I once heard of a theologian who was asked by one of his students, “How much time should we pray and read Scripture each day?” The story goes that the student had in mind a certain amount of time for each—say, one hour in prayer and one hour in study. His teacher responded, “The better way is to spend two hours reading the Scripture on your knees in prayer.” What a simple but profound insight. How true it is, because the Scriptures often give shape to our prayer.
In my experience, I have come to understand that when I sit down to read Scripture, Scripture also tends to “read me,” so to speak. God’s Word reminds me of who I am—a sinner unable to perfectly live in faithfulness to God’s Word. However, Scripture also reminds me of who God is, namely, a Holy God who is perfectly faithful to His Word, but also gracious to those who repent of their unfaithfulness.
One of the reasons I find Nehemiah 9 to be one of the most moving passages of prayer in all of Scripture is because this prayer moves through the Bible itself, reminding the people of God’s faithfulness from Genesis to Kings—in spite of Israel’s unfaithfulness. And it is through Bible-shaped praise, confession, and petition that God’s people are reminded that He has made a name for Himself, a name that endures from generation to generation to this day (v.10).
Isn’t it amazing that when we repent of unfaithfulness, God stands ready to forgive? Isn’t it good to remember that God is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love? (Nehemiah 9:31; Psalm 145:8). Isn’t it comforting to remember that even when we, as God’s people, are faithless, our God will not forsake us?
The good news of the gospel is that the story of God’s faithfulness does not end in Kings or in Nehemiah. In the New Testament we are reminded that all of the promises of God find their “yes” in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20). Jesus is the perfect Israelite who was completely faithful to God’s Word. And because of Jesus’ sacrificial death for our unfaithfulness and sin, we can be forgiven. Because of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to the right hand of God, we can boldly approach His throne with confidence (Hebrews 4:16).
Because of the gospel, when I prayerfully read Scripture I am able to see that God has been faithful to His people from generation to generation. Because of the gospel, when Scripture reads me, I can openly pray and confess my unfaithfulness, knowing that He is faithful to forgive me and cleanse me of all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). This is how Scripture shapes our prayer. It gives us the words to shout, “Oh God! You made a name for yourself that endures to this day” (Nehemiah 9:10).
Written by Matt Capps