How Do We Pray?
Do we pray? Of course we do.
And yet, as 20th century theologian P. T. Forsyth pointed out: “Our greatest sin is prayerlessness!” Most of us will acknowledge many shortcomings in the area of prayer. Adolphe Monod , while on his deathbed, listed as one of his deepest regrets the lack of prayer in his life. And this Frenchman had been a powerful preacher in the 55 years the Lord gave him on earth. Not only that, but he was also a faithful pastor and a man of prayer!
His praying was firmly based on the Scriptures. He would say, “The Word of God is heaven speaking on earth”, and “prayer according to Scripture is heaven received within by the Holy Spirit”. He added, “without prayer the Word is powerless and does not penetrate the heart” (“Adolphe Monod’s Farewell”, p. 76). He draws our attention to the many servants of God presented in the Scriptures, and considers prayer as their distinctive work.
Scripture – our guide to prayer
As you read the Scriptures take special note of the prayers of God’s people. In this article we wish to focus on two of David’s prayers found in 1 Chronicles (29:10-19, and 17:16-27). However, there are many more prayers of David recorded in Scripture, especially in the Book of Psalms. There, especially, we learn about David’s pain and struggles. In the historical books we read of the many events in David’s life, but in the psalms he utters his deepest frustrations and highest joys. That’s where we get to know the soul-life of this man of God.
As we look at these two prayers in the Book of Chronicles we should bear in mind that this book was written in the struggling times after the exile. It was then that God’s people needed to be reminded of the sure promises of God. These promises included the coming of Messiah of David’s family line, and the significance of temple-worship. The Lord Jesus calls the temple: My Father’s house, and, A house of prayer.
What stimulates us in our praying? Is it only our particular predicament? It is true, the Lord said, “Ask and you shall receive!” Yet prayer is more than asking. It is approaching our heavenly Father and addressing Him as His child. It involves an awareness of Who He is and why we may have such confidence in approaching Him. We can learn something from David who has been bowled over by God’s grace! That’s why we see in these prayers three typical components, viz. Adoration – Amazement – Appeal.
Consider the prayer in 1 Chronicles 29:10-19.
Take note of the adoration.
David is over-awed by the Lord’s greatness and majesty. God’s Name and kingly power are the primary focus of his attention (verses 10-13).
Then notice his amazement.
David is stunned about the generosity of God’s people, and that because of God’s wonderful and gracious provision for them (verses 14-17).
Finally note his appeal. “Keep the hearts of Thy people loyal to you.” And further, “Keep Solomon, my son, loyal to you.”
Consider also the prayer in 1 Chronicles 17:16-27.
Note that this time David starts with amazement. “Who am I, O LORD God, and what is my house, that Thou hast brought me thus far?” (verses 16-18). And later he adds, “What nation is like Thy people...” (verses 21,22).
Then David blends in the adoration: “...O LORD, there is none like Thee, neither is there any God besides Thee, according to all that we have heard with our ears...” (verses 19,20).
Finally again comes the appeal. David appeals to the promises of God: “Do as Thou hast spoken...”
When you think about these prayers you discover there is a similarity with the prayers of other men and women of God. It reminds us especially of the prayer our Lord taught His disciples. The Lord singles out the prior place of God and His kingdom in prayer, and then He underscores our needs. The order is Thy, Thy, Thy, and then our, our, our...
The late Prof J H Bavinck used to say, First make God’s business, your business, and then, make your business ... God’s business. In the same sixth chapter of Matthew in which the Lord Jesus teaches us to pray “Our Father Who art in heaven...” He goes on to speak about our daily needs/worries, and concludes, “But seek first His Kingdom, and His righteousness...” (verse 33).
Abundant examples in Scripture
Do make a point of studying the prayers in the Bible. There are more than we often realise. Note those of Ezra and Nehemiah, also those of Moses and Samuel, and Samuel’s mother, Hannah. Study also the moving prayers of Daniel and Solomon. Or consider the prayers in the New Testament, those of the Lord Jesus (e.g. John 17, Matthew 26), those of Zacharias and Mary, those of Paul in Ephesians (1:15-23; 3:14-21).
Read a Psalm like 119 prayerfully, a section at a time, as a conversation with the Lord with Whom you may walk from day to day. Pour out your heart to Him (Psalm 62:8), listen when he reassures you. Take time! Notice that “David went in and sat before the Lord” (1 Chron. 17:16). He sought the Lord’s presence and poured out his heart.
Prayer is intensely personal, yet also intentionally communal.
It is joyful, but also tearful. It is bold, and yet humble.
You feel powerless, but you are also driven by a strong hope!
Charles Ringma in “Resist the Powers” quotes Jacques Ellul as saying “Prayer is the assurance of the possibility of God’s intervention without which there is no hope.”
And even more so, prayer is much more than a meaningful “quiet time” with God. Scripture teaches us that the real conflict lying behind world events is spiritual. For that reason Dr Sinclair Ferguson concludes his commentary on the 11th chapter of Daniel by saying, “the Lord was teaching Daniel that the real weapon of the church is prayer. Fail in the work of prayer, and we shall fail to understand this great vision”. How vital prayer is in the big scheme of things! Do we realise this as much as we should?
So let us again give ourselves to prayer, looking beyond David to David’s greater Son. For His is the Name above all other names, the name by which we are saved! (Acts 4:12)
And in utter amazement, pray, praise and petition!