Nehemiah: A Man of Prayer

800-Nehemiah 4 Praying

Nehemiah Praying

Someone has said, “If I wished to humble anyone, I would ask him about his prayer life.” Indeed, it is humbling to be asked, “How is your prayer life?” When you woke up this morning, before you came here, did you pray for God’s blessing upon this worship service? Did you pray for yourself that God would use this service for your soul’s benefit? Do we pray regularly—day and night? Can we honestly sing: “Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer!”? Do we really enjoy praying to God? Do we find it sweet and delightful when we commune with Him? Or, maybe we find it sour and boring.

My objective in this message is to help us become more prayerful by studying the life of Nehemiah—a man of prayer. We will particularly study his prayer found in our passage (vv. 5-11). And as we examine his prayer, I want to highlight the following elements of his prayer:

  1. Adoration of God (v. 5)
  2. Admission of sin (vv. 6-10)
  3. Appeal to God (v. 11)

 

To keep reading the message, click here.

 

Prayer

2013 Youth Conference Heritage Reformed Congregations

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Singing praises to God

Last week (July 10) God gave me a privilege to lead a workshop for the 2013 Youth Conference Heritage Reformed Congregations held in Camp Michawana, Hastings, Michigan. The topic that was assigned to me was very dear to my heart—“Leading in Prayer.” I spoke twice—once in the morning and once in the afternoon. It was encouraging to see these young people take God’s Word seriously. I even heard some of them say “Amen” which was a bit unusual to hear from young people. Others and I felt that God was with us in this camp. In fact, with teary eyes, one camper said to me, “I felt God’s presence with us this afternoon.” Praise be to God!

Thanks to camp directors: Tim & Brenda Pols and Dirk & Kristi Spaans. My brothers and sisters in Christ, “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).

To read the message that I delivered for this conference, click here.

Prayer

A Pastor’s Role in Evangelism

 

The work of evangelism is not only for a pastor. All believers should evangelize; they should share the gospel of Christ with the unbelievers. In that sense, along with their pastor, they become evangelists. The title “evangelist” comes from the Greek word which simply means a messenger of the gospel. For instance, in Acts 21:8 Philip is called “the evangelist.” Philip was not an ordained pastor. But he was an evangelist because he “preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts. 8:12 ESV). Thus, broadly speaking, anyone who faithfully promulgates the good news is an evangelist. However, strictly speaking, an evangelist is a divinely gifted person whose primary calling is to proclaim the gospel in a place where the gospel has not yet been proclaimed before (Eph. 4:11). Acting as a missionary, an evangelist does not stay in one place, but moves on to another place to continue his work of evangelism. The pastor, on the other hand, remains in his congregation to shepherd them. Yet, practically, all pastors are evangelists. All pastors should be announcers of the gospel. The Apostle Paul, writing to his fellow minister, says, “As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Tim. 4:5). All pastors are called to “do the work of an evangelist” which is to declare the message of the cross. What follows is a brief study of some of the roles of a pastor in evangelism.

Pastors have an important role in the work of evangelism. First, a pastor should pray evangelistically. He should spend time regularly in praying specifically for the lost souls. Paul did this: “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them [people of Israel] is that they may be saved” (Rom. 10:1). With God’s help, a minister should learn to pray with George Whitefield (1714-1770), an English evangelist: “O Lord give me souls, or take my soul!” A pastor should also pray to God for passion for the lost. Jesus, the Greatest Evangelist, had compassion for sinners (Matt. 9:36). The ministry of evangelism will become a burden for a pastor if he does not have passion. He should, therefore, pray with the hymn writer, Herbert G. Tovey (1888-1972):

Give me a passion for souls, dear Lord,
A passion to save the lost;
O that Thy love were by all adored,
And welcomed at any cost.

Jesus, I long, I long to be winning
Men who are lost, and constantly sinning;
O may this hour be one of beginning
The story of pardon to tell.

Though there are dangers untold and stern
Confronting me in the way,
Willingly still would I go, nor turn,
But trust Thee for grace each day.

How shall this passion for souls be mine?
Lord, make Thou the answer clear;
Help me to throw out the old life line
To those who are struggling near.

Second, a pastor must preach evangelistically. He must always present the gospel in his sermons. With care he must address both believers and unbelievers in his preaching. Lovingly he must call the unconverted to repentance and point them to the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. A pastor should also teach the believers the mandate of witnessing for Christ. Many do not evangelize because of ignorance. A pastor has a critical role to educate and equip Christians for the great work of soul winning.

Third, a pastor should live evangelistically. The unbelievers should see the gospel in his life. He should create a thirst and hunger for Christ among them. At his home he should share the gospel with his unconverted children. In his community he should befriend his neighbors and reach out to them with the message of the cross. In his congregation, he should set a good example by personally getting involved in the work of evangelism and missions. Church members will be more encouraged to evangelize if they see their pastor making an effort to win souls for Christ. Wherever he goes (grocery store, bank, airport, gym, restaurant, barbershop, etc.), he should strive to share the glad tidings. He should always actively look for opportunities to evangelize.

By nature sinners are not interested in the gospel; sinners are totally depraved, and so, a pastor should be the one to come first to them and bring the message of salvation, confident that God can save them. He should humbly acknowledge that without the help of the Holy Spirit, he can do nothing. If people reject the offer of the gospel, he should not be discouraged, for his business is not to save sinners, but to point them to the Savior—the Lord Jesus Christ. Someone has rightly mentioned, “An evangelist is a nobody who is seeking to tell everybody about Somebody who can help change anybody.”

Finally, a pastor should give evangelistically. As the Lord enables him, a minister should support financially the ministry of evangelism and missions. Paul Lee Tan narrates the story of Robert Arthington of Leeds, a Cambridge graduate. Arthington “lived in a single room, cooking his own meals; and he gave foreign missions 500,000 pounds on the condition that it was all to be spent on pioneer work within twenty-five years.” Later Arthington wrote, “Gladly would I make the floor my bed, a box my chair, and another box my table, rather than that men should perish for want of the knowledge of Christ.”  Similarly, David Brainerd (1718-1747), a missionary to American Indians, who died at the age of 29 because of tuberculosis, said: “I care not where I live, or what hardships I go through, so that I can but gain souls to Christ. While I am asleep, I dream of these things; as soon as I awake, the first thing I think of is this great work. All my desire is the conversion of sinners, all my hope is in God.”  Indeed, how many pastors today can say with Brainerd, “I care not where I live, or what hardships I go through, so that I can but gain souls to Christ?”

The Greatest Evangelist said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matt. 9:37-38). Churches today need more laborers. Let us pray that God will give us more laborers who have passion for the lost.

 

Note: This post, with very slight changes, also appears in Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth 21, no. 4 (2013): 112-13.

 

Evangelism Pastor Prayer

Sermon Conclusion at David Brainerd’s Funeral

When Jonathan Edwards wrote his biography of David Brainerd (1718-1747), he entitled it “An Account of the Life of the Late Reverend Mr. David Brainerd, Minister of the Gospel, Missionary to the Indians [Native Americans], from the Honourable Society in Scotland, for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge, and Pastor of A Church of Christian Indians in New Jersey…” This long title briefly describes Brainerd, a faithful and diligent servant of Jesus Christ. At the young age of twenty nine, Brainerd died from tuberculosis in Edwards’ house. According to Edwards, a few days before Brainerd died, “though he was then so low that he could scarcely speak, he so exerted himself that he made a prayer very audibly, wherein besides praying for those present and for his own congregation, he earnestly prayed for the reviving and flourishing of religion in the world.”[1] At the funeral of Brainerd, Edwards delivered a sermon which ended with the following prayerful words:

Oh, that the things that were seen and heard in this extraordinary person, his holiness, heavenliness, labor and self-denial in life, his so remarkable devoting himself and his all, in heart and practice, to the glory of God, and the wonderful frame of mind manifested, in so steadfast a manner, under the expectation of death, and the pains and agonies that brought it on, may excite in us all, both ministers and people, a due sense of the greatness of the work we have to do in the world, the excellency and amiableness of thorough religion in experience and practice, and the blessedness of the end of such whose death finishes such a life, and the infinite value of their eternal reward, when absent from the body and present with the Lord; and effectually stir us up to endeavors that in the way of such an holy life we may at last come to so blessed an end. Amen![2]

 

Note: This post is an excerpt from my recent book Jonathan Edwards: His Doctrine of & Devotion to Prayer.


[1] Jonathan Edwards, “A Sermon Preached on the Day of the Funeral of the Rev. Mr. David Brainerd,” in The Life of David Brainerd, ed. Norman Pettit, vol. 7 of The Works of Jonathan Edwards, ed. John E. Smith (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985), 551.

[2] Ibid., 553-54.

David Brainerd Jonathan Edwards Prayer Preaching

A Brief Purpose of “The Very Heart of Prayer”

The purpose of my book is twofold:  first, to demonstrate that while John Bunyan (1628-1668) historically belonged to the sectarian world, he can still rightly be considered a Puritan; and Book on Bunyan (picture)second, to reclaim Bunyan from scholars who not only dispute his identity as a Puritan but also overlook his rich and peculiar spirituality.

The volume has only three chapters. Chapter 1 carefully explores Bunyan’s religious identity, leading to the conclusion that he may be labeled a sectarian Puritan. Chapter 2 critically examines his theology of prayer, one important aspect of his spirituality. In this segment, I particularly scrutinize Bunyan’s treatise I will pray with the Spirit (1662). The analysis of this treatise shows Bunyan’s radical emphasis on the Holy Spirit’s work in prayer. It also shows both Bunyan’s sectarianism and Puritanism. Chapter 3 probes his teaching on piety, as found in A Holy Life (1684). This chapter demonstrates that Bunyan’s goal in all of his life was the pursuit and promotion of piety. Sadly, some scholars who put Bunyan within a sectarian context not only suspect his identity as a Puritan but also slight his rich spirituality. Chapter 3 seeks to recover Bunyan from such scholars who depreciate his piety.

I hope my work will create a thirst among readers to pray more—to pray with the Spirit, which for Bunyan is “the very heart of Prayer.”

Note: If you purchase a copy of my book from Reformation Heritage Books, you save $5.00.

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New Book on Jonathan Edwards

Book Cover for Jonathan Edwards-His Doctrine of & Devotion to PrayerJonathan Edwards: His Doctrine of & Devotion to Prayer has finally arrived. If interested, you can purchase a copy from Reformation Heritage Books. All the proceeds from the book will go to my mother-in-law’s medical expenses. Please pray for her as she is battling with stage four breast cancer. Thank you!

Recommendations for the book:

“In giving Jonathan Edwards to the church, God did her an inestimable favor. In giving Jonathan Edwards to the reader, Brian Najapfour has done the Christian a great favor.

Edwards rightly stands at the fountainhead of a great theological tradition. The depth of Edwards’ theology, however, often overwhelms the uninitiated. In response, the reader turns to shallower streams and dies instead of theological thirst. The great riches of Edwards await those who will swim against the current. Those who persevere find not only the majesty of his thought on such great doctrines as the will and sin. They find on the far shores of their efforts the gems, ideas and doctrines directly related to God’s call upon every Christian. Edwards’ theology of prayer is such a gem. Given the chance, Jonathan Edwards and this volume, Jonathan Edwards: His Doctrine of & Devotion to Prayer, promise to change the way we pray.”

Dr. Peter Beck, Assistant Professor of Religion, Charleston Southern University

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“Thomas Shepard, the Harvard man, once quipped that there are times in his life when he’d rather die than pray. No doubt we sometimes feel this way. This book on the man from Yale by Brian Najapfour will help remedy the problem of prayerlessness. For that reason alone I am grateful for this enjoyable read on the prayer life of Jonathan Edwards.”

—Dr. Mark Jones, Minister of Faith Presbyterian Church (PCA), Vancouver, British Columbia and Research Associate, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa

______________________________

“Brian Najapfour weaves together a beautiful tapestry of theology and piety, of doctrine and devotion, from the life, sermons and writings of Jonathan Edwards. You’ll end up knowing much more about this godly man; but, if you follow his example, you’ll end up knowing even more about God.”

—Dr. David P. Murray, Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary

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“Historically informed and contemporarily relevant, Jonathan Edwards: His Doctrine of & Devotion to Prayer equips one in the life of prayer.”

—Dr. Adriaan C. Neele, Associate Editor and Director of the Jonathan Edwards Center, Yale University Divinity School

 

 

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Forthcoming Book—Jonathan Edwards: His Doctrine of & Devotion to Prayer

Book Cover for Jonathan Edwards-His Doctrine of & Devotion to Prayer“In giving Jonathan Edwards to the church, God did her an inestimable favor. In giving Jonathan Edwards to the reader, Brian Najapfour has done the Christian a great favor.

Edwards rightly stands at the fountainhead of a great theological tradition. The depth of Edwards’ theology, however, often overwhelms the uninitiated. In response, the reader turns to shallower streams and dies instead of theological thirst. The great riches of Edwards await those who will swim against the current. Those who persevere find not only the majesty of his thought on such great doctrines as the will and sin. They find on the far shores of their efforts the gems, ideas and doctrines directly related to God’s call upon every Christian. Edwards’ theology of prayer is such a gem. Given the chance, Jonathan Edwards and this volume, Jonathan Edwards: His Doctrine of & Devotion to Prayer, promise to change the way we pray.”

Dr. Peter Beck, Assistant Professor of Religion, Charleston Southern University

______________________________

“Thomas Shepard, the Harvard man, once quipped that there are times in his life when he’d rather die than pray. No doubt we sometimes feel this way. This book on the man from Yale by Brian Najapfour will help remedy the problem of prayerlessness. For that reason alone I am grateful for this enjoyable read on the prayer life of Jonathan Edwards.”

—Dr. Mark Jones, Minister of Faith Presbyterian Church (PCA), Vancouver, British Columbia and Research Associate, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa

______________________________

“Brian Najapfour weaves together a beautiful tapestry of theology and piety, of doctrine and devotion, from the life, sermons and writings of Jonathan Edwards. You’ll end up knowing much more about this godly man; but, if you follow his example, you’ll end up knowing even more about God.”

—Dr. David P. Murray, Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary

_________________________

“Historically informed and contemporarily relevant, Jonathan Edwards: His Doctrine of & Devotion to Prayer equips one in the life of prayer.”

—Dr. Adriaan C. Neele, Associate Editor and Director of the Jonathan Edwards Center, Yale University Divinity School

______________________________

Brian G. Najapfour is pastor of Dutton United Reformed Church, Caledonia, Michigan, co-editor of Taking Hold of God: Reformed and Puritan Perspectives on Prayer (2011), and author of The Very Heart of Prayer: Reclaiming John Bunyan’s Spirituality (2012).

Book Jonathan Edwards Prayer Puritan Puritan piety

When you pray, do you always pray to the Father in the name of the Son?

While I normally offer my prayer to the Father, in the name of Jesus, with the help of the Holy Spirit, sometimes I address my prayer to the Spirit and sometimes to the Son. The German Protestant Reformer Martin Luther (1483-1546) said that when we pray to Jesus, we “need not worry that the Father and the Holy Spirit will be angry on this account. They know that no matter which Person [we] call upon, [we] call upon all three Persons and upon the One God at the same time. For [we] cannot call upon one Person without calling upon the others, because the one, undivided divine Essence exists in all and in each Person.” In his treatise Communion with God (1657), the Puritan theologian John Owen (1616-1683) encouraged us to fellowship with each person of the Trinity. Indeed, our prayer should be trinitarian. In our prayer, we can say with the Puritan pastor Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661) “I don’t know which Person of the Trinity I love the most, but this I know, I love each of them, and I need them all.”    

 

To learn more how to pray, see these books:

Co-edited with Joel R. Beeke, Taking Hold of God: Reformed and Puritan Perspectives on Prayer (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2011).

The Very Heart of Prayer: Reclaiming John Bunyan’s Spirituality (Mountain Home: Ark.: BorderStone Press 2012)

John Owen Martin Luther Prayer Samuel Rutherford

Prayer, Study, & Exercise

Another fascinating thought on prayer that Jonathan Edwards had is the intermingling of prayer and study. As he was studying, approximately 13 hours a day, he was doing so prayerfully, so that prayer and study intertwined with each other. Iain Murray, in his masterful biography of Edwards, illustrates this point well:

Edwards maintained daily set times for prayer, when it was probably his custom to speak aloud. He also had, as already noted, particular days which he set aside for solitude, meditation and fasting. But prayer was not a compartment in his daily routine, an exercise which possessed little connection with the remainder of his hours alone. Rather he sought to make his study itself a sanctuary, and whether wrestling with Scripture, preparing sermons or writing in his notebooks, he worked as a worshipper. Thought, prayer and writing were all woven together.[1]

Donald Whitney’s observation is similar: “Edwards was so devoted to prayer that it is hard to find a daily routine for him that wasn’t permeated with it…. He prayed over his studies, and he prayed as he walked in the evening. Prayer was both a discipline and a part of his leisure.”[2]

Even Edwards’ physical exercise was permeated with prayer. Many people comment that one of Edwards’ weaknesses was that he was a workaholic at the cost of his health. While this comment has an element of truth, he was not altogether neglectful of his health. In fact, in the twentieth of his Resolutions, written when he was nineteen years old, his concern pertains to his whole-being: “Resolved, to maintain the strictest temperance in eating and drinking.”[3] Moreover, he himself makes a record in his Personal Narrative that he would ride out into woods for his health: “I rode out into the woods for my health…having alighted from my horse in a retired place, as my manner commonly has been, to walk for divine contemplation and prayer.”[4] What is noteworthy here is that even his physical exercise was interfused with a spirit of prayer.

 

Note: This post is an excerpt from my forthcoming booklet: Jonathan Edwards: His Doctrine of and Devotion to Prayer


      [1] Ian H. Murray, Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography (Edinburg: Banner of Truth Trust, 1996), 143 (italics mine).

      [2] Donald S. Whitney, “Pursuing A Passion For God Through Spiritual Disciples: Learning From Jonathan Edwards,” in A God Entranced Vision of All Things: The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards, eds. John Piper and Justin Taylor (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2004)114.

      [3] Jonathan Edwards, “Resolutions,” in Letters and Personal Writings, ed. George S. Claghorn, vol. 16 of The Works of Jonathan Edwards, ed. Harry S. Stout (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), 754.

      [4] Cited in Whitney, “Pursuing A Passion For God Through Spiritual Disciples: Learning From Jonathan Edwards,” 117.

Exercise Jonathan Edwards Prayer

A Mother’s Struggle With Prayer

The Heidelberg Catechism (published in 1563) asks, “Why do Christians need to pray?” It answers, “Because prayer is the most important part of the thankfulness God requires of us. And also because God only gives His grace and Holy Spirit to those who pray continually and groan inwardly, asking God for these gifts and thanking Him for them” (Lord’s Day 45, Question & Answer 116).

I have been familiar with this section of the catechism for many years and it often makes me feel guilty. I struggle with taking the time for “real” prayer: kneeling beside my bed, head bowed, hands folded, and pouring out my heart to the Lord. This struggle is partially due to the fact that I am a busy mom of four young children. Yet, my main problem is not really my busyness but my laziness. I need to reprioritize my life.

Lately I have tried to make it a habit to pray throughout my day, while life is happening all around me. If someone I know comes to mind, I lift him/her up in prayer. If I have a concern for myself, my children or husband, or something going on in our lives, I bring it to the Lord in prayer. I have struggled off and on wondering if this kind of prayer counts. I am not, after all, bowing my head, folding my hands or closing my eyes. I have had doubts that it is truly prayer, because it seems like I am just talking to myself in my head. But then I have to tell myself that God knows my heart. He knows my intentions. He knows that those “thoughts” are really prayers meant to reach Him.

Some mornings I say a quick prayer before getting out of bed. I ask for the will-power to actually get up instead of sleeping in. I pray for the strength needed for the day, and in regards to my children, patience and the right balance of loving nurture and firm discipline.

I read this quote the other day and, for myself, found it to be very true:

The men who have done the most for God in this world have been early on their knees. He who fritters away the early morning, its opportunity and freshness, in other pursuits than seeking God will make poor headway seeking Him the rest of the day. If God is not first in our thoughts and efforts in the morning, He will be in the last place the remainder of the day (E.M. Bounds).

When I get up early, before my kids wake up, and am able to spend some alone time with the Lord, my day goes much better and I seem to think of God much more often than if I do not get a good start to my day.

I would encourage all young mothers (and anyone else!) to start making time for God. Try to find a quiet moment where you can focus on Him. Read a Psalm or short devotional and spend some time in prayer. It can be difficult to make yourself do it, but it is so worth it!

 

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The article is by Catie Lobbezoo, wife to Joe and stay-at-home-mom/teacher to their four blessings: Sierra (7), Cody (5), Abby (almost 3), and Brooklyn (9 months), and a member at Dutton URC, Caledonia, Michigan.

Mother Prayer