And the king, quite understanding from Nehemiah’s speech that he wants something from him, asks immediately:
‘For what dost thou make request?’
Oh, what a critical moment! How much depends on Nehemiah’s answer to this unexpected question! What shall he say? What dare he propose? The whole future of Jerusalem may hang on his answer to the king’s question.
There is a moment’s pause, but only a moment’s, and then Nehemiah’s answer is given. Only a moment, and yet great things have been done in that short time. ‘I prayed,’ says the Rab-shakeh, ’to the God of Heaven.’
Did he then rush away to his own apartment to pray? Did he kneel down in the midst of the banqueting hall and call upon his God? No, he spoke no word aloud, he did not even close his eyes. The king saw nothing, knew nothing of what was going on; yet a mighty transaction took place in that short time between the silent man, who still stood holding the cup in his hands, and the King of Heaven.
We are not told what the prayer was, perhaps it was only, ’Lord, help me.’ But quick as lightning the answer came. His fear fled, wisdom was given him to answer, and his heart’s desire was granted.
How often we hear the complaint, ’I cannot pray long prayers, like the good people I read of in books. I lead a busy active life, and when work is done my body is weary and exhausted, and I find it impossible to pray for any length of time, and sometimes I fear that because I cannot offer long prayers I cannot therefore be the Lord’s.’ But surely it is not long prayers that the Lord requires. Most of the Bible prayers are short prayers, the Lord’s pattern-prayer is one of the shortest. It is the heathen who think they will be heard for their much speaking. Nehemiah’s was a true prayer, and an answered prayer, yet it was but a moment in length.
Nor are uttered words necessary to prayer. The followers of Baal cried aloud, thinking their much shouting would reach the ear of their god, but Nehemiah speaks not, does not even whisper, and his prayer is heard in heaven. Surely now-a-days, when there are some who seem to think that much noise, that loud shouting, that the uplifted voice must needs pierce the sky, it is well for us to be reminded that God heeds no language, hears no voice, but the language of the soul, the voice of the innermost heart.
Nor is posture a necessary part of prayer. Some choose to pray standing, others prefer to kneel. It is not the posture of body God looks at, but the posture of the heart. Reverence there must be, but such reverence as comes from the inner sanctuary of the soul, and which only finds outward expression in the body. Nehemiah stood with the jewelled cup in his hands, yet Nehemiah’s prayer was heard.
So we see that heartfelt prayer—prayer which is prayer indeed—may be short, silent, and offered in a strange place and at a strange time, and yet be heard and answered by God.