Are you a Jonah or a Nehemiah?

By Dr. Randy Carlson

One of the greatest Bible studies I’ve ever undertaken is an exploration of the great prayers of Scripture. There are so many – and they have so much to teach us!

One thing I’ve learned is that there are really only two approaches to prayer – and they are best illustrated by two men of the Old Testament: Jonah and Nehemiah.

I want to share with you three comparisons between the prayers of these two men to show you why your approach to prayer matters.

First, Jonah prays in desperation, while Nehemiah prays in preparation.

After disobeying God’s command and running in the opposite direction, Jonah ends up thrown into the stormy sea. It’s only when he finds himself in the belly of a giant fish that he resorts to crying out to God.

Contrast that with Nehemiah. When tasked with rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, his first response is to weep, fast… and pray.

Second, Jonah’s concern is for himself, whereas Nehemiah’s concern is for God’s people.

Jonah has little regard for the people of Nineveh to whom God wants to show mercy. He’s simply concerned for his own welfare. “I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me” (Jonah 2:2, emphasis added).

Nehemiah, on the other hand, is burdened by the plight of God’s people and carries them in prayer right from the outset: “let your ear be attentive… to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants” (Nehemiah 1:6).

And third, Jonah’s prayer hinges on his pain, but Nehemiah’s hinges on God’s promises.

As we’ve already seen, Jonah’s prayer flows out of his own personal plight – and that’s as far as he gets. He can’t see beyond his own painful circumstances.

But Nehemiah is different. In his prayer, he moves beyond his situation to call upon the promises of God. He reminds God of the covenant He’s made and trusts that He will make good on it!

I’m sure you can see the stark contrast between these two men. But what’s truly wonderful is that in His mercy, God heard both prayers! He fulfilled His purposes through both Nehemiah and Jonah.

But the difference came in the two men’s experience. Jonah ended up bitter and resentful, while Nehemiah knew peace, hope and assurance every step of the way.

Friend, your approach to prayer matters. Be intentional: Pray like Nehemiah!

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