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Pastoral 2015

Learning to Pray from the Book of Psalms - Part I

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Introduction

When a person becomes a Christian, one of the first spiritual activities he will be introduced to is praying. Very often, praying can be a very daunting endeavour. We often hear many new (and sometimes, even experienced) Christians ask questions like, “Am I praying correctly?” “Is God pleased with the things that I utter in my prayers?” “Will God listen to me?” Therefore, praying aright is a serious concern to Christians of all levels of spiritual maturity. “Template” prayers that lack authenticity and sincerity are often heard. It is sad that many Christians do not know how to pray in a proper manner. As praying is communing with the Most High God, it is most important that prayers be uttered in a God-pleasing way; hence Christians must learn how to pray aright. Praying aright brings about many spiritual benefits to a Christian, enabling us to not only receive answers to our prayers, but also spiritual blessings from God.

The best way to learn how to pray is from the Word of God that the Heavenly Father has provided for His children. He has given us a manual on how to reach out to Him in prayer, particularly in the Book of Psalms. Psalms were written by different believers and compiled over a long span of time. The prayers of the psalmists arose out of their personal experiences of faith. At times, the prayers were written during times of great cheer and jubilation, and at times in extreme afflictions. Their prayers, out of the vicissitudes of their spiritual experiences, expressed their longing for God. Hence, in the Book of Psalms, we Christians have a rich resource from which we can learn how to pray.

To begin with, it is useful to categorize the prayers in the Book of Psalms into overarching topics and observe the manner in which the psalmists prayed. In this twopart article, we shall consider the following 5 overarching elements that constitute effective prayers. They are: (1) Praises of God, (2) Thanksgiving, (3) Confession of Sins, (4) Petitions and Lamentations, and (5) Expectations.

Praises of God

The Hebrew title of the Book of Psalms, Tehillim, means “praises”. The Book of Psalms is replete with praises of God. Out of the 150 Psalms, almost all of the Psalms carry a note of praise. This shows that in all the circumstances of life, there are always reasons to praise God in our prayers. In all the ups and downs of life, Christians will never be without occasion to praise God.

One of the common ways by which the psalmists praise God is by simply describing God as He is. For example, God is described by the psalmists as “excellent” (Psalm 8:1), “full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth” (Psalm 86:15).

It must also be mentioned that praises of God are seldom found without referring to God’s deeds. The psalmists would not stop at the adjectives used to describe God, but would go on with what God had done. For example, Psalm 19:1 says that “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.” God’s work in creation continuously shows forth His glory. In Psalm 8, God’s Name is described to be excellent in all the earth. The reason for the excellence of God’s Name is because of God’s condescension to the lowly and humble ones despite His greatness. God is the Creator of the entire universe (Psalm 8:3). Despite His great power, He has condescended to man in making man to have dominion over His works (Psalm 8:6). In Psalm 9:1, the psalmist cried out, “I will praise thee, O LORD, with my whole heart; I will shew forth all thy marvellous works.” The marvellous works related to the deliverance that God had given to the psalmist from his enemies (Psalm 9:3-6).

Christians can learn from this pattern when they praise God. When they praise God for being good and gracious, it is meaningful to complement that with how God has been good and gracious to them in their lives. Descriptions of God’s Being, attributes and deeds go hand in hand in magnifying the great God.

Thanksgiving

The natural progression from praising God is to give thanks for who He is and what He has done. There is always a close association between praising God and giving thanks to Him. Psalm 92:1 says, “It is a good thing to give thanks unto the LORD, and to sing praises unto thy name, O most High”. Psalm 79:13 says, “So we thy people and sheep of thy pasture will give thee thanks for ever: we will shew forth thy praise to all generations.”

The following are examples of how some psalmists were being thankful to God for who He is. When they remembered God’s holiness, they thanked God for it (Psalms 30:4; 97:12). They thanked God for His goodness and enduring mercy (Psalms 118:1; 136:1-3). Our contemplation of God’s wonderful attributes should stir us to give thanks to God for who He is because there is none like Him in the entire world. God is incomparable. Furthermore, the great God has made a covenantal relationship with His people whom He has chosen to save.

The works of God are also reasons for Christians’ thankfulness to Him. Psalm 26:7 says, “That I may publish with the voice of thanksgiving, and tell of all thy wondrous works.” In Psalm 30, the psalmist expressed his gratitude to God, for He had turned his “mourning into dancing” and “hast put off [his] sackcloth, and girded [him] with gladness” (v.11). Likewise, from Psalm 35:18, the psalmist was overwhelmingly thankful to God and expressed it among many people because God had delivered him from his enemies.

Because of who God is and what He has done for His people, Christians must go before Him with a thankful disposition. This is especially so during times of worship. “Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name” (Psalm 100:4). Throughout the week, if Christians constantly meditate on God’s attributes and His deeds, their hearts would surely be filled with thanksgiving. They will then look forward to the day of worship and come before Him with a grateful heart to thank Him. Sometimes, even before the arrival of Sunday worship, a Christian can be overwhelmed by a great sense of gratitude, and would even rise up at midnight to thank God (Psalm 119:62).

(to be continued…)