Pastoral 2015

Learning to Pray from the Book of Psalms – Part 2

Written by Pr Andrew Koh Sunday, 07 June 2015

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In the first part of this article, I have pointed out that we can learn precious lessons about praying in a God-pleasing manner from the Book of Psalms. 5 major elements stand out in the prayers recorded in the Psalms: (1) Praises of God, (2) Thanksgiving, (3) Petitions and Lamentations, (4) Confessions of Sins, and (5) Expectations. I have briefly discussed the first two of those elements in the first part; the rest will be deliberated in today’s article.

A Christian praises God when he recollects and describes God’s attributes and deeds. Such efforts from a believer would naturally produce a thanksgiving disposition towards God. To maintain it, one must strive to meditate on God’s attributes and deeds constantly. This article will continue to discuss the remaining three aspects.

Petitions and Lamentations

David, who contributed significantly to the Book of Psalms, was a man who had been thrown into severe difficulties in life even to the point of death. However, because of the extreme afflictions he went through, he was enabled to pen down some wonderful psalms that reflect a believer’s heartfelt cry for God’s help in difficult times. Believers of every generation who go through such trying times can definitely learn much from those psalms which emerged out of afflictions. Their petitions to God would certainly encourage every afflicted child of God to cast himself in prayer to God.

The psalmists, when in distress, called for the attention of God at the very outset of their prayers. They began with phrases like: “Hear me when I call, … and hear my prayer (Psalm 4:1)”; “Give ear to my words, O Lord, consider my meditation. Hearken unto the voice of my cry…” (Psalm 5:1-2); and “Hear the right, O Lord, attend unto my cry, give ear unto my prayer…” (Psalm 17:1). This does not mean that God was previously inattentive to them; nor was He ignorant of their affairs. The calling for God’s attention shows the psalmists’ dependence on Him. They constantly sought to focus on their God rather than their troubles. In other words, they turned away from being preoccupied with their problems by paying attention to God.

Instead of just asking God to remove their afflictions, the psalmists yearned to draw near to God during such times. They were more desirous of the closeness of God (which they prayed for first) than the removal of their afflictions. For example, in Psalm 17, David prayed that God would “keep [him] as the apple of the eye, hide [him] under the shadow of [His] wings” (v. 8), before he asked God to deal with his enemies (v. 13). In Psalm 25, he prayed for God to lead him and patiently waited on Him by remembering His “tender mercies and lovingkindness; for they have been ever of old” (vv. 4-6); then in verse 19, he asked God to “consider” his enemies. Likewise in Psalm 27, he wanted to hide himself in God (v. 5) and seek God’s face (v. 8); only in verse 12 did the psalmist ask God to deliver him from his enemies.

At times, the psalmists in their extreme afflictions seemed to lament and complain to God about what had happened to them. They seemed to slump in despair, having lost hope. Yet by the end of their prayers, their lamentations would incline towards hope in God and praise to Him. In Psalm 6, after questioning God on how long he had to endure his suffering as his soul was “sore vexed” (v. 3), David expresses his agony: “I am weary with my groaning; all the night make I my bed to swim; I water my couch with my tears” (v. 6). However, the psalmist found comfort because of his confidence that God had heard his prayers and supplications (vv. 8-9). In Psalm 13, the psalmist seemed to question how long would God forget and hide from him (v. 1), and also how long his enemies would be exalted over him (v. 2). Yet in the end, the psalmist expressed trust in God and sang unto Him (vv. 5-6). Despite their lamentations, the psalmists constantly expressed their faith and hope in God.

Confessions of Sins

The much-afflicted psalmists would also go through times of selfreflection and soul-searching. They would ask themselves whether they had led a holy life thus far. David cried out in Psalm 7, “O Lord my God, if I have done this; if there be iniquity in my hands; If I have rewarded evil unto him that was at peace with me” (vv. 3, 4a). Likewise, the psalmist of Psalm 77 communed with his “own heart” and his spirit “made diligent search” (v. 6). Affliction was a signal for the psalmists to reflect and discern if it was God’s chastisement to bring them back to Him. They were ready to confess their sins once that was made clear to them during self-reflection.

The psalmists looked to God to convict them of their sins during self-reflection. They pleaded with God to judge them. “The Lord shalljudge the people: judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness” (Psalm 7:8a). “Judge me, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation: O deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man” (Psalm 43:1). “Examine me, O Lord, and prove me; try my reins and my heart.” (Psalm 26:2). At times, the psalmists would also set themselves apart, before God, from the ungodly people around them. “God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day” (Psalm 7:11). “Draw me not away with the wicked, and with the workers of iniquity” (Psalm 28:3a).

There were also times when the psalmists express their determination to keep themselves from the stain of sin. Psalm 17:3 says, “Thou hast proved mine heart; thou hast visited me in the night; Thou hast tried me, and shalt find nothing; I am purposed that my mouth shall not transgress.” In Psalm 26, when David found himself to be innocent after careful self-examination, he desired to come into God’s presence (v. 6) to serve Him by praising Him and to “tell of all [His] wondrous works” (v. 7). This was in stark contrast to Psalm 32, where David found it unbearable to have procrastinated in going to God to confess his sins. He confessed that “When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long. For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: My moisture is turned into the drought of summer. Selah.” (vv. 3-4). Sorrow needs to be expressed in one’s confession of sins, as indicated in Psalm 38:18 – “I will be sorry for my sin.”

The psalmists who went before God to confess their sins pleaded for the mercy of God. They asked that the dealings of God be not according to the measure of their sins. “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions” (Psalm 51:1). They would cry out to God not to deal with them in His fury. “O Lord, rebuke me not in thine anger, neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure.” (Psalm 6:1; cf. Psalm 38:1). It is important to reflect and ask God for forgiveness in prayer, such that one might be humbled and divinely sustained in one’s situation.

Expectations

Very often, the psalmists prayed not because they wanted to change their situations but to change themselves. They were confident of receiving relief after praying because they knew that God would hear them. They left it to God to do what He deemed best for them. When the psalmists cried out for God’s attention, they were sure that their prayers would reach the Most High God. It can be observed that they exhibited full confidence that God would pay attention to them in troublous times. Psalm 4:3b says, “The Lord will hear when I call unto him.” Likewise, Psalm 17:6a says, “I have called upon thee, for thou wilt hear me, O God”.

Even the expectation that God would hear them brought much comfort to the psalmists. The psalmist rejoiced and was glad, “for [God] hast considered [his] trouble; [God] hast known [his] soul in adversities” (Psalm 31:7). The expectation of a believer that God will always be faithful to hear him in his distress will stir his heart to be full of love and gratitude towards God. This can be seen in Psalm 116:1-2, ”I love the Lord, because he hath heard my voice and my supplications. Because he hath inclined his ear unto me, therefore will I call upon him as long as I live.”

It can also be seen from many psalms that the psalmists’ spirits were lifted high before their prayers were ended. Their hearts were no longer turbulent but were stilled although their situations remained the same. When, for instance, David was fleeing from Absalom, he prayed to God in Psalm 3:6, “I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about.” This was despite the fact that David was still fleeing for his life. Again David, in Psalm 4, started his prayer in distress but by the end of his prayer, his heart was reassured: “I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety” (v. 8). A prayer uttered out of an expectant heart pleases God as it speaks of a quiet confidence in the Most High.

Conclusion

Like the psalmists, Christians who go through afflictions in life must not be overwhelmed by their situations, but must instead focus on God by praying. They must be more interested in their intimacy with God while they go through difficulties, rather than the mere removal of their problems. Then Christians will find themselves gravitating towards hope in God and praise of His name even in trouble. Afflictions also call for a time of self-reflection before God. Christians should look for none other judge but God to determine if they have led holy lives thus far. Upon the realisation of sin, Christians can plead before God not to mete out dealings equal to their transgressions by appealing to His attributes of mercy and lovingkindness.

Christians should be full of expectancy when they go to God in prayer, not because they expect God would immediately improve their situations, but simply because they expect their Heavenly Father to hear them. May God help and grant grace to all who wish to learn how to pray in a manner that is pleasing to Him.