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The Secrets of Answered Prayer

by Julius Hovan

(transcribed from Words of Life Radio)

It is a pleasure to come to you by way of this radio broadcast, Words of Life. What an appropriate title that is as we share the Word of God and, indeed, because the Word of God is life in itself and it presents to us the beautiful life of our Lord Jesus. You can learn through these broadcasts how to live the life that you would be happy in and be the most successful in this life and have hope hereafter.

I would like to begin the broadcast this morning sharing from an Old Testament book, the book of Nehemiah, a man who was a captive in the land of Babylon and who was released from there to go back to the city of Jerusalem and help rebuild the walls.

What I would like to do is learn from this reading this morning four secrets to answered prayer that come from the life of this man of faith, Nehemiah. I would like to begin reading in the very first chapter of the book of Nehemiah, chapter one and begin with verse one.

The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. And it came to pass in the month Chisleu, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the palace, That Hanani, one of my brethren, came, he and certain men of Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews that had escaped, which were left of the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said unto me, the remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province are in great affliction and reproach: the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire.

Now listen to Nehemiah’s heart.

And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven.

Listen to his prayer.

“I beseech you, oh Lord, the God of heaven, the great and terrible God that keeps covenant and loving kindness with them that love him and keep his commandments. Let your ear now be attentive and your eyes open that you may hearken unto the prayer of your servant which I pray before you at this time, day and night for the children of Israel your servants while I confess the sins of the children of Israel which we have sinned against thee. Yea, I and my father’s house, we have sinned. We have dealt very corruptly against thee. We have not kept your commandments, or your statutes, or your ordinance, those that you gave through your servant Moses. Remember, I beseech thee, the word that you commanded your servant Moses saying, ‘If you trespass, I will scatter you abroad among the people. But if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts were in the uttermost parts of the heaven, yet will I gather them from thence and bring them unto the place I have chosen to cause my name to dwell there.’”

Nehemiah, indeed, is one of the great Old Testament heroes of faith as we read this story, and if you have not read this book recently, you would be blessed from doing so.

Our emphasis this morning is dealing with our marvelous privilege of answered prayer. If you are a Christian, if your faith is in the Lord Jesus, you have been born again and you have the Spirit of God, you have been given the privilege of going to God in prayer, of asking, of thanking him, of praising him.

If you are not a Christian, God will certainly listen to you ask for forgiveness. He will honor that and we trust that by the conclusion of this message we will have convinced you that he is the one to whom you need to go.

But listen to these four secrets to answered prayer from the life of the man Nehemiah. The first thing he does, he bases his request on God’s character there in verse five. Listen to what he says.

“You are the God of heaven, the great and terrible God. You keep covenant and loving kindness with those who love him and keep his commandments.”

Nehemiah undertstood God’s character. God was righteous. If God makes a promise, he will keep it. You can pray like you know God will answer you. You can say to God, “God I am expecting you to answer this prayer because of who you are. You have promised this specific thing to me. You are a faithful God, a great God, a loving God, a wonderful God. God, you can help handle this problem.”

Has God made a promise in his Word? His character is such that he will never go back on that promise. Nehemiah understood that.

Secondly, a secret to the prayer of Nehemiah is that he confesses the sins of himself and his fathers and of his nation. We need to learn to do that as well. The sins in our personal life of which we are aware whether we call them little sins or the more serious sins. Regardless, after Nehemiah bases his prayer on who God is, he confesses his sin. Notice what he says in verses six and seven.

“We have sinned.”

Well, that is hard for people to say. More specifically, “I confess myself, my father’s house. We have acted wickedly.”

We don’t like to think of our sin as being wicked, but, my friends, that is exactly what it is in the sight of God. We have acted wickedly. We have not obeyed. It wasn’t Nehemiah’s fault that Israel had gone into captivity. He was not even born yet when it happened, but he was part of that nation. And as the prophet Isaiah tells us in Isaiah chapter 59, verses one and two:

“Behold Jehovah’s hand is not shortened that he cannot save, nor his ear heavy that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated between you and your God. Your sins have hid his face from you so that he will not hear.”

Nehemiah understood that process, that necessity of dealing with the sin problem in our lives before God will hear and answer our payers. And he reminds God of his sinfulness. He confesses that even though he personally had not been the one who was alive when they were taken into captivity. He includes himself in the nation’s sins.

I have been part of the problem.

My friends, the fact is, today you and I have been part of the problem of the moral condition. We in the Church have maybe failed to be the light and the salt that we ought to be. If you have lived for self and for Satan and for wickedness, you have been contributing to the problem of the moral conditions and the degradation and the darkness morally that exists in our world. God can help remedy that.

This man Nehemiah knew the necessity of confessing sin if God was going to hear his prayer.

Thirdly, in verse eight he claims the promise of God. He says, “I want you to remember what you told your servant Moses.”

There is a little humor in that as I look at it. You are telling God to remember something? Friends, God doesn’t forget. God has the capacity to remember everything. Can you imagine saying, “Remember, God, so and so”?

No. Nehemiah is simply reminding God of a promise he made to the nation of Israel. God years ago through Moses you made this promise. You warned through Moses if we were unfaithful, you would scatter us all over the world and you have done that very thing. But, Lord, here is the second part of the promise. You promised that if we will call on you, if we will repent, if we will confess our sins and turn back to you with the desire to do your will, you would draw us back to the land.

Oh, what good news it is, my friend, when we realize we have sinned. We must come to understand the promises of God regarding his desire to forgive all who will come to him in a child like faith.

Does God have to be reminded? No.

Does he forget what he has promised? No.

Then why do I need to do that? Because it helps us remember what God has promised. It helps me then to do the fourth thing we are suggesting.

Remember number one: Base your request on God’s character. What has God said he would do? Confess the sins of which we may be aware, our own as well as the sins of others and of our nation. Claim the promises of God.

But then, fourthly, be very specific in what you ask for. If we want specific answers to prayer, we need to make specific requests.

When I say, “Lord, heal the sick,” well, which sick are we talking about, Lord? What sickness do they have?

I can think right now of several people for whom I am praying. One of the elders in my church has suffered a stroke and we are praying specifically for him by name and for his healing. Another good friend, the wife just this morning had surgery for that terrible disease of cancer and we are praying specifically for her and of the success of the surgery. But when these people, then, are blessed, when their healing comes, we know we have had an answer to that specific request and we can then come to God and we can say, “Lord, we give thanks to you for answering those specific requests.”

Nehemiah is not hesitant to pray for success. He is very bold in his praying. Have you ever prayed, “Lord, make me successful?” Does that sound a little bit selfish? Well, not really. God’s desire is that we have abundant life. I equate that with success. But there is a difference. Is that life a life that includes God and the will of God and the morality of God and the law of God? Or is it just a life that is looked at by many people as successful because they are millionaires, because they drive a fine big automobile and live in a mansion, wear fancy clothes. Oh, that is one kind of success. But all of that is going to burn up. All of that is going to be gone one day. They are going to face God in judgment.

We are talking about a successful life that is much greater than that, much different from that, because it brings in the equation God and his purpose and his will.

It is ok, then, to ask God for our lives to be successful if we have the correct definition of success. Might we say a good definition is fulfilling God’s purpose for my life in faith, love and the power of the Holy Spirit and expecting the results from God?

Think about that. If I am to fulfill God’s purpose, I have to find that purpose. I have to have an idea what it is, of what God will call me to do. How can I find the will of God and make that real in my life and work and through my life fulfill that will?

It is a life lived in faith. It is a life that is permeated by that fruit of the Spirit which is love and all of those other qualities that Paul lists for us there. And, oh, here is a real kicker. The successful life of which we speak is a life for the Christia, who has something no one else has, the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. God himself wants to come indwell us. Our wonderful Lord Jesus wants to dwell in us by faith and with that comes power and wisdom and great results in our lives. What a worthy life objective this is. We ought to be able to pray with confidence of this kind of successful life, a life that had its beginning when I came to Jesus and confessed him as my Savior and Lord of life.

Lord, I want you to rule, I want you to deal. I want you to lead. I want to do whatever is your will, I want to follow it.

If I can ask God to make life a success at what I am doing, what a joy that is. If you can’t ask God to make you successful in what you are doing, if you know it is not God’s will, then something needs to be changed, doesn’t it? Are you walking in self, walking in the way of the world, the way that seems right to a man, but the end thereof is destruction? If you see that you are walking in that way, your life has been one heartache after another, one failure after another, maybe several failed marriages, your children have rebelled, and on and on go the problems, because you have lived for self and not had God in your life. Oh, God does not want you to waste your life with that kind of living. He wants you to place faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

You can ask him to save you. You can pray what is often called the sinners’ prayer that says, “God, I recognize I am a sinner and I recognize Jesus has died in my place and I accept that.” And that sinners’ prayer is to be followed by an act of obedience in the watery grave of baptism which is a sign of my having died and now I am buried and I am raised to walk in a newness of life.

And then you are in the position like Nehemiah to ask God for success in your life.

Now the rest of the story goes with Nehemiah, if you are familiar with it, is that he asked the king if he could go back to Jerusalem. And he led an entourage of people there, a group of workers and he was the catalyst that caused the great wall of the city of Jerusalem to rebuild. And it all came about because of the prayer. He knew he could base his request on the character and promise of God. He was willing to say, “Our problem is we have sinned.” He was able to claim the promises of God and he was very specific in what he asked for, both in what he asked God for and what he asked the king to give him as he went back to build the walls of Jerusalem.

My friends, we cannot all be Nehemiahs. We may not all have quite this great a story of success, but it can certainly be better than it has been if we will learn to come to the Lord Jesus.

Words of Life. We are here today because someone has helped subsidize this broadcast because they want you to hear about our great God and about the Lord Jesus. We are here to share with you and we can hear from you by way of what the announcer gives as a point of contact. Let us hear from you. Let us send you material or contact you and help you in making that all important decision.

May God bless you and yours today is our prayer in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Julius Hovan lives in Danville, KY and  preaches for the  Bohon Church Church of Christ




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Philippians 4:13