A.I. Generated Prayer
The main theme of Nehemiah 9 is prayer. Do you struggle with consistent prayer? Nehemiah 9 exposes the reason for our struggles and simultaneously it shows us how to pray.
If you a prayer struggler, there is good news: Artificial Intelligence can even help you pray. Would you believe there is a website called: writemeaprayer.com? It claims to be a “prayer generator powered by the latest AI technology to help you in times of need.” You can even see recent prayers from around the world. If you can’t think of a prayer, A.I. will pray for you! If you would rather use your phone, you can download the IBIP App. IBIP means “I believe in prayer.” With this App you will get auto-generated daily prayers. Over time, it learns and refines your prayer requests! You can even give it feedback on how well it is generating your prayers! Sounds like a good deal, right?
Some of you are wondering—is he serious?! While I do believe A.I. can assist in some areas, praying for you is not one of them. Prayer is not something we can outsource to a machine. Our Creator has given us a soul and he has given us agency—the ability to make decisions. We cannot give that up because he wants our whole heart. He wants to hear our deepest desires and our struggles. Prayer is something that must come from your heart to God’s ears.
Why Don’t We Pray?
Why do so many of us struggle with prayer? Let’s first start with a definition. What is prayer? The Westminster Shorter Catechism defines prayer this way: “Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God.” Simple—clear.
Put differently, our prayer life is not a checklist. Rather, prayer is our relational glue with God. Our prayer reveal how close we are with our Creator—and what we believe about him. Let me suggest three reasons we don’t prayer. First, we question if God hears our prayer. We may have prayed for something specific, but he didn’t answer. Or, he didn’t answer as we think he should. Second, we don’t pray, because we don’t want to be truly known. Even though God knows us inside and out—we resist prayer because then we would have to admit to him our thoughts, our desires, and our sins. We don’t really believe God is gracious and merciful. Finally, we don’t pray because we don’t think we need God. Especially in 21st century America, and especially in the Northeastern Corridor, many of us fancy ourselves to be self-sufficient. I am a self-made person—I don’t need help!
So … how can we pray authentically? Let me offer four components of authentic prayer.
The Right Preparation
A primary problem with our prayer lives is that we run first to petition. Our prayers may sound like this: “God, I want this, I need this, GIVE ME!” Before we ask, we need to prepare. Look how Nehemiah begins his prayer:
“Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the people of Israel were assembled with fasting and in sackcloth, and with earth on their heads. And the Israelites separated themselves from all foreigners and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers (Nehemiah 9:1-2, ESV).”
In the ancient world, when someone wore sackcloth it was a symbol of humility and mourning. Sackcloth is the burlap that is used in potato sacks. Imagine wearing a potato sack on your bare skin. It is ITCHY! It would make you feel super-uncomfortable. The point is this: the people were clothing themselves with discomfort. It was a reminder that our sin should make us uncomfortable. Does you sin make you uncomfortable? If not you need to adjust your heart in prayer.
Allow me to sum up their prayer preparation. The people of God stopped eating—they were hungry! They wore uncomfortable clothes. And the, they covered their heads with dirt—they needed a shower! When was the last time you prepared yourself like that for prayer?! That is the point. It reminded them of their need for God.
A key barrier to authentic prayer is lack of need—we are too comfortable! Beware comfortable Christianity church! When you become too comfortable in your Christian walk, you will be ineffective for the kingdom! You will become disconnected from the king himself! Let me ask you this—when was the last time you stepped out in faith for Christ? It doesn’t have to be something life altering. Maybe you needed to tell someone at work you were a Christian and wanted to pray for him or her. Can I suggest that the reason we don’t sense a need for God is because we aren’t doing anything uncomfortable for God. We need to put on the SACKCLOTH! Some of us need to get a little uncomfortable for Jesus. Start fasting! Get some dirt on your head because it reminds us of our need for him.
The Right Posture
Posture is word we often associate with body position. You should have good posture when you stand, or sit. There is a physicality to it. The same is true with our hearts. We could slouch spiritually, or be spiritually rigid. That is why preparation is the first step.
If we prepare well—it will cause a change in our hearts when we come to prayer. We will see ourselves rightly—as sinners in need of a savior. And we will see God rightly—Holy, Almighty, Powerful. He is the one who is worthy of praise. Nehemiah 9:6-38, is the longest prayer in the entire Bible. This is the abridged version, not the three-hour version. Look how it begins in v. 6:
“You are the Lord, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you (Nehemiah 9:6, ESV).”
Could I invite us do reflect for a moment? Is that how you pray? Some of us probably do; many of us do not. I think more often, when we haven’t prepared our hearts well, we come to prayer with an entitlement attitude. We come to prayer thinking God is there to serve us: God—IMPRESS ME. God—GIVE ME. God—SERVE ME! After all, the world revolves around me don’t you know?!
Some of us are nicer about it that others … but the attitude is the same—we just mask it better.
And then we start to complain when God doesn’t seem to hear or answer our prayers. Well, did you know that sometimes, God doesn’t promise to hear or answer our prayers? “Wait … what? What do you mean? Doesn’t God know how important I am?” Whether God hears or answers certain prayers is tied to the posture of our hearts. What does James 4 tell us?
You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? (James 4:3-4, ESV)
You don’t receive because you ask wrongly. It’s about your motive in praying. The posture of your heart is rigid because you love the world rather than me. How about Isaiah 1:
“When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause (Isaiah 1:15-17, ESV).”
Can I get an Amen?! No? Some of us are saying, “I missed that verse … ” Isaiah says—you didn’t do the heart preparation—now the posture of your heart is wicked. If that is the case, God will not listen! He will hide his face from you. And then, and then, when God doesn’t give us what we want, we get mad at him! How dare you God! I’ll stop believing in you!
If you want authentic prayer, you need the right heart posture.
The Right Perspective
Third, you need the right perspective. The question for this point is this: What has God done? How has he worked in history? Will he still intervene in my life? Again, the reason many of us struggle with prayer is we don’t think God can do what he says he can do. Most of the prayer in Nehemiah 9, vv. 7-31, is all about how God worked in the history of the people of Israel up to this point. It is a revelation of God’s redemptive action in history. Prayer calls us to REMEMBER what God has done. REMEMBER. REMEMBER. We so easily forget. There are seven main sections to vv. 7-31. Nehemiah takes us through the history of Abraham, the Exodus, the giving of the law, the wandering in the wilderness, Joshua entering the promised land, the Judges, and finally the exile. Through it all we are reminded of this in v. 31:
“Nevertheless, in your great mercies you did not make an end of them or forsake them, for you are a gracious and merciful God (Nehemiah 9:31, ESV).”
Some of us need to hear that today. The reason some of us don’t pray, or we don’t have a deep prayer life, is because we think God is done with us. We think God has forgotten us. We think God will not forgive us. But this one verse, right here shows us who God is—gracious and merciful! In his mercy he did not make an end to them or forsake them. Israel gave God plenty of reason to abandon them … but he didn’t! Let that change your perspective.
I want to give you a challenge this week. How are you remembering what God has done in your life? Maybe you need to get a journal for your prayer time. Maybe you need to place a reminder somewhere in your house. I’m telling you—it is so easy to forget—don’t! How will you remember?
The Right Petition
When you make the right preparation, when you get the right heart posture, and when you look over your life and get the right perspective … then, then, then we can offer an authentic prayer and make the right petition. A petition just simply means a request. Some of us have a hard time asking for anything in our lives, let alone asking something from God. In vv. 32-37 Nehemiah repeats the themes he has already stated in vv. 6-31. The people confess their sins and the sins of their people again. Then, in verse 32, the return to where the prayer started—with God.
“Now, therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love, let not all the hardship seem little to you that has come upon us, upon our kings, our princes, our priests, our prophets, our fathers, and all your people, since the time of the kings of Assyria until this day (Nehemiah 9:32, ESV).”
They say, “Oh Lord you are mighty and awesome—you are faithful with the covenant—you love us!” But then they make a request—a petition. What do they ask? “Let not all the hardship seem little to you that has come upon us …” Now, why would they ask that? Didn’t we just walk through all the ways God has delivered them? Isn’t God at work in their midst? Well, if you keep reading, they reiterate that they and their leaders have not kept the law, they have not followed God and he has still been gracious. They confess that. Then we read this in. vv. 36-37:
“Behold, we are slaves this day; in the land that you gave to our fathers to enjoy its fruit and its good gifts, behold, we are slaves. And its rich yield goes to the kings whom you have set over us because of our sins. They rule over our bodies and over our livestock as they please, and we are in great distress (Nehemiah 9:36-37, ESV).”
What are they saying? They are still slaves in their land. They are still subject to the Persian Empire. They are saying, “Lord, because we have sinned we are in distress … DELIVER US! Oh Great God … remember us! Return us to where we were before the exile?” This is an honest, authentic request. It is a right petition offered with an authentic repentant heart.
However, they might be wondering: will God answer our prayers? Will he act as he did in history? It is the same question so many of us ask. Can you relate? Many of us struggle with prayer because it feels like God is far away. It feels like he hasn’t heard our cries when we are exile. Life has not turned out as we hoped. And we cry out—deliver us! Will a deliverer come? What Israel didn’t see, but what we can see now, is that over four hundred years later … a deliverer would come to give them the fulfillment for which they were looking. That deliverer would ride into Jerusalem on a donkey, he would overturn the tables in the temple, he confront the religious Pharisees, he would die on a cross to pay the penalty for our sins—and when he did the veil in the temple was torn in two! Now the presence of God is in the heart of every believer. Now, we don’t need a priest to bring us to God—we can go right to him in prayer if we seek him.
How do you pray authentically? Jesus, Messiah, The Christ, the Deliverer who is God in the flesh tells us: ASK. Make a petition! Get your heart right, but then ASK! God knows our need, but he still wants us to come to him and ask. What does Jesus tell us in Luke 11:9-10,
“And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened (Luke 11:9-10, ESV).”
ASK. SEEK. KNOCK. Are you doing that? Are you running towards Jesus or away from him? The right petition occurs when we honestly seek the Lord with a right heart. Artificial Intelligence can give you information, it can answer some of your questions, and it can even spit out a prayer for you. But it can’t make your heart right. It can’t repent for you. You must do that! This is what Nehemiah 9 shows us.