The Cupbearer’s Prayer

The Cupbearer's Prayer

One of my favorite moments in scripture, when it comes to prayer, is a quick line found in chapter two of Nehemiah. 

In the previous chapter, Nehemiah learns about the destruction of Jerusalem’s walls, a symbol of his homeland’s security and fortitude. This devastating news understandably causes his to break down and weep.  

For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.” (Neh. 1:4 NIV)  

He then goes on to describe his conversation with God during this time. Here, we see a great example of how our prayer should always reflect our emotional state, being an honest interaction with our Creator, rather than reciting rote lines, or speaking in the way we think we are “supposed to.” 

But that isn’t the prayer I want to discuss. Rather, I want to read ahead to chapter 2, in which Nehemiah decides to use his position of cupbearer to the king to enact a plan to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls. 

King Artaxerxes notices a downtrodden look on the face of his cupbearer and asks him why he is sad. 

“’The city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins,’” (Neh 2:3) replies Nehemiah.  

After this simple interaction, Nehemiah’s moment arrives. When hearing about the reason behind his servant’s sorrow, the king asks him a deceptively simple question:  

“What is it you want?” 

have to imagine that Nehemiah’s heart is racing in this moment. After days of mourning the destruction of Jerusalem’s walls, and likely a lifetime of desiring to return to his people’s homeland, an opportunity to make things right has presented itself.  

But this is no simple request. Nehemiah will need permission to leave the king’s service, letters of safe passage through hostile territory, and even the very materials he will need to restore his city’s walls. 

And his first thought is to pray. 

Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king,” (Neh 2:4-5) 

I love the simplicity of this moment. Nehemiah, standing before the most powerful person in the land, prays to Him who is above all and then boldly carries out that to which the Lord has called him. Right in the middle of another conversation! 

I think this can teach us about what it means to have a rhythm of prayer in our lives; that, in a way, it might actually stand in opposition of how we build other habits.  

For example, when building a rhythm of reading scripture, it is important to make sure you have a consistent time to read the Word, dedicating a portion of your day to studying the Bible.  

While having a daily time of prayer is certainly not a bad thing, it is important to remember, like in any relationship, that our line of communication with God must always be open. To restrict the time in which we speak with our King to a strict schedule is to reduce our relationship with them from a personal and intimate friendship to a robotic correspondence, dictated by an arbitrary routine. 

It is clear that Nehemiah’s rhythm of prayer caused him to always be in conversation with the Lord, even if what was communicated was sometimes brief. This not only gave him the assurance that God was listening but opened his heart to hear what God was saying to him at any time. 

As we contemplate our personal prayer lives this week, let’s remember that God is eager to hear from us- always listening and responding. We have an opportunity to lay our joys and troubles before the feet of the Creator of the universe! 

So what’s stopping you?