Prayer and Journaling - Radical

Prayer and Journaling

Although many Christians talk about prayer and know that it is important, how much time do we actually spend doing it? How often do we feel our need for God? How often do we honestly confess our sins before him? Do we ever pause long enough to reflect on his Word and its implications for our lives? In this unique message from Nehemiah 9, David Platt leads his congregation through the prayer that Israel prayed when they gathered and fasted. As you listen, grab a pen and paper and be ready to record your own prayers and reflections in response to God’s Word.

If you have a Bible—and I hope you or somebody around you does that you can look on with—let me invite you to open to Nehemiah 9. As you’re turning, I want to give you a heads up that wherever you are, you’re going to need something to write with and something to write on for our time together today. Everybody’s going to need this, wherever you are and no matter how old or young you might be. So kids, I want you to be part of this too. If you don’t have anything to write with and write on, feel free to get up and find those two things.

You can use a digital device if you have one to write on, but I know how tempting it is to use that device in so many other ways. I really want to encourage you to use paper and pen unless you have profound discipline to able to not do anything else on that device during this next hour or so—unless it’s an emergency. Let’s put aside the distractions and just be with God. That’s the goal of this. So if that device is not going to help you toward that goal, then don’t use it.

I was praying about how to best encourage us, right in the middle of these 21 days of prayer and fasting that we are a little over halfway through. As a reminder, there’s a ton of resources at mcleanbible.org/prayer and there’s a place for you to share stories about how God is moving in response to your prayers. I encourage you to do that in a way that will encourage others.

Coming in today, my mind started going to various passages in the Bible that teach us about prayer and fasting. I did a Secret Church on this years ago, on a Friday night with tens of thousands of people around the world. We spent six hours going through 125 different passages on prayer and fasting. So we’ve got plenty of material here.

The more I was praying through what would be best for us and most honoring to God, the more I thought, “We don’t just need to talk about prayer, like just another sermon on prayer. We need to pray. We need to set aside at least one Sunday when we gather together during these 21 days to just pray.”

This past Friday evening, I was so encouraged by the number of people who were here, at least for the first part, and then they started making their way out at different points. Then for those who that made it all the way from 8:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m., there’s nothing like it. You might have been a little delirious. You’ve said, “More than I want sleep, I want God.” By His grace, you made it. Maybe you dozed off here or there, but you made it. These are my favorite times in our church family.

For us today, we’re all together on Sunday to seek God in prayer. All this started to come together when we got to Nehemiah 9 in our church’s Bible reading this last week. We read about a powerful time in prayer that God’s people had, right after they finished rebuilding the walls around Jerusalem. So here’s what I want to lead us to do. We’re going to read through parts of Nehemiah 9 and see how the people of God were praying on that occasion, then we’re going to do the exact same thing now, a couple thousand years later. We’re going to pray in the same way they were praying.

Here’s the reason for the paper and pen. As one of your pastors, I am an avid proponent of journaling—writing out reflections, thoughts and prayers before God. I look back personally on walking with God for almost 40 years now, and I can say without question that the times I have experienced the closest relationship and the deepest intimacy with God have been times when I actively journaled. That goes back all the way to when I was a teenager and someone encouraged me to do this. I wish I’d started as a kid. It’s something we do with our kids. It’s why I want to involve kids today. For many years now I’ve done this pretty much every day. This is how, with rare exceptions, every morning begins. A confession: I actually don’t use paper and pen anymore; I use a computer or my iPad. Heather is still old school, journaling with paper and pen.

Today, I want to personally encourage you to consider making journaling a part of your everyday life and walk with God. To be clear, I don’t have a verse where the Bible says, “You need to journal.” This is not a command from God. I do have verses where God obviously called us to pray, meditate and reflect on His Word, examining our lives as we do. I find journaling to be really helpful because my mind tends to wander a lot when I’m spending time with God. So writing out my thoughts, my struggles, reflections on God’s Word, and then turning them all into prayers before God is extremely helpful.

Dawson Trotman, founder of the Navigators—a ministry known for disciple making—years ago said, “Thoughts disentangle themselves when they pass through the lips and the pencil tips.” This is a helpful discipline.

So just in case even the idea of journaling seems foreign to you, I want to show you how easy it is by leading you to do it today, then in the process lead us to pray. Right now, as a church, as the people of God assembled before God, we are participants, not spectators sitting back and watching a performance of people singing or speaking Worship is not a spectator sport; it’s a participants’ activity. That’s so important.

As a real quick aside, I’m coaching my nine-year-old in basketball. Yesterday we were walking into the gym, and my super-kind, sometimes even shy, nine-year-old, looking straight ahead as we’re walking in, said, “It’s time to crush some kids’ dreams today.” I thought, “What?” Then I just started laughing and said, “All right, buddy.” We got in there and true to form, on the last second buzzer, he knocked the ball down and we won the game. We crushed some kids’ dreams on the other team. I had to give him the sportsmanship award for that.

Now worship is not a spectator sport. We’re not coming into an event here to look at people on the stage and watch them entertains us. You’re not the audience here. God is the audience; we’re participants—all of us. We’re the gathered people of God. It’s even unique in all the different locations where we are gathered before Him. I want to lead us, as the assembled people before God, to pray to Him together. Not just me praying, but all of us praying together.

Now, the final thing I would add before we dive in is that I realize not everyone here has a relationship with God. I’m so glad you are here or watching online or reading the transcript. I am glad you’re here because God wants a relationship with you. God has created you for relationship with Him. The problem is each one of us has sinned against God. We’ve turned aside from relationship with God and separated ourselves from Him. If nothing changes in our lives here, for eternity we will be separated from relationship with God and all the good things that only come from His hand.

The good news is God does not want you to stay this way. God loves you so much that He has sent His Son Jesus to die on the cross to pay the price for sinners. He paid the price for the sins of anyone who will trust in Him. He rose from the dead, so that no matter who you are or what you’ve done, by placing your faith in God’s love for you in Jesus, by trusting Him with your life as Savior and Lord of your life, you can be forgiven of all your sin and restored to relationship with God for all of eternity. I invite you to do that today. This could be the moment when you enter into a relationship with God that will last forever. I’ll point this out again later, particularly when we get to a time when this kind of faith would be brought alive in people today by God.

At the same time, some of you may not be ready to place your faith in Jesus., so writing out a prayer to God doesn’t make a lot of sense to you. If that’s the case, along the way I’m going to encourage you to write something different that I hope might be helpful for you in your faith journey.

All right, with all that set-up, let’s do this. Let’s start by reading Nehemiah 9:1-3. Picture the scene.

1 Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the people of Israel were assembled with fasting and in sackcloth, and with earth on their heads. And the Israelites separated themselves from all foreigners and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers. And they stood up in their place and read from the Book of the Law of the Lord their God for a quarter of the day; for another quarter of it they made confession and worshiped the Lord their God.

Let’s pause and get this scene. They stood up in their place. I can just imagine them saying, “Now, everyone stand up while we read from this book.” They read from the Word of God for a quarter of the day. We don’t know what that’s like. Is that a strict quarter, like six hours? Or is that more talking about daylight hours, so maybe three to four hours? At least for three or four hours, all they did was stand while someone was just reading the Word.

They’re not just standing there being bored. If you look back in Nehemiah 8, they were lifting up their hands, they were bowing down on the ground, they were shouting out “Amen.” This was a participants’ activity. Then what happened after that? For another quarter of the day—for another three to six hours—they made confession and worshiped the Lord their God. For three to six more hours they were confessing their sins in worship. What a scene! They knew worship wasn’t a spectator sport.

Maybe this is one big takeaway from today, whether you’re in church or online. If you’re online, gather in person as soon as you are able. This is not a show to be watched on TV. This is for us to come together as the people of God. Even when we come into a building like this, don’t just walk in, sit in a chair, observe a show, look at your watch every once in a while, then walk out. That’s not worship. That’s not what God has designed you for. No, come into a church building and gather together with the people of God with anticipation. Get here early and be ready to engage, to sing, to lift up your hands, to shout in worship, to experience God. We’ve gathered to experience God together, to sit under His Word, to receive it and to respond to it. So be engaged from start to finish with all your heart, soul and mind. This is worship.

So let’s keep going, picking up with Nehemiah 9:4: “On the stairs of the Levites stood…”—eight guys with names we can’t pronounce, but they’re very important—“and they cried out with a loud voice to the Lord their God. Then the Levites, Jeshua” —and seven more guys—“said…” Here’s where they start to pray:

5 Stand up and bless the Lord your God from everlasting to everlasting. Blessed by your glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise. 6 You are the Lord, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you.

So here is where they start with praising and exalting God for Who He is, fixing their eyes on Him, saying things like, “You alone are the Lord. There’s no one like You.” This is where we’re going to start. This is right in line with our PRAY acrostic I mentioned a couple weeks ago, and it’s what we’re going to use today as we walk through this chapter.

So P: Praise God for Who He is. This is what I want to lead us to do. So get out your pen and paper, or whatever you’re writing on. I’m going to give you a couple moments to write out specific prayers of praise to God for Who He is. “God, I praise You because You are…” Those kinds of prayers. I want to differentiate here between praising and thanking God for things He has done in the past or in our lives. We’re going to get to that in a minute. For the next couple minutes, just praise God for Who He is.

Picture if I’m in a conversation with my wife, saying, “Heather, thank you for doing this, thank you for all you do here…,” yes, we’re going to get there in a minute. But for now, this is looking into my wife’s eyes and saying, “You are beautiful. You are…” —fill in the blank. “This is who you are.”

This is what we’re saying to God. Yes, we’re going to talk about what He has done in a few minutes, but for now let’s praise Him for Who He is. Think about His character, His attributes, His names; just write out prayers of praise.

If you don’t yet believe in God, during the next couple minutes I encourage you to write out what you think the reasons are that you don’t believe in God. Spend time reflecting there, while followers of Jesus are writing out prayers of praise.

Kids, I invite you to do this, even if it’s just a sentence or two. Whatever you want to do along these lines, just write out different names or attributes of God. Even if you can’t read or write, feel free to draw something that shows what’s on your mind about God.

So let’s pray right now, through journaling. As you’re writing, prayers of praise are going to be rising to our God. Let’s fix our eyes on Him and right now just pray prayers of praise, writing them out before Him. Go for it.

We’re focusing on writing these prayers down individually. We’re not going to do this with everything we write, but on this one I do want us to voice some of these prayers out loud. So can we do that, all at the same time? When I say out loud, I mean out loud. Not like this is a golf event; not like a polite clap. This is us declaring with our voices, “God, You are…”

So just picture this across Metro D.C. and around the world! Just us shouting out at the same time out loud. You’ve got material right in front of you, so as we pray, let’s just cry out these prayers of praise to God. “God, You are…” Let’s go for it. Right now, all together at the same time.

[David’s praise.] O God, You are love. You are full of mercy. You are peace. You are just. God, You are kind. We praise You, O God. You are sovereign, in control of all things, sitting on the throne over all. You are Lord of history. You’re Lord of creation. Lord of Your church. You’re Lord over it all. You’re the Creator Who knits us together. You’re the Sustainer of our lives. You’re all wise. You’re all generous. You’re generous with Your wisdom. You’re generous with Your love. You’re generous with Your mercy. You’re generous with Your faithfulness, generous with Your kindness.

God, You are slow to anger, quick to forgive. You’re holy. In all of these attributes, O God, there is no one like you. O God, You are all these things we are declaring, You are these and so much more. You’re infinitely more than we can imagine or fathom with our finite minds. There is no one like You. You’re perfect in all Your ways. Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty. The whole earth is full of Your glory and we praise Your name.

All the gods of the nations are idols. You made the heavens. You are Lord over them all. There is nothing in this world, O God, that compares with You. Everything pales in comparison to You. You are our life, our joy, our great reward. We lift our voices, turning our eyes and hearts toward You in praise. O God, we praise You for Who You are. In Jesus’ name, all God’s people said, “Amen.”

None of these times are going to be long enough. All right, let’s keep going.

Still under this banner of Praising God, I want you to see how they move from praising God for Who He is to praising and thanking God for specific things He’s done throughout their history. So let’s pick up k at Nehemiah 9:7:

You are the Lord, the God who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and gave him the name Abraham. You found his heart faithful before you, and made with him the covenant to give to his offspring the land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Perizzite, the Jebusite, and the Girgashite. And you have kept your promise, for you are righteous. “And you saw the affliction of our fathers in Egypt and heard their cry at the Red Sea, 10 and performed signs and wonders against Pharaoh and all his servants and all the people of his land, for you knew that they acted arrogantly against our fathers. And you made a name for yourself, as it is to this day. 11 And you divided the sea before them, so that they went through the midst of the sea on dry land, and you cast their pursuers into the depths, as a stone into mighty waters. 12 By a pillar of cloud you led them in the day, and by a pillar of fire in the night to light for them the way in which they should go. 13 You came down on Mount Sinai and spoke with them from heaven and gave them right rules and true laws, good statutes and commandments, 14 and you made known to them your holy Sabbath and commanded them commandments and statutes and a law by Moses your servant. 15 You gave them bread from heaven for their hunger and brought water for them out of the rock for their thirst, and you told them to go in to possess the land that you had sworn to give them.

This is so awesome. They’re just going through praising and thanking God for specific things He has done. It keeps going on and on, showing all these attributes: His love, His mercy, His grace, His justice, His righteousness. “We know You are these things because we’ve seen You do these things. We’ve seen Your goodness in our lives in all these ways.”

So let’s do that. I encourage you to make this as personal as possible. Let’s write out prayers of praise and thanksgiving for what God has done. “God, I praise and thank You for…” —you fill in the blank. Again, let’s make this personal, things in your own life. How has God shown you His goodness? How is God showing you His goodness in your life?

Then, if you don’t yet believe in God, I encourage you to write down things you’re thankful for in your life. This is always an interesting exercise, wondering just who you’re thanking.

Everybody else, let’s write down prayers of praise and thanksgiving for all the ways God has shown His goodness to us. Before the Lord, write down specific prayers of thanksgiving. Go for it.

O God, if we would allow ourselves the time, we could literally do this all day long, into the night, the next day and the next day. We realize we deserve to be in hell right now, but here we are, together with You, in relationship with You. We have water, food, warmth and a million other good gifts we can so easily take for granted. Breath. Even if all these good things were gone, if even our breath was gone, we’re so grateful. We’ll still have You. To live is Christ and to die is gain. We have eternal life with You and all the good gifts that flow from You forever and ever and ever. God, thank You, thank You, thank You.

Jesus, we thank You. We praise You for making all of this possible. We thank You for dying on a cross for our sin. We thank You and praise You for rising from the grave. You didn’t just split a sea in half; You tore the curtain in half that made the way for us to come into Your presence and be with You forever. Thank You, thank You, thank You, God.

Thank You even for hard things that we wouldn’t plan or would prefer not to have. Thank You for how You use even those things, as we saw last week in Your Word. Thank You for Your Word. As we see in 2 Corinthians 12, You’re using thorns for good purposes in our lives. So we say thank You God, for Your promise to use all these things working together for the good of those who love You and are called according to Your purpose (Romans 8). Thank You God. We give thanks in all circumstances.

We are so thankful. We’re looking back at what You’ve done in history, like they were doing here in Nehemiah 9. God, make us a grateful people, as we say to You, “All thanks and honor and glory be to Your name for the myriad of ways Your goodness is on display in our lives.” We know every good gift comes from Your hand, so we say together today, “Thank You,” in Jesus’ name. And all who believe that say, “Amen.” Amen.

This is so good. This is communing with God together.

Let’s keep going in Nehemiah 9, beginning in verse 16. What we’re about to read has a couple breathtaking realities. Follow this:

16 “But they and our fathers acted presumptuously and stiffened their neck and did not obey your commandments. 17 They refused to obey and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them, but they stiffened their neck and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them.

Did you see these two breathtaking realities? They’re both signaled by this word “But.” One breathtaking reality is how, despite all God’s goodness, we have still chosen to sin against God. Why have we acted presumptuously and stiffened our necks? We think, “Our ways are better than Your ways. Our ideas are better than Your ideas.” These people refused to obey His commandments. They weren’t mindful. They forgot the wonders God had performed among them.

This is not just their story; this is the story of each of us. If we keep reading through Nehemiah 9 here, we would see this kind of language over and over again. It’s not just “they” and “our fathers.” It turns into “we.” “We have acted wickedly against You, O God.”

Then the second breathtaking reality in these verses is, “But You are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger.” We are so quick to anger. God is slow to anger and “abounding in steadfast love…” He doesn’t forsake those who follow Him and look to Him. Praise God, we are quick to sin and He is quick to forgive. Our God is gracious and merciful. He is slow to anger toward us and abounding in steadfast love for us, as we look to Him.

So let’s do this. Moving on in our prayer acrostic from Praise to R for Repent. Let’s confess our sin before God and by faith in Jesus—in Who He is and what He’s done for us—receive the mercy, grace and forgiveness of God. For the next few minutes, I want us to write out prayers of repentance, ways we have sinned, confession of sin in our minds, thoughts, desires, motives, words, actions, our decisions. Confess struggles with sin.

Some of you did this on Friday night when we were gathered together in this room. I want to encourage you to do it again. Confession is not something you do once and move on from. What else might there be that God wants to open your eyes to? This is really personal. This is between you and God as you write this out. Don’t look on somebody’s else’s paper; that would be sinning, then you’d have something else to write down. Don’t do it. This is just between you and God.

Even if you’re just writing, then covering it up; even if you don’t want to put words down—that’s fine. Put a star and say, “God knows what this is.” That’s the whole point. Be honest before God. Confess your sin. Let’s do this specifically, believing that as we do, God is ready to forgive. Let’s write out, “God, I’m sorry for…” As you write out these prayers of repentance, receive God’s mercy and forgiveness. May it just flood over you.

If you’re not yet a follower of Jesus, I invite you to make this the time when you say for the first time to God, “I’m sorry for my sin against You. Right now I believe Jesus died on the cross for my sin. I believe You will forgive me as I put my trust in Him. You’ll restore me into relationship with You. I want that right now.” Write that out during these few minutes.

Right now, let’s write out prayers of repentance. And for all who place their faith in Jesus, just let God’s grace and mercy through Jesus flood over you as you do. Write out, “God, I’m sorry…” Or, “God, I confess…” Or, “God, I repent of …”

O God, sadly, this time is also too short. You are holy and we are not, in so many ways. If we would allow ourselves, we could spend a quarter of the day here easily—individually, collectively, in all the myriad ways we have acted presumptuously, stiffened our necks, refused to obey your commands, lived like our ideas, ways, thoughts and desires are better than Yours. We’ve forgotten Your wonders and turned aside from You, the fountain of living water. We’ve turned to the broken cisterns that don’t hold water. Yet we praise You that, in light of all these specific things we’ve just written—You are slow to anger and ready to forgive. Jesus, we praise You for taking every single one of these things upon Yourself for all who trust in You. So I proclaim that over Your people today in a way that couldn’t even happen in Nehemiah’s time. They were looking forward, but we’re looking back, knowing what You have done on the cross for us. Father, we know how You made Jesus, Who had no sin, to be sin for us, in order that we might become the righteousness of God.

So with all these things we have written, we believe 1 John 1:9—that when we confess our sins, You are faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We believe that as a result, there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). I just pray that over all Your people who have put their faith in You, that they would not feel the guilt and shame of these sins. I pray they would know that guilt and shame are gone; that they are dressed in the blood-bought righteousness of Jesus; that they have the honor of Jesus. They have His righteousness credited to them, so they are now Your sons and daughters, Your children, welcomed into Your presence—not with shameful heads, but with lifted heads. Your arms are around us and You are abounding in steadfast love for us.

All glory be to Your name, O God, for Your grace, mercy and love. Make us quick to confess, knowing You are quick to forgive. All glory be to Your name, O God, for Your grace and mercy in our lives, individually and collectively as Your people. We pray this in Jesus’ name, and all God’s people who agree with this say, “Amen.”

So let’s keep going. Now it starts to make sense. We see God for Who He is and what He’s done. Then what have I done? God, forgive me. Then we can begin to realize, “I’m welcomed into the presence of God.” So we Praise, Repent, and then A for Ask.

Every kid knows what it’s like to go to a parent to ask for something. “I want this. I desire this.” We’ve been welcomed into the presence of God the Father to ask. Let me show you this in Nehemiah 9:

36 Behold, we are slaves this day; in the land that you gave to our fathers to enjoy its fruit and its good gifts, behold, we are slaves. 37 And its rich yield goes to the kings whom you have set over us because of our sins. They rule over our bodies and over our livestock as they please, and we are in great distress.

Do you see what’s happening here? They were crying out to God for help. “We are slaves in this land; we’re in great distress. We need You. We need Your help, as we pray.” Now, obviously their circumstances were not the same as ours in this room today. But the core need is exactly the same: we need God’s help. Some people say that religion, even Christianity, is for the weak. They think it’s for people who can’t do things for themselves, so they come together and need God. To that we give a hearty amen. That’s exactly why we’ve come together. We are created. We have a Creator. We need Him. We don’t have enough breath without Him.

Even if you don’t believe in God—maybe even if you hate God—the very breath you have right now comes from the very One you hate. So yes. The core problem in our lives is our pride that says we can do this on our own. We can’t. We need God.

The beauty of the Bible is that God is generous and ready, not just to forgive, but ready to help, ready to provide. He invites His children to come before Him, saying, “Ask. Seek. Find. Ask and it will be given to you. Seek and you’ll find. Knock and the door will be opened to you.” He’s generous. So let’s ask. “God, I ask You to…” Or, “God, I ask You for….”

Here’s what I want us to do in the next few minutes, again, making this personal. What are one, two, three, four, maybe five things you are asking God for right now, asking God to do, ways you’re asking God to help—write down whatever comes to mind. It could be in your life. It could be in someone else’s life. “God, I ask You to do this…” Or, “I ask You for this….” Fill in the blank. Just say it as a child before God your Father.

Now, if you still don’t believe in God, here’s what I would encourage you to write down. Just imagine there is an all-good, all-powerful, all-loving, perfect God. How would you want Him to help you right now? Just do a thought exercise in which you imagine an all-good, all-powerful, all-loving, perfect God does exist, that He loves you and wants to help you. What would you ask for? Just kind of step into those shoes for a second. On the way, maybe see what that says about what’s on your heart and about who you are.

So let’s lift up these requests to God as we write them down. Press in and ask. Let’s be bold in our asking. Go for it.

O God, there are so many things on our hearts and minds to ask for. We ask them boldly, with trust that You can do all these things that are good. We trust if  what we’ve asked for is not good, that You are wise enough to redirect our desires, just like I do sometimes as a dad, when I know when my children ask for things that are not good for them. Redirect our desires. We want what You want because we know what You want is best.

So we lay all these things before You with faith that You are able and will do everything that is best for us. We ask, knowing Your desire is good for all who love You and who have been called according to Your purpose and good for Your purpose in the world. We trust in You, as we lay all these things before You, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

All right. We’re running out of time. That’s why we need a quarter of a day for part one, not taking an hour and a half for everything. Let’s review our PRAY acrostic and add to it: Praise, Repent, Ask and then Yield. Nehemiah 9 ends with verse 38: Because of all this we make a firm covenant in writing; on the sealed document are the names of our princes, our Levites, and our priests.”

They write down a covenant here, leading into chapter ten where they say, “God, here are all the ways we want to follow You specifically. We want to obey Your commands, in specific ways we know we need to do that.” This is where we come to this Yield part of the acronym.

Kids, maybe the word yield is a bit confusing. It’s basically saying to someone else, “I’m going to let you be in control.” That’s what we’re saying in prayer to God: “My life is Yours. All these things I lay before You, I trust You with them. In everything in my life, I just want to follow You.” That’s where things get really specific in Nehemiah 10. In all kinds of ways, they’re going to follow and trust God.

So here’s what I want to invite you to do. I want you to write out prayers such as, “God, I trust You with…” Or, “God, I will follow You in this or that specific way.” Or, “God, I surrender.” There are other ways these prayers might be expressed, but basically saying, “My life is Yours.” So let’s write these prayers out.

For those who still aren’t willing to say that to God, maybe write down what’s keeping you from saying this to God, what’s hard about saying that, what makes you feel uncertain about saying that, or what questions it might bring up for you. Maybe write down somebody you’d be willing to talk with about those questions. They’re really important questions to ask; they’re even more important questions to answer.

So let’s pray in these ways, as God leads. “God, I trust you with…” Or, “God, I’ll follow You.” Or, “God, I’ll surrender this or that.” Let’s write these prayers out for just a few minutes, then I’ll close us out. Go for it.

As you keep writing, I just want to thank you for leaning in during this time like you have. I’m going to close in prayer, but I want to encourage you, if you don’t already have an intentional way to pursue intimacy with God in your life on a daily basis, please consider sitting down for five minutes, ten minutes, maybe more every day. Just read a chapter in the Bible. You can follow along in our Bible Reading Plan which you can download from mcleanbible.org/prayers. Read one or two chapters, then write down any thoughts or reflections, especially as you think about your life. Then write out any prayers based on what comes to mind. Sometimes you have to go through P-R-A-Y—praise, repent, ask, yield.

When I’m spending my time alone with the Lord each morning, it’s a combination of all the above at different points. Try that this week and see what it does to draw you closer to God. I’m so zealous for you to experience intimacy with God. Don’t go through church motions and years of a Christian life apart from intimacy with God, apart from relationship with Him, apart from life in Him. You’re not living if you’re not walking with God and experiencing communion with God each day. It’s more than just a prayer here and there. Spend concentrated time with the One Who loves you more than anyone else and Who knows what is best for your life.

O God, I pray this over all of us as Your assembled people. I pray this for my life, but specifically right now I pray for every single person in the sound of my voice, that they would experience closeness to You through Jesus, intimacy with You in Your Word, communion with You. Draw them, draw us together, closer to You. We want to take our place in the long line of those who have walked before us, going all the way back to Nehemiah 9 and before. We praise You for the privilege You’ve given us to be a part of this line. Help us step fully into it, living fully in what You’ve made possible for us. In Jesus’ name we pray, and all God’s people who agree with this said, “Amen.” Amen.

Scripture Reading

Nehemiah 9:1-17, 36-38 ESV

1Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the people of Israel were assembled with fasting and in sackcloth, and with earth on their heads.2 And the Israelites1 separated themselves from all foreigners and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers. 3 And they stood up in their place and read from the Book of the Law of the LORD their God for a quarter of the day; for another quarter of it they made confession and worshiped the LORD their God. 4 On the stairs of the Levites stood Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani, and Chenani; and they cried with a loud voice to the LORD their God. 5 Then the Levites, Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah, and Pethahiah, said, “Stand up and bless the LORD your God from everlasting to everlasting. Blessed be your glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise. 6” You are the LORD, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you. 7 You are the LORD, the God who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and gave him the name Abraham. 8 You found his heart faithful before you, and made with him the covenant to give to his offspring the land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Perizzite, the Jebusite, and the Girgashite. And you have kept your promise, for you are righteous. 9 “And you saw the affliction of our fathers in Egypt and heard their cry at theRed Sea, 10 and performed signs and wonders against Pharaoh and all his servants and all the people of his land, for you knew that they acted arrogantly against our fathers. And you made a name for yourself, as it is to this day. 11 And you divided the sea before them so that they went through the midst of the sea on dry land, and you cast their pursuers into the depths, as a stone into mighty waters. 12 By a pillar of cloud you led them in the day, and by a pillar of fire in the night to light for them the way in which they should go. 13 You came down on Mount Sinai and spoke with them from heaven and gave them right rules and true laws, good statutes and commandments, 14 and you made known to them your holy Sabbath and commanded them commandments and statutes and a law by Moses your servant. 15 You gave them bread from heaven for their hunger and brought water for them out of the rock for their thirst, and you told them to go in to possess the land that you had sworn to give them. 16 “But they and our fathers acted presumptuously and stiffened their neck and did not obey your commandments. 17 They refused to obey and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them, but they stiffened their neck and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them. 36 Behold, we are slaves this day; in the land that you gave to our fathers to enjoy its fruit and its good gifts, behold, we are slaves. 37 And its rich yield goes to the kings whom you have set over us because of our sins. They rule over our bodies and over our livestock as they please, and we are in great distress. 38 “Because of all this we make a firm covenant in writing; on the sealed document are the names of our princes, our Levites, and our priests.

Sermon Recap

  1. Consider how the people of God prayed in Nehemiah chapter 9
  2. Consider how we can pray in the same ways
    • We can pray using the acronym P.R.A.Y.
      • Praise: For who He is (Nehemiah 9:4-6) and for what He has done (Nehemiah 9:7-15)
      • Repent: Nehemiah 9:16-17
      • Ask: Nehemiah 9:36-37
      • Yield: Nehemiah 9:38

Note: Although not specifically from this passage in Nehemiah 9, the practice of journaling and writing out prayers to God can help us form habits of prayer and communion with God and is a practice recommended by our pastors.

Discussion Questions

What does the passage say?

  1. Read Nehemiah 9:1-17 and 9:36-38 aloud as a group and take some time to let group members share observations about the passage. Try not to move into the interpretation of the passage or application of what you have read quite yet. Simply share what you all observe from the text. You might ask for a volunteer to explain this passage in their own words.
  2. What are some components of the prayer we see modeled by the people of God in Nehemiah 9?

What does the passage mean?

  1. The prayer in chapter 9 gives a summary plotline of Isreal’s past. From this summary, what was God like? What were the Israelite people like? How is that an encouragement to us today?

Application Questions

  1. The people of God modeled significant Scripture intake (chapter 8) and this led to the significant public and corporate response. How might public acknowledgment and confession of sin (as opposed to a private confession of sin) help us walk in holiness?
  2. Charles Spurgeon said, “Repentance grows as faith grows. Do not make any mistake about it; repentance is not a thing of days and weeks, a temporary penance to be got over as fast as possible! No, it is the grace of a lifetime, like faith itself. Repentance is the inseparable companion of faith.”
    • How does the example of the Israelites actions in Nehemiah 9 call on you to change the way you pray?
    • What might be the implications of this example for our Church Group?

Leader Notes

We are in our final week of 21 days of prayer and fasting as a church family. Let’s finish our 21-day commitment strong – and let’s be a people of prayer! Ask your group to prayerfully consider any commitments they could or should make to continue their new rhythms and habits of prayer and fasting throughout the rest of 2022. Take time to consider commitments you should make as a Church Group family.

P.R.A.Y.

  • Praise. When we pray, we praise God for who He is and we thank God for what He has done.
  • Repent. We pause and reflect on sin in our lives. We confess sin before God and receive forgiveness from God through Jesus.
  • Ask. We ask for God for things in our lives and in others’ lives. God has invited us to come to Him with things that are on our hearts for our lives and others’ lives and to express those to Him, trusting that He hears us and will answer our prayers based on His wisdom and power, and love.
  • Yield. In prayer, we say to God, my life is Yours, have Your way with me. Lead me, guide me, direct me however You will. I trust You with my life, and with all these things I’m praying for.

David Platt serves as pastor at McLean Bible Church in Washington, D.C. He is the founder and chairman of Radical. He is the author of several books, including Radical, Radical Together, Follow Me, Counter Culture, and Something Needs to Change.

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