God and Us: The How and Why of Prayer
This evening we begin a series of four sessions exploring
prayer. I want us to begin by getting our bearings on prayer from Psalm 5. Please
turn to it with me if you will (page 544). There are three essential questions
which this Psalm answers when we consider prayer. We are told,
1. When to Intercede 5:1-3
2. How to Intercede 5:4-7
3. What to Intercede 5:8-12
1. When to Intercede 5:1-3
When should we pray? "Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my sighing. Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray. In the morning, O LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation." When is it best to intercede? David tells us intercessory prayer should be offered spontaneously 5:1, but also at a specific time 5:3.
- when ever you feel like it 5:1
When ever you feel like sighing, turn your anxiety, your concern, that heaviness of heart into a prayer. Intercession can be in words but also in sighing, says David. When you watch the news on the TV or hear it on the radio do you ever feel helpless? powerless? this big?
Billy Graham always used to say that he used the daily news reports as a time of intercession, turning each drama and crisis around the world into a prayer of intercession. Watching or listening to the news need never be something passive. It becomes something we can actually participate in.
News making, not just history. Notice also the words David uses to describe his intercessions. "words" and "sighings". Spurgeon once said, "Words are not the essence of prayer but the garments". And sometimes prayers don't need any clothes. When you don't know how to pray, the Holy Spirit will do it with you, for you, sighing is enough.
So pray spontaneously when you feel like it with or without words. But we are also shown that its important to pray,
- especially when we don't feel like it 5:3
"In the morning, O LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation."
How does your day begin? Do you start with a scramble, in a flurry, half an hour late? Do you begin the day trying to do three things at the same time? Do you find yourself short of breath, short of temper, impatient with your partner, scolding the children, anxious, unable to cope, all before 8:00am?
Do you go out into the day unprepared, ill-equipped, not altogether confident of what lies ahead of you? The reason is simple, apart from perhaps being too late to bed, it may be because you have not started the day properly.
The first thing David did each morning was to lift his voice to the Lord. His first words of the day were addressed to God not other people. Nor was this merely something habitual or mechanical. He says, "In the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation." David says something similar in Psalm 143:8
"Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul." What a wise way to begin the day. Laying your day before Him. Set out before Him the things you are going to have to do. Commit to Him the problems, the difficulties you anticipate. Pray for wisdom, direction and strength, then like David you will be able to wait in expectation. Life becomes an exciting adventure when you have offered the day to the Lord.
You can go out to meet it confidently expecting Him to lead
and guide. There is a Greek proverb which says "The beginning is half of
the whole." The way we begin each day invariably determins all that will
follow. So begin each day by letting God hear your voice. First question? When
to Intercede? Intercede spontaneously and specifically. Second question.
2. How to Intercede 5:4-7
How should we pray? Verse 4. "You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil; with you the wicked cannot dwell. The arrogant cannot stand in your presence; you hate all who do wrong. You destroy those who tell lies; bloodthirsty and deceitful men the LORD abhors. But I, by your great mercy, will come into your house; in reverence will I bow down toward your holy temple." Here we are told three things about how to intercede.
2.1 Respectful because of who God is 5:4-5
"You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil; with you the wicked cannot dwell."
Recognition because of what God does 5:6
"You destroy those who tell lies; bloodthirsty and deceitful men the LORD abhors."
2.3 Reverential because of who we are 5:7
"But I, by your great mercy, will come into your house; in reverence will I bow down toward your holy temple."
This is how to intercede - with respect for who God is - Holy and right, recognizing what God does - he punishes evil, and with reverence knowing who we are - subjects of his mercy. The first two questions answered? When to intercede and how to intercede. The third question David answers is,
3. What to Intercede 5:8-12
What should we pray about? Do you ever get tongue tide? Run out of ideas? Well here are a few ingredients for starters.
"Lead me, O LORD, in your righteousness because of my enemies--make straight your way before me. Not a word from their mouth can be trusted; their heart is filled with destruction. Their throat is an open grave; with their tongue they speak deceit. Declare them guilty, O God! Let their intrigues be their downfall. Banish them for their many sins, for they have rebelled against you. But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you. For surely, O LORD, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favour as with a shield."
Lets just pick out three ideas from these verses to intercede for.
3.1 Guidance for ourselves 5:8
"Lead me, O LORD, in your righteousness because of my enemies--make straight your way before me." This must be our constant prayer for ourselves. Why? Because we are not righteous without God's help.
Righteousness isn't something with thirty shades or grades. It simply means to be in the right. To be right with God. Remembers that verse from Psalm 143. Let me repeat it, "Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul." We are told to pray not just for guidance, but guidance in righteousness, in Christ-likeness, on His path, in His way. This is more important than guidance in a career or guidance for a partner. Guidance in righteousness for ourselves.
for evil doers 5:10
"Declare them guilty, O God! Let their intrigues be their downfall. Banish them for their many sins, for they have rebelled against you."
You may feel uncomfortable praying like this, but is that because we have become compromised, blurring the distinctions between good and evil? When you watch the news on TV and the report is about another atrocity in Bosnia or Iraq what do you do? Feeling helpless do you slip into passive resignation and mentally switch off or feeling saturated do you switch over to another channel. In the face of evil in the world, intercession is something constructive that we can do.
We can pray that a man like Melosovich is brought to his knees in repentance, repentance or removal, the quicker the better. Do you believe God can do it?
Ten years ago would you have believed he would end the rule of communism in Russia, apartheid in South Africa, Israel sit down with the PLO? the end to the arms race, and the cold war, all so quickly, so peacefully? God answers prayer.
David says that God hates evil. Do we? First in ourselves, then in others. When we do, we can pray like this. What should we intercede for? Righteousness for ourselves, justice for evil doers and thirdly,
for the righteous 5:11-12
"But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you. For surely, O LORD, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favour as with a shield."
3.3.1 Security through Blessing
David was sure of one thing. God blesses the righteous. We need to be no less sure. Today many sources to which we look for security and certainty have failed us. Trusted political and financial institutions are crumbling around us. Ironically in Israel, the greatest threat to the peace talks is the disintegration of the Labour government coalition. The conservatives would never negotiate with the PLO.
The labour party only won because they did a pact with a small religious right wing party, and they of all people are being indicted by the Israeli High Court on corruption charges. What ever happens in Israel, one thing is certain, God blesses the righteous. This simple, unchanging fact has important practical implications for the way we live. On the one hand, we need to devote less time and effort to making provision for material security. On the other hand we need to be more concerned about making sure our lives are right before God; that we qualify for that blessing of the Lord which he reserves for the righteous and only the righteous.
3.3.2 Security through Protection
The blessing of the Lord also brings His protection with it. David observes, "For surely, O LORD, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favour as with a shield." When we thirst for His righteousness, God's favour encircles us like a shield on all sides. I remember the first day Michael was able to sit up without any support. He was still a little wobbly and after a few minutes was liable to lose his concentration and keel over onto the cushions that surround him. But I sat on the floor with him working, and I sat him in front of him, with my legs around him so that he couldn't fall over. That's the imagery we have here. God's protection surrounding us like a shield on all sides. Shielding us against the blows and the pressures of life.
Coming between us and the forces of evil that would want to destroy us. Forces too powerful and cunning for us to deal with in our own strength or wisdom. We have no protection against these forces except the invisible yet invincible shield that is the Lord's favour.
At the heart of worship is intercession. When to intercede? When we feel like it and when we don't, with words and without. How to intercede? With respect for who God is - Holy and right, recognizing what God does - he punishes evil, and with reverence knowing who we are - subjects of his mercy. What to intercede? Praying for righteousness for ourselves; justice for evil doers, and security for the righteous. In the light of these unchanging laws that govern the universe, we need to examine our priorities. Righteousness pays better and offers more enduring dividends than cleverness, expediency or self interest.
Let us bow our heads in worship, lets pray.......
"Help me Lord to be more concerned about righteousness than about success or popularity, and help me to intercede more realistically for others and myself in the future, as I understand more about worship. In Jesus name. Amen"
I am grateful to Warren Wersbie for material used in this talk.