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Dane Skelton is the Pastor of Faith Community Church and the author of Jungle Flight: Spiritual Adventures at the Ends of the Earth, a book of true stories from the ministry of JAARS (formerly Jungle Aviation and Radio Service). His second book, Papua Pilot: Flying the Bible to the Last Lost Peoples, co-authored with the late Paul Westlund, is now available on Amazon.com and Christianbook.com.
Motorheads know that, in cars designed for it, higher octane fuel produces more horsepower. It does that, not because it burns faster, but because it burns slower, more completely than the cheap stuff, making for better efficiency and greater power.
Not everyone cares about more power for their cars, but most believers would like to know how to get more power in their prayers. Nehemiah shows us how to do that.
The Book of Nehemiah is the personal memoir of the governor of Judah during the second half of the fifth century BC. It records his success in an impossible task, one that many others before him had failed to accomplish.
The ruined city of Jerusalem lay bare and defenseless before all enemies. Two miles of massive stone wall lay battered into tons of rubble, ten gigantic gates gouged out by fire, and perhaps more important than all this, a pummeled and demoralized people waited and longed for a leader to turn it all around. Nehemiah was that man. He did it in fifty-two days and he began his task with “high octane prayer.”
America isn’t in the same sad state as Jerusalem was, but we face difficult problems that could quickly take us there. Massive and ever-growing national debt threatens our economic security, race continues to divide us, the epidemic breakdown of the nuclear family undermines the future, and political polarization stifles effective government. All of these seem insurmountable, not to mention ISIS, a nuclear Iran, and an increasingly belligerent Russia. We need God’s help more than ever. As we approach the National Day of Prayer on May 7, we would do well to follow Nehemiah’s example.
Nehemiah’s prayer (Neh. 1:4-11) follows a well-known biblical pattern that can be laid out in an easy to remember acrostic: A.C.T.S.
The “A” is for adoration, and adoration is worship. Worship works like octane booster for our prayers. Adoration concentrates on the attributes of God--not what he has done but who he is--and calls them out.
Verses five and six are short, but list six of God’s attributes. He is: The God of heaven, the creator God, the universal God, the God who reigns over all, the omnipresent God. He is: The Great God, the God of power and might, the God who delivered the three children from the furnace and shut the lion’s mouth, the omnipotent God. He is: the awesome God, holy, awesome in its original sense of “awe inspiring,” approached with great reverence and wonder. He is: the faithful God, the covenant keeping God who can be depended upon to do what he has promised. He is: the loving God, the God who always acts with love toward his people. “This is how God showed his love; he sent his only begotten Son into the world that we might live through him.” (1 John 4:9). And finally, he is: the God who knows and sees all, (Vs. 6) the omniscient God. Nehemiah began his high octane prayer with adoration.
The first time you do this--begin your prayers with adoration--a little wave of static might wash across your mind, “My, my, aren’t we being flowery! Do you really think God cares?” Let me urge you to ignore that and pray on. We live so much in this world that we lose connection with the spiritual world, which is more real than this one anyway. Consider adoration as a way to tune the soul’s receiver to the right station. Prayer that begins with worship is stronger prayer than prayer that begins without it.
Nehemiah continues his prayer in verses six and seven with two kinds of confession: intercessory and personal. He takes ownership of the sins of the Israelites--naming them specifically--and owning the fact that he too is a sinner. Two observations flow from these two things.
First, leaders are conscious of their common humanity. They aren’t so taken with their talents as they are aware of the fact that they can fall just as fast as anyone. High octane leaders need to take ownership of their sins and be willing to be held accountable for the sins of the nation.
Second, recovery from sin requires naming the sin. The Israelites were suffering because of specific sins. Sometimes we’re suffering greatly and want restoration without first confessing the sins that brought us into that trouble. Confession is most effective when it is specific.
The third ingredient to high octane prayer is thanksgiving. In verses eight and nine, Nehemiah illustrates one of the best ways to offer thanks: recalling what God has already done. (Scriptures like Ephesians 1 can be helpful here).
High octane prayer says, “Father, these are the blessings you have already given us title to. These are the things that you have done. Our request is based on those gifts, not any merit that we bring to the table. You are the God of goodness and grace and you have shown yourself good in these things. So we ask with confidence.”
Move out from there to the blessings you’ve seen in your own life. (A prayer journal is helpful here). When we do that we start to see patterns of answered prayer. We begin to recognize the ways God has intervened in our lives, over and over again preparing the way ahead of us, giving us insight when we needed it, and help when we were weak.
The last ingredient of high octane prayer, the last letter in Nehemiah’s acrostic, is also the shortest.
Supplication - The “Ask”
This is where we usually start: our needs. But when we start on the horizontal plane the needs just seem to grow bigger and more impossible. Not so for Nehemiah. He spent the majority of his prayer in Adoration, Confession, and Thanksgiving so that when he finally got around to asking for what he wanted, he saw a very large God answering a very small request.
No doubt during that fifty-two days Nehemiah discussed many aspects, avenues, and angles on the rebuilding project with God and with his friends. No doubt his friends were praying with him. But when A.C.T. is first, the S. is always less complicated and more confident.
One last observation: It’s ok to ask for success! Do you ever get nervous about that? Asking God for success in some difficult endeavor? “Who am I to be asking for that? I’m not good enough, worthy enough.” But that’s why A.C.T.S. is such a good approach. In the end, high octane prayers aren’t about us or for us. High octane prayers, the prayers that God hears, are prayers about God’s plans and those plans come to us as we pray through Nehemiah’s pattern. God’s will gets bigger, ours gets smaller, and his purposes in our lives are achieved.