“Joy is the serious business of heaven.” – C. S. Lewis, in Letters to Malcolm
“The joy of the Lord is your strength.” – Nehemiah 8:10
Prayers do not have to be long to be effective. Perhaps the best example of a super effective short prayer is found in Nehemiah. In this case Nehemiah offered up a prayer in the midst of a conversation. The answer he received sent him on the mission that would forever define his life.
“Then the king said to me, ‘What do you request?'”
“So I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said to the king, ‘If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ tombs, that I may rebuild it.'”
“Then the king said to me (the queen also sitting beside him), ‘How long will your journey be? And when will you return?’ So it pleased the king to send me; and I set him a time.” – Nehemiah 2:4-6 (NKJV)
How long was that prayer? A couple of seconds at most? Yet under the circumstances, in the presence of the king with Jerusalem lying in ruins, we can be sure this prayer was offered from the depths of Nehemiah’s heart.
We must take care, however, to see this prayer in its larger context. One chapter earlier, when Nehemiah first heard of the needs in Jerusalem, this was his response:
“So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” – Nehemiah 1:4 (NKJV)
How long is “many days”? The text gives us a clue. Four months elapsed (Chislev to Nisan) from the beginning of Nehemiah’s fasting and prayer until his moment of truth before the king. No doubt that four months of private mourning, fasting and praying gave that later prayer much of its strength and direction in those few crucial seconds.