One of the things we learn about Nehemiah early on is that he has a close relationship with God– often going to him in prayer as a reflex. In the first part of this book, he hears a report that his people are living in poor conditions. Nehemiah is concerned about them, but rather than Nehemiah immediately getting on a horse, organizing a food drive, or trying to get things done under his own power, he turns to God, but in an interesting way.
As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. And I said, “O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. – Nehemiah 1:4-7
The first thing that Nehemiah prays for isn’t a request for God to do something. It is Nehemiah recognizing the reason for the situation that they are in– that it is of their own creation. You see, the children of Israel were in captivity because they fell away from God. God promised in the book of Deuteronomy that if the people would fall away, He would judge them and give the land rest via occupation– just as He used the Israelites to clear Caanan of the people before them.
You will also note that even though Nehemiah may personally be upstanding, he realizes that he is part of the problem– “Even I and my father’s house have sinned”– this means that he doesn’t think he is any better than those that have come before.
When calamity strikes our lives, do we go to God asking Him to show us any sin in our lives with the mind to get it right? I find that I often go right to “can you do this for me God” when God is actually looking for us to long to restore a relationship with Him. First and foremost, we need to make sure that we have a right relationship– meaning that there’s no sin in the way– before we can expect for Him to answer.