Four months Nehemiah was compelled to wait for a favorable opportunity to present his request to the king. During this period, while his heart was oppressed with grief, he constantly endeavored to carry a cheerful and happy countenance. In his seasons of retirement, many were the prayers, the penitential confessions, and the tears of anguish, witnessed by God and angels; but all this was concealed from human sight. The regulations of Eastern courts forbade any manifestation of sorrow within them. All must appear gay and happy in those halls of luxury and splendor. The distress without was not to cast its shadow in the presence of royalty.
But at last the sorrow that burdened Nehemiah’s heart could no longer be concealed. Sleepless nights devoted to earnest prayer, care-filled days, dark with the shadow of hope deferred, left their trace upon his countenance. The keen eye of the monarch, jealous to guard his own safety, was accustomed to read countenances and penetrate disguises. Seeing that some secret trouble was preying upon his servant, he suddenly inquired, “Why is thy countenance sad, seeing thou art not sick? This is nothing else but sorrow of heart.”
This question filled the listener with apprehension. Would not the king be angry to hear that while outwardly engaged in his service, the courtier’s thoughts had been far away with his afflicted people? Would not the offender’s life be forfeited? And his cherished plan for restoring the strength of Jerusalem—was it not about to be overthrown? “Then,” he said, “I was very sore afraid.” With trembling lips and tearful eyes he revealed the cause of his sorrow,—the city, which was the place of his fathers’ sepulchers, lying waste, and its gates consumed with fire. The touching recital awakened the sympathy of the monarch without arousing his idolatrous prejudices; another question gave the opportunity which Nehemiah had long sought: “For what dost thou make request?” But the man of God did not venture to reply until he had first sought direction from One higher than Artaxerxes. “I prayed,” he said, “to the God of heaven.”
Nehemiah felt that he had a sacred trust which required help from the king, and that everything depended upon addressing him in a right manner. In that brief prayer, Nehemiah pressed into the presence of the King of kings, and enlisted on his side a power that can turn hearts as the rivers of water are turned.
A precious lesson is this for all Christians. Whenever we are brought into difficulty or danger, even when surrounded by those who do not love or fear God, the heart may send up its cry for help, and there is One who has pledged himself to come to our aid. This is the kind of prayer Christ meant when he said, “Pray without ceasing.” We are not to make ejaculatory prayer a substitute for public or family worship or for secret devotion; but it is a blessed resource, at our command under circumstances when other forms of prayer may be impossible. Toilers in the busy marts of trade, crowded and almost overwhelmed with financial perplexities; travelers by sea and land, when threatened by some great danger, can thus commit themselves to divine guidance and protection. And in every circumstance and condition of life, the soul weighed down with grief or care, or assailed by temptation, may thus find comfort, support, and succor in the unfailing love and power of a covenant-keeping God.
All things are possible to those who believe. No one who comes to the Lord in sincerity of heart will be disappointed. How wonderful it is that we can pray effectually; that unworthy, erring mortals possess the power of offering their requests to God! What higher power can man require than this,—to be linked-with the infinite God? Feeble, sinful man has the privilege of speaking to his Maker. We utter words that reach the throne of the Monarch of the universe. We pour out our heart’s desire in our closets. Then we go forth to walk with God as did Enoch and Nehemiah.
We speak with Christ as we walk by the way, and he says, “I am at thy right hand.” We may walk in daily companionship with him. When we breathe out our desire, it may be inaudible to any human ear; but that word can not die away in silence, nor can it be lost, though the activities of business are going on. Nothing can drown the soul’s desire. Above the din of the street, above the noise of machinery, it rises to the heavenly courts. It is God to whom we are speaking, and the prayer is heard. Ask then; “ask, and it shall be given you.”
Nehemiah and Artaxerxes stood face to face,—the one a servant, of a downtrodden race, the other the monarch of the world’s great empire. But infinitely greater than the disparity of rank was the moral distance which separated them. Nehemiah had complied with the invitation of the King of kings, “Let him take hold of my strength, that he may make peace with me, and he shall make peace with me.” The silent petition that he sent up to Heaven was the same that he had offered for many weeks, that God would prosper his request. And now, taking courage at the thought that he had a Friend, omniscient and omnipotent, to work in his behalf, the man of God made known to the king his desire for release for a time from his office at the court, and for authority to build up the waste places of Jerusalem and make it once more a strong and defensed city. Momentous results to the Jewish city and nation hung upon this request. And, says Nehemiah, “the king granted me according to the good hand of my God upon me.”
Mrs. E. G. White