I imagine Nehemiah was excited to see Jewish travelers approach. Like most Jews at the time, Nehemiah lived in exile and must have been eager to hear news of home.
But the news he heard was not good: Those who survived the exile lived in disgrace. The walls of Jerusalem lay in ruins, the gates burned to rubble.
So Nehemiah fasted and prayed. It appears he prayed for four months, confessing the sins of Israel, asking God to remember his Covenant with His people, and asking God to grant him favor with the King. (Read his prayer here.)
And at the end of that time, Nehemiah was serving in his normal role as cupbearer to the king. The king noticed Nehemiah's long face and asked why he was depressed. Because he had spent so much time in prayer, Nehemiah was ready for this open door.
He told the King how bad things were back in Jerusalem. The king asked what Nehemiah wanted to do. So Nehemiah prayed quickly and replied with exactly what he wanted to do (go to Jerusalem and rebuild the walls) and what he would need from the king to make this happen (letters to grant him safe travel and timber to rebuild the gates). Because God was behind the plan, the King granted his request.
Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the walls—in 52 days. These walls had been down for 100 years. In 100 years people had been trying to rebuild these walls and they couldn't get it done. The Bible doesn't say Nehemiah had wall-building experience or even leadership experience. The rebuilding process certainly was not easy, but God was clearly working to accomplish His goals. I think God could use Nehemiah to complete such a great task because of those four months of prayer and Nehemiah's courage in trusting the Lord.
If we ever think we're too busy for prayer, let's remember Nehemiah's story. I am convinced that we accomplish the tasks God has for us (whether homeschooling, managing a household or running a business) not in spite of taking time to pray, but because we pray.
PS- I can't help thinking that Brother Andrew's story in God's Smuggler bears striking resemblance to the first and second chapters of Nehemiah's story. Brother Andrew was an ordinary man who prayed fervently and stepped out in response to God's continuous call. God protected and provided for him in astounding ways, and the Kingdom of God was advanced. If you've never read God's Smuggler, I highly recommend it. May we, like Brother Andrew, pray fervently and live courageously for the sake of God's Kingdom.