“100 million dollars,” that is the outrageous sum that the villain Dr. Evil demands for ransom in the film Austin Powers. This demand is followed by laughs. The sum is outrageous for the 1960’s. There is no way that any world leader will answer this outrageous and large petition. At the end of chapter 1 and beginning of chapter 2 we see Nehemiah pray multiple times for success and favor. His petitions are not small ones. He is asking for the undoing of exile. He is asking for the restoration of Zion. Judah ceased to be a kingdom. The last time there was a Judahite commonwealth was 600 BC. Nehemiah’s petition is large, it is outlandish, it is brazen.
Read Nehemiah 2:1-20
After his prayer, Nehemiah declares, “The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build, but you have no portion or right or claim in Jerusalem.”(2:20)
There is an amazing confidence in this statement. Is Nehemiah being cheeky? Is he out of touch with reality? We probably remember moments when we have asked something of friends that was extremely cheeky. Somehow we make large petitions of friends, but sometimes forget that large petitions are something which God delights in hearing. Just as our friends, if it is within their power, love to help out whenever it is possible.
Part of the reason we don’t bring large petitions is that deep down inside we think that God is actually not able to answer. It may be something as small as, “God help me find my misplaced car keys.” But then a voice inside us says, “Don’t bother the maker of the universe with such a petty request. Surely he has better things to do.” When in fact the real reason we say this is that it is just as large a petition as asking God for a great miracle. In our heart of hearts we believe God is not able to grant this.
There is a story of Alexander the Great being at a wedding feast of one of his generals. After the night had gone on, the general was now intoxicated from the wine and merry-making. He went up to Alexander and asked a for a very large monetary gift. It was such an outragous request that the wedding party came to a standstill. The musicians stopped playing. All the party guest stared expecting Alexander to be greatly insulted and mete out an appropriate punishment for such brazen ask.
Something unexpected happened. Alexander the Great, looking at his general, said, “This man honours me, for he has said that I am both wealthy and able to fulfill this request” By making this outrageous statement petition to God Nehemiah declares two things about God’s character: 1. God is actually powerful enough to grant it 2. God is gracious enough to grant it.
We are incapable of truly knowing what to pray or how to pray. That is why the disciples asked Jesus teach us how to pray. And Paul said we don’t know how to pray but the Spirit intercedes for us.
“Thou art coming to a King,
Large petitions with thee bring;
For His grace and pow’r are such
None can ever ask too much. “
–John Newton (1725-1807)