They read from the book of the law of the Lord their God for a fourth of the day; and for another fourth they confessed and worshiped the Lord their God.
In Nehemiah 9, Ezra prayed on behalf of the Israelites in order to restore their relationship with God. I want to make two observations about this prayer. First of all, this is the longest recorded prayer in the Bible. Verse 1 gives us the setting for this prayer–it occurred two days after the people had finished celebrating the Festival of Booths. Why did the people need another revival? The simple reason is there is no one spiritual experience that will satisfy your spiritual needs forever, just like there is no one meal you can eat, no matter how large and wonderful it is, that will satisfy your physiological needs. There is a hunger that will drive you back for more. That is what happened here. Look at verse 3: “They read from the book of the law of the Lord their God for a fourth of the day; and for another fourth they confessed and worshiped the Lord their God.” Notice the balance between reading the Word of God and conversation with God. Some people are top-heavy with Bible study–they read and study the Bible but never communicate with God. Other people are long on prayer but have very little input from the Word of God. You need both. You need the Word of God, and you need time spent alone with God in prayer. If we are honest, most of us find it difficult to pray for ten minutes, don’t we? I think J. Oswald Sanders had it right when he wrote, “Most of us are plagued with a subtle aversion to praying. . . . We pay lip service to the delight and potency and value of prayer. We assert that it is an indispensable adjunct of mature spiritual life. We know that it is constantly enjoined and exemplified in the Scriptures. But in spite of all this, too often we fail to pray.” The people here realized that prayer is essential to reconnecting with God.
Second, this prayer was from the heart, not just from the mind. Look at verse 1: “Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the sons of Israel assembled with fasting, in sackcloth and with dirt upon them.” What does that mean? It means they were willing to go without food, so desperate was their need of God. They said, “We would rather spend time praying than eating.” The sackcloth that they wore was a sign of repentance for their sin, and the dirt upon them was symbolic of death. They were saying, “We are so desperate for God’s presence we are close to death.” I think one reason we fail to have that kind of emotion in our prayers is that we really do not believe in God. We believe in the idea of God, but we do not believe in God. Miguel de Unamuno said it this way: “Those who believe that they believe in God, but without any passion in their heart, any anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, without an element of despair even in their consolation, believe only in the God-idea, not in God.” These people prayed not out of a ritualistic duty but out of an earnest desire to rekindle their passion for God.
Today’s devotion is excerpted from “A Prayer For Drifters” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2010.
J. Oswald Sanders, “Spiritual Leadership” (Chicago: Moody Press, 1967), 75; Miguel de Unamuno, as quoted in Philip Yancey, “Reaching For The Invisible God” (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 184.
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995, 2020 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. www.lockman.org