When We Pray
This week in our study on worship as seen through the Psalms, we looked at the second way in which we respond to God...through prayer. At first glance, this Psalm may not immediately draw our attention to prayer. Save for one verse (verse 6) the word prayer isn't mentioned. What this passage has to teach us about prayer, much like our prayers themselves, isn't necessarily dependent upon the words being used, but rather the heart behind them. What we see here is a model of David pouring out his heart to God, and trusting him to act according to his faithfulness, goodness, and wisdom. This is the heart of all prayer.
Prayer is in many ways what tethers us to God. As Ryan pointed out in his lesson, we can't see and interact with God as we would a friend or loved one. Prayer is the way that we communicate with God. It is a fundamental part of our worship as we share our thoughts and emotions with our Heavenly Father.
Perhaps the greatest example for us of a vibrant and effective prayer life is found in our Lord Jesus. Jesus put his prayer time - his quiet and personal time with his Father - above everything else. He would often retreat away from the crowds, and the distractions and demands of his earthly ministry, to be alone in prayer. In public, before he would teach important truths or perform miraculous signs and wonders, Jesus would take time to give thanks to God in prayer. Prayer marked the life of Jesus, and it was through prayer that he was blessed, encouraged, and strengthened by his Father.
In Psalm 32, we see a model for effective prayer. In verses 1-5, David focuses on the confessional nature of prayer. As we learned in our previous lesson, repentance is the way that we respond to God by changing our course and aligning our lives with the teaching and commands of scripture. This begins with our admission of guilt. It is when we rightly see ourselves as broken and fallen before a just and holy God that we can then respond in faith by pressing into the hope and grace of the Gospel. Our natural tendency is to run fromGod, but our prayers of confession and our appeals for God's mercy are us running to God.
Likewise, the Psalmist focuses on the petitionary aspects of prayer in verses 6-11. Confession and repentance are an important part of our prayer life, but God also invites us to bring our wants and needs to him. If it is important to us, it is important to God. James says in his epistle, "You do not have, because you do not ask" (James 4:2). God desires that we share our desires with him. However, there is more to that passage from James. He continues, "You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions."
The thing we need to know and understand about our requests to God is that sometimes (maybe even often) God's answer may be no. As a parent, I regularly receive requests from my children. Because I love them, I want to give them what they want and/or need. However, sometimes, when their requests are for things that are not beneficial to them, I have to tell them no. I invite them to bring their desires to me, but as a loving and responsible father, it is my job to decide what is best for them. When what they want isn't what is best, the most loving thing I can do for them is to say no. Because they know I love them, my hope is that they will understand and recognize that my "no" is ultimately for their good. In reality, that isn't always the way it plays out.
This is the same reality we see in people's response to God. Every day, people take seemingly (to them) reasonable requests to God to which he responds with a no. It may be a prayer for healing for a sick loved one. Maybe it is a prayer for provision for something they think they really need. When God says no, they get angry and doubt his love and goodness. It may not always make sense to us, but scripture reminds us that God is working all things for our good and according to his purposes (Romans 8:28). Admittedly, this can sometimes be a tough pill to swallow. We don't have the ability to see the "big picture" in the way that God does. All we can do, even when it is hard, and even when it hurts, is to hold fast to God's promises and his faithfulness to us. It is often in those hard and painful moments that God is doing the work of an expert surgeon, cutting away that which is killing us and restoring us to health in him.
When we pray, we are leaning into God. We are sharing our hearts with our loving Father, and in turn, we receive his blessings to us. Ryan reminded us that the blessings from God are not always material in nature, but rather the true meaning of the word "blessed" is to be "happy." In other words, God's blessing, at its most fundamental level, is the feeling of peace and contentment that we so long for, and spend so much of our time (and resources) fruitlessly pursuing in the things for the world. Remember, as John Piper says, "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him." This is sound teaching, and how we delight in God and respond to him through prayer is one of the most important ways that we show our satisfaction in him.
Albert Mohler writes in his book on the Lord's Prayer:
"Prayer is never an isolated event. When we pray, we convey our entire theological system. Our theology is never so clearly displayed before our own eyes and before the world as in our prayers. Praying forces us to articulate our doctrines, convictions, and theological assumptions. These aspects of our Christian life come to a unique focus in prayer because when we speak to God we are explicitly revealing who we believe he is, who we believe we are, what his disposition toward us is, and why he has that disposition.”
If you missed this week's sermon (or just want to listen again), follow the link below to listen. Or subscribe to our podcast in iTunes.
Part 8 - Delighting In God Through Prayer
Questions discussed in this sermon:
1. What does it mean to be blessed?
2. What is the response of someone who has been forgiven?
3. What is prayer?