“Please, Lord, let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant and to that of Your servants who delight to revere Your name. Give Your servant success today, and have compassion on him in the presence of this man” [Nehemiah 1:11, HCSB].
I recently heard someone ask a provoking question, “Should a Christian pray for his success?” Perhaps the better question is this, when is it appropriate to pray for our success. Nehemiah’s humility is obvious. He respected and revered the very name of God. Notice in the verse above that Nehemiah boldly prayed for his success, but readily acknowledged that he was a servant of God. He knew his place in the place of kingdom work and he did not place too high a value on what he could do on his own. Moreover, Nehemiah was very specific in what he was asking God to do and even the timing of his request. He was asking God for success “today.” It is clear that Nehemiah believed it was acceptable and even prudent to ask God for his success.
First, I believe Scripture teaches that a Christian is permitted and even obligated to pray for his success, but it is crucial that the person asking God is humble in his request. Clearly, Nehemiah was humble; and his request was not self-centered. Success of God’s servants shows that God is working through His servant. In First Samuel 18:14 we find that David “continued to be successful in all his activities because the Lord was with Him” [HCSB]. Psalm 127:1 teaches us that “unless the Lord builds a house, its builders labor over it in vain; unless the Lord watches over a city, the watchman stays alert in vain” [HCSB]. You must understanding that the Triune God is your Master and we are the servant. We must keep the relationship in God’s correct order. When we think too much of ourselves and too little of God, we attempt to help God and do the work ourselves, or even worse, we steal God’s glory. We will ultimately fail when we work against the desire of the Master. We must keep the relationship between God and ourselves in the correct order
Second, I believe Scripture teaches that a Christian is permitted and even obligated to pray for his success when his success is for the betterment of others and not self-serving. When Nehemiah heard the report of his beloved Jerusalem, Scripture tells us that he wept, mourned, fasted, and prayed [Nehemiah 1:1-5]. As Nehemiah fasted and prayed, God told Nehemiah that he would rebuild the wall of Jerusalem and that He would use him, Nehemiah, to accomplish this task. For those of you who have ever been in this situation, you understand how scary this can be. However, herein is the essential element of this story, Nehemiah was not doing this for himself. His heart was burdened for a people, a cause, a purpose, and his cause aligned properly with God’s will.
In chapter two, we find that God prepared the way with the king to release Nehemiah for a time to go to survey the situation and to rebuild the walls. Nehemiah faced people who were positive and those who were negative critics of the plan to rebuild the wall. Nehemiah 2:20 records the words of this prophet, “The God of heaven is the One who will grant us success. We, His servants, will start building, but you have no share, right, or historic claim in Jerusalem” [HCSB]. The naysayers did not dissuade Nehemiah, but even more, he was determined to work for the betterment of the nation of Israel. Nehemiah was certain that God would give him success and God was to receive the praise and glory for the success. Nehemiah was doing this for the betterment of others and not for himself.
Third, I believe Scripture teaches that a Christian is permitted and even obligated to pray for his success when his success would advance the cause of Christ. It is the realization of the brevity of life and the grand scheme of God’s plan that causes one to spend their life working to advance the cause of Christ that “a later generation, and a newly created people will praise the LORD” [Psalm 102:18], or as another translation puts it, that “a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the LORD” [NIV]. Most of the fruit from our labor will not be realized in this life. We will not fully understand the full picture of what God is doing until eternity, but God offers us a part and He grants our success when we are working to advance His kingdom.
What is it that you need to ask God to grant success for today? Be bold and ask Him. Pour your heart out for your success, just make sure you are humble and your focus and motives are right.