Prayers and Resolutions
Prayers and Resolutions
Do You Think God hears? 1 – 3
I was on the phone the other day in my car, driving to Strathalbyn. I had the hands free kit, it was all legal, and I was talking merrily away, and after a while I realised, the other person was no longer there, and I was just talking to myself.
Perhaps you’ve had a similar experience, maybe driving to Strath, but maybe even in your prayers, speaking to God.
And the problem isn’t that the line gets disconnected, but that we feel like we’re disconnected.
We wonder, if we really are speaking to someone.
Perhaps you’ve even been in that situation, where you’re praying, and then suddenly wonder, is anyone actually there?
Well David, was the king of Israel around 1000 BC, and he was absolutely convinced, that when he prays, God hears.
1Give ear to my words, O Lord,
consider my sighing.
2Listen to my cry for help,
my King and my God,
for to you I pray.
3In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice;
in the morning I lay my requests before you
and wait in expectation.
O Lord, you hear my voice, I wait in expectation.
“I Pray, and then I wait for God to respond.”
And did you notice his language?, He prays to my king, and my God.
David’s not someone stumbling around in the dark, “I know you’re out there somewhere God, creator, spirit, force , , whoever you are”,
You know when little kids go away on holidays at Christmas time, and they want to leave a note for Father Christmas at their house, so that he knows they’ve gone to Goolwa for the week, otherwise they’ll miss out on getting their presents!
That’s not David.
He’s not kind of hoping to pop up on God’s radar, “Ooh, I’m getting a prayer., This one’s from David.
David, David, Do we know any Davids?”
David prays on the basis of an existing relationship.
When we spent a few weeks looking at some of the prayers in the Bible last year, we called that teaching series “More Than Words”, because what’s unique and significant about Christian prayer, is not the words, but the God to whom we pray.
And so for David, like for the person today who’s been brought in to relationship with God through Jesus Christ, prayer is personal communication with someone that we know.
But I suspect, if you’re a “normal” Christian, and we all think we’re normal, don’t we?! perhaps at some point, you just haven’t had the words to pray.
At a loss for words
A couple of times I’ve been at weddings, and someone’s got up to make a speech, and they say something like, “We pray for the bride and groom, everything they wish for themselves.”
Which, you know, sounds nice, but when you think about it, really is a stupid thing to say. I don’t say anything at the wedding, it’s considered poor form for the minister to critique the speeches apparently!
But “We pray, whatever they wish for themselves”, what does that say?
We have no idea what’s good for them?
We have no higher hopes for their lives, other than what they’ve thought of themselves?
We don’t want them to be challenged beyond their own ideas, so we’re not going to pray anything other than what they already know and want?
I’m sorry if you’ve prayed that at someone’s wedding! But while saying that at a wedding, is most often, inexcusable, but there are times, when not having the words to pray is, well it’s just the reality, isn’t it?
And if you’ve ever, not known where to start, and you can’t put the words together,
Or you don’t know really what you should be praying for,
If that’s ever been you, then be encouraged by the way David describes his prayers.
He’s the king of Israel, the leader of God’s covenant people, and yet did you notice how he describes his prayers?
Give ear to my words,
consider my sighing.
Listen to my cry for help,
While prayer is by definition, speaking to God, such is David’s relationship with God, that he knows he’s heard, even when he can’t string all the words together.
It’s not just you!
Maybe there’s someone who knows you so well, that you don’t even need to speak, and they know what you’re thinking.
Often, actually, it’s a humorous thing, isn’t it? Something that you both know is funny, and you’re out in public, and it’s always the most inappropriate time, and you think, “I’m not even going to look at that person because if I do, we will both dissolve in laughter.
David is convinced, that his God knows him so well, and knows his needs so well, that he doesn’t even need to get the words out.
Now, we need to be careful trying to extrapolate from that experience we might have had with a friend, to our relationship with God, but in fact, in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul writes of the experience of Christian people who struggle in prayer, Romans 8:26, In the same way, he writes, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express, or perhaps a better translation is with words “unspoken.”
We don’t know the words to pray, but the Spirit of God who dwells in all believers, takes those, those inexpressible longings, to know and do the will of God, and presents them to God.
We can’t plumb the depths of God’s heart.
We don’t know the specifics of what he has in store for us,
And yet not knowing all the details, not having all the words, doesn’t mean we can’t pray.
We know that God hears our cries and our sighs, and the Spirit of God Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will, Romans 8:27
Despite what we may at times feel about prayer, the reality is, it’s never just talking with no one there, even the cries and sighs are heard.
Now I grew up in the Baptist Church and the Churches of Christ. But a number of years ago I started working in the Anglican Parish of Magill, and working in the Anglican church was really an eye opener for me!
My first day in the office was a Tuesday. I’d no sooner arrived and found my desk, when another member of staff asked if I was ready for the morning service.
I’d never heard of anyone having a church service on a Tuesday morning before, so I just nodded and followed, and we sat down in a meeting room and with the 4 or 5 other staff, we then proceeded to have what I now know is called “morning prayer.”
And this Psalm, Psalm 5, is often called “Morning Prayer”.
So like the Anglicans have their liturgy for morning prayer, in the Jewish religion that centred on the temple built after the Israelites returned from exile in the 6th Century BC, Psalm 5 formed part of that community’s pattern of morning prayer.
It was part of the liturgy for prayer everyday.
And it’s easy to see why Israel after the time of David would use this psalm like that, Because it’s a reflection of David’s own morning prayers.
In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice;
in the morning I lay my requests before you
David’s habit, is to pray in the mornings. I’m sure he prayed at other times too! But there’s something special and deliberate about the time he set aside in the mornings.
One day this week I spent 28 minutes on hold with the call centre for our bank. And the whole time I was waiting, I kept thinking, if only I’d called in the morning instead of waiting until the afternoon, someone would actually have been available to answer my call!
But of course that’s not why David prays in the morning, It’s not that prayers prayed before midday are more likely to be answered than prayers prayed after midday!
But it says something about the priority of prayer in his life.
Before he gets on to anything else, David prays to his God, he lays his requests before him.
Now I don’t for a minute, want to say “we must always pray in the morning”, “if you’re not praying in the morning then prayer isn’t your priority” or anything like that.
I’m a husband, a father of 3,
I find myself overly busy, probably more often than I should, sometimes I just struggle to make time in the morning for more than just a few words of prayer, so I have as many selfish reasons as anyone for not wanting to be legalistic about this,
And yet, I couldn’t help but wonder as I reflected on this Psalm this last week, whether perhaps I ought to make it more of a priority to pray in the morning, again not because the prayers are better or more effective or anything like that, but because if I make sure I give due time to prayer in the morning, it won’t get squeezed out later in the day when unexpected interruptions throw out my plans.
And lest we think “Well, I’m too busy, to pray in the morning”, as Jackson Brown said in his New York Times bestseller “Life’s Little Instruction Book” Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Louis Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo Da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson and Albert Einstein.
We could add, the same number of hours per day as were given to David, King of Israel, who prayed each morning,
And to Jesus, the Son of God, who we’re told repeatedly in the New Testament, went off by himself, early, while it was still dark, in order to pray.
Again, let’s not be legalistic about this, God isn’t the call centre, where you’ve got to get up early if you want to get through.
But maybe if you’re looking for a new year’s resolution that is actually worth keeping and worth working hard at, maybe it’s to make some changes to your day, and to give some good time each morning to prayer, to make sure that it actually happens.
Hating what God hates 4 – 6
Well we’re not going to spend the same amount of time on each section as we just have on the first 3 verses, but if you look at the Psalm, in your Bibles there, you’ll see that in the first and last section, or stanza, David is addressing God, looking directly at God, but in stanzas 2 and 4, he’s still praying to God, but he’s
kind of looking sideways at the people around him.
This is what prayers in youth group are like, people praying, but casting furtive glances sideways!
But David, while he’s praying, looks sideways at people around him, and then aware of their evil ways, he makes mention of them in his prayer.
And so in verses 4 to 6, David distinguishes himself, from these people whose loves are just awful.
Our NIV Bibles do us a little bit of a disservice here, because they leave out some important words. Verse 4, begins with the word for. If you have a Bible, like the English Standard Version, you’ll see the “for” there and at the beginning of verse 9 also, so if we were to read from verse 3,
In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice;
in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.
4 For, you are not a God who takes pleasure in evil;
with you the wicked cannot dwell.
Do you see how the connection works?
David is differentiating himself from the wicked, those who take pleasure in evil, because God doesn’t hear their prayers, they can’t even stand in God’s presence, verse 5.
And the language gets stronger and stronger as he reflects on God’s view of evil.
First it’s, not taking pleasure
Then God hates,
Then God destroys.
It’s like David is becoming more and more convinced at how seriously God takes sin, and he wants to say, “I hate what you hate.”
We have some friends who are heading off to Ridley Theological College in Melbourne in a couple of weeks, to get better equipped to serve God’s church, and so we caught up to say goodbye.
And in the conversation, our friends described how, when their kids were little and just getting mobile, they put tape across the door to the kitchen, across the door to the laundry, to show the kids children where they could and couldn’t go.
And one of these little kids, learnt what it meant, you weren’t allowed to go there, .
There’d be a consequence, if you went over the line,
And so this 9 month old would slide along the floor, right up to the very edge of the line, and park herself there, right absolutely as far as she could possibly go, without actually stepping over the line.
Often, sadly, that’s our approach to sin.
We wonder, how close can I possibly get?,
How much sin can I get away with?
What is the point at which this really starts to matter, when I can’t just sweep it under the carpet any more, or pretend I don’t have a problem in this area, and so once I decide in my mind what that point is, and usually it is just an arbitrary point we choose, well I’ll stop just before I get there, right up to the line, and then everything will be good.
But David hated sin, because he knew that God hates sin.
It’s not that David was sin-less, we know he wasn’t!
But he didn’t want to be counted among those who love what God hates.
And we who live this side of the cross of Jesus, have even more reason to hate sin, because we see its full terrible cost.
We use so many euphemisms, to describe sin, to make it sound less than it is.
My current peeve, is that we speak of an “affair”, when what we really mean is “adultery.”
“An affair” sounds so insignificant, and minor, and pleasant,
What’s that phrase?, “lipstick on a pig.” It’s still a pig.
Call it what you will, but sin, rebellion against God, rejection of God’s chosen king and his pattern for life, still sent the son of God to die on a Roman cross.
Sin has an horrific cost,
Sin has a penalty,
And we see it so much more clearly even than David.
So I wonder if there’s another possible New Year’s Resolution for us, Develop a hatred of sin. Not that we hate people who sin, not for a moment, but that we become intolerant of sin: The sin we see in our own lives,
The sin we see around us every day, no longer willing to stand by and think “this doesn’t matter.”
Do we need to work hard to become more like David, and learn to hate what God hates?
Because this is one more layer, if you like, of David’s reason for confidence in his prayers, he says, “I pray and expect and answer, because I know that you are a God who hates evil, and I’m not like that, I’m not one of those people who can’t even come into your presence”
Which, on the face of it, might sound like a pretty arrogant thing to say,
But we see in the next section that David’s identification of himself as different to those who have no place in God’s presence is not arrogance, but simply a recognition of what God has done for him.
Approaching God by mercy 7 – 8
But I, by your great mercy,
will come into your house;
in reverence will I bow down
toward your holy temple.
See David’s contrast isn’t “me great them terrible”, just like that should never be the attitude of a Christian person, but David knows the difference between him and the people he sees who oppose God, is that he has been made right with God, only by God’s grace.
He can come into God’s house, probably both the Tabernacle, the tent that was the centre of worship for Israel in David’s day, but also symbolically God’s presence, he can enter in, as one of the other Bible translations puts it, only through the abundance of your steadfast love,
Those people who have made themselves God’s enemies, they’re excluded from God’s presence because of their rebellion against him, but that doesn’t mean that David is welcomed into God’s presence because of his good behaviour towards God.
Even David, the king of Israel,
The one God described as “A man after my own heart”, even he can’t stand before God on his merits, but only by God’s grace, his undeserved kindness
You might know Charles Wesley’s 18th Century hymn, “And Can it Be”, which speaks of the mystery of sinful people, being drawn to God through Jesus Christ.
He left His Father’s throne above
So free, so infinite His grace—
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!
So if there’s a resolution here for us, maybe it’s that we need to stop trying to stand before God on our merits, but to throw ourselves on God’s mercy, and to accept the free gift of himself that he offers.
If you’re not someone who’s trusting in Jesus for forgiveness and a right relationship with God, can I say to you, if God’s chosen king, of God’s chosen nation, couldn’t be accepted by God on his own merit or by his own efforts, how do I put this politely? – What chance do you think you have?
But that doesn’t mean God is unreachable. Rather God reaches out, in mercy, and through Jesus has done everything necessary for your sin and rebellion to be removed forever.
Maybe you are a Christian, but the temptation is to keep thinking, “I’ve got to do something, I’ve got to earn this somehow”, and so you get distracted from living the Christian life by trying to work your way into God’s good books!
That hymn from Wesley, the next verse, draws on the experience of the Apostle Peter being miraculously released from prison in Acts 12, and uses that as a metaphor for God’s gracious, saving work in our lives.
Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I sat there, trying to figure out how to earn my place with thee . !
That’s not what Wesley wrote is it?
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee
Words that matter 9 - 10
OK, so we’ve got time for another very quick sideways glance, with David, at the lives of those opposed to God.
In verse 8 we’re told that these people are David’s enemies, that is, these people have set themselves up against God’s anointed king, and as we’ve seen before in the Psalms we can’t just assume these words are true of people who we think are our enemies.
But there is a really important lesson for us here.
Verse 9, 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.
I remember once reading an old C S Lewis book about the Psalms, and he was reflecting particularly on the attention given to wicked and sinful words in the Psalms.
Like verse 9, is all about words.
And Lewis had imagined, that 3000 years ago, “in a simpler and more violent age, when more evil was done with the knife, the big stick and the firebrand, less evil would be done by talk.”
And that probably fits with our picture of life a thousand years BC, why worry about talk, when people would lay traps for you, and governments were anything but civil
But in fact if we look through the Psalms, there is hardly any kind of evil, presented as more common, more hurtful, more dangerous, than the evil of the tongue.
These people, their mouths are open graves, their words lead to death, their words rob people of the will to live and the hope for life.
And some translations actually, instead of the word “deceit” there in verse 9, speak of “flattery”, which so often for us, we think of positively, and yet the fact that here’s one word that could be translated in those 2 ways, should say to us, this is a dangerous area.
When does flattery become deceit?
Do people think that my words can be trusted?
If I’m a follower of the man who described himself as “the truth”, what does that imply, demand of my speech.
So here perhaps, a useful New Year’s resolution might be in the words of 1 Peter 3:10, keep my tongue from evil and my lips from deceitful speech. Which Peter actually quotes from Psalm 34.
Again, for the Christian person, I think it’s a matter of saying, not, “how close to the line can we go?”, but how do I make sure I’m as far from this as I can be?
How do I take steps to make sure that my speech, doesn’t become just like the speech of those who hate God and his chosen king.
Praying for Protection
And then David then draws things to a close,
Verse 11, 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.
12 For surely, O Lord, you bless the righteous;
you surround them with your favor as with a shield.
David prays to his God, for protection.
And, as God’s chosen king for Israel, that was something pretty important.
The welfare of all God’s people doesn’t depend on our well-being, as it did in David’s case.
And God doesn’t promise that we’ll be spared physical persecution and suffering, just ask the millions of Christians around the world, who every day suffer for their faith in Jesus.
But we can pray for God’s protection, for refuge.
But do you see that prayer is not just “protect me from those who would do evil, but protect me from becoming like them.
Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness, verse 8,
Make straight your way before me,
Isn’t that a great thing to pray?
Especially since, again we’re missing a word in verse 9, make straight your way before me, for, not a word from their mouth can be trusted.
We ask God to protect us, because, those who are opposed to God make their way of life seem so appealing,
The case against living in a way that pleases God, can seem so strong and convincing at times, and yet when those words flow out of a heart that is so opposed to God, David says, not a single word can be trusted, so Lord, make straight your way before me.
So here’s my final suggestion for a New Year’s Resolution,
In our prayers, let’s ask God, not just to protect us from the evil of others, but to guard us against the temptation, to join in that evil,
To guard us against the temptation to soften our view of sin.
To guard us against the temptation to think my speech doesn’t matter.
Ask God to make his way straight,
That we might know the joy, of being God’s people.