“But we prayed to our God and guarded the city day and night to protect ourselves.” (Nehemiah 4:9 NLT)
Most often, it seems we’re tempted to see prayer as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. When we pray, like Nehemiah, our expectation focuses on what we want God to do for us, but immediately begin taking measures to answer our own prayer.
Nehemiah prayed that God would intervene and stop those who opposed the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem, then he set guards at strategic points around the half-finished wall. I understand their rationale, but at some point, we need to stop viewing God as our proverbial “genie in a bottle,” and view Him as the majestic and holy Creator and Sustainer that He is.
Oswald Chambers showed great insight into this process when he wrote: “Prayer does not fit us for the greater work; prayer is the greater work.” Prayer isn’t simply asking God for what He can do for us or even through us. Foundationally, prayer is the means God uses to build us into the men and women of God He chose us to become.
The “end” of prayer isn’t receiving the answer we seek, it’s becoming the person God envisioned we could be when He created us. Prayer is the avenue across which we travel to become more like Jesus. Jesus didn’t pray to receive power, He prayed because He HAD power and He wanted to appropriate what God had given Him in a manner that magnified and exalted His Father, not Himself.
Prayer IS the work, then God works. To the extent we’re willing to spend time in God’s presence – basking, sitting, listening, rejoicing, worshipping – to that extent we’ll become more like Jesus. To “say” a prayer – “Lord, help me be more like Jesus.” – then run off into our day never giving it another thought, is to miss the point of prayer.
When my wife and I first began to date, she was all I could think about. I wanted to be with her 24/7. If we weren’t together, I wanted to be speaking to her on the phone, but obviously, we couldn’t do that. So, who filled my thoughts when we weren’t together? Guess who? Right? Then we got married! Then the real work began!
Our relationship with God is a lot like marriage. Before we’re married, we tend to focus on all that will mean for us, not always thinking about what it will mean for our spouse. Similarly, when we respond to the Lord’s invitation to follow Him, we tend to think of all that will mean for us – forgiveness, new life, a 24/7 hotline to heaven, and a forever life of bliss. We don’t tend to think about what happens to all the “baggage” we bring into the relationship.
The Lord allows a problem to come to us and immediately we’re begging Him to take it away, rather than spending time with Him seeking the reason He allowed it in the first place. Answers are good, and He gives them faithfully, but answers won’t necessarily make us better or make it easier for people to see Jesus when they look at us.
Ultimately, Nehemiah led his people in the completion of the wall, which led to times of celebration, as well as confession and submission to the Lord’s leadership in their lives. The work of building the wall, as important as that was, was not God’s objective. He wanted a people set apart through whom He could put on display His grandeur, power, love, and life, which meant extended times of worship and praise.
Our conversations with the Lord about how we’d like for Him to intervene in our lives, as important as those things are, aren’t nearly as important as the discipline we choose when we’re satisfied just to sit in His presence, allowing Him to be enough. Not demanding His gifts, just being satisfied with the Giver. That’s the greater work!
Blessings, Ed 😊
One thought on “The Greater Work”