nehemiah continually asked God to remember (and respond accordingly to) the good deeds that he did.

Neh 5:19 Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people.

Neh 13:14 Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and do not wipe out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God and for his service.

Neh 13:22 Remember this also in my favor, O my God, and spare me according to the greatness of your steadfast love.

Neh 13:31 Remember me, O my God, for good.

I don’t pray this way—probably because of an overreaction to the notion that we can merit God’s favor. But Nehemiah doesn’t seem to have merit in view, for he requests God’s gracious response to his faithfulness to God rather than demanding his due payment. Nehemiah saw God’s response to his obedience as rooted in His חֶסֶד. Yet I still feel uncomfortable trying to pray like Nehemiah, even though I can justify such praying theologically. Hebrews 6:10 comes to mind, “For God is not so unjust as to overlook your work and the love that you showed for his sake in serving the saints, as you still do.” Yet praying for God to look at my works and reward me for them still strikes me (at least part of me) as self serving. Reading Nehemiah’s prayers created a feeling of discomfort similar to when I first read Piper’s Desiring God. Wrong teaching about what it means to be selfish is so deeply ingrained in me that it’s difficult to overcome.

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2 Responses to Praying Like Nehemiah?

  1. Ryan and Sandi January 26, 2007 at 9:29 pm #

    Thought-provoking post.

    You are not alone in your reticence to pray like Nehemiah in this regard. I dare say many or even most godly people do hesitate to pray like this.

    Hezekiah also did this: 2 Kings 20:3, “ ‘Remember, O Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.’…”

    I believe David also prayed like this, and maybe others.

    Others, though, prayed quite differently, such as Elijah, who we know was a very godly man: 1 Kings 19:4, “…he…prayed that he might die. ‘I have had enough, Lord,’ he said. ‘Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.’ ”

    Nehemiah’s comfortability with reminding God of his faithfulness might certainly be descriptive and not prescriptive…. Paul called his recounting of personal faithfulness “foolish” after all. Food for thought, perhaps!


  2. Phil Gons January 27, 2007 at 7:31 am #

    Thought-provoking reply!

    Good collection of other prayers that we would be hesitant to pray.

    And good point regarding some parts of Scripture being descriptive rather than prescriptive. I had given thought to Nehemiah’s prayers being something we should not follow today, but since I think I can justify his praying as being consistent with biblical teaching on rewards, I made the assumption that they were prayers we could legitimately pray—though I’m still open on this point.

    Thanks for the good thoughts!