Although Nehemiah had already prayed for four to five months, Nehemiah prayed an emergency prayer in a matter of seconds when the king asked the golden question (v. 4). The emergency prayer did not replace the months of praying Nehemiah had invested and it is not a model for prayers during worship or personal devotions. Emergency prayers are for times of great grief, temptation, and stress. They remind us that God is not hard of hearing (cf. Ps. 94:9; Matt. 6:7). The Holy Spirit answered Nehemiah’s prayer and gave him the correct words.
Nehemiah’s response also reveals that he planned during his months of praying. Planning that comes out of prayer is a guaranteed success, as contrasted to the planning that is concluded by prayer. Nehemiah had thought things through—he had a timeframe, leading him to ask for a temporary transfer, and not a leave of his office of the court (v.5).
Interestingly, the queen is also present (v. 6). Nehemiah had to be careful not to make the king feel threatened, offended, or uncomfortable in any manner. He bathes his requests with “if it please the king” and identifies himself as “thy servant” who must find “favor in thy sight.” Nehemiah has the gift of situational awareness as well as spiritual discernment. Nehemiah’s request encompasses three things:
i. Sent—Nehemiah secures permission and authority from the king to execute and complete this project, following formal protocol. He needs the king’s endorsement, the king’s name, and the king’s credentials.
ii. Safety—He asks letters be given to him for the governors back in Judah. Since the trip was far from the capital, Nehemiah would need a military escort for legitimacy as well as safety.
iii. Supplies—Nehemiah had already researched the information necessary for his supplies. The name of the keeper of the king’s forest, the location of the forest, and the list of supplies he would need (v. 8). He requests the highest quality materials for the Lord’s project.
His request is granted but he does not attribute its success to his prayers, planning, cleverness, tact, or position. Instead, he recognizes the hand of God upon him. Nehemiah may have had a Persian education, a noble’s eloquence, a cupbearer’s insight, and a politician’s ambition, but he gives God the glory.
Nehemiah prayed, planned, and at the critical moment, prayed again before he performed what he had practiced for months. Prayers, whether long and loud, or swift and silent, produce powerful results.