The disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray.” (Luke 11:1) What follows is known as the Lord’s prayer (Luke 11:2-4). In many ways this prayer is a model for how we pray to God on a regular basis: begin with adoration, move to confession, then thanksgiving, and finally supplication (or requests). The Lord’s prayer is not meant to be the only words we pray, but it is helpful because it provides a roadmap for personal and corporate prayers. I love the Lord’s prayer and say it often, but after being a Christian for many years, I still feel like a beginner when it comes to prayer!
Over the next set of weeks, we will be looking at passages in the Bible that are significant prayers. I’m calling this series “Prayers for Renewal” because my hope is that our study will help us as we pray to the Lord at times during the week, whether in our personal time with God or in groups. Last week Pastor Jarred Oxendine shared Exodus 15:1-21, which is a prayer, or song of praise. It has been preserved so that God’s people can go back to it again and again, singing God’s praise each time.
One thing that has helped me learn how to pray is reading and praying what other people in scripture prayed at various times. This week we look at Psalm 32, which is a prayer of confession to the Lord, as is Psalm 51. These Psalms answers a very important question in our lives, “How do I pray to God when I have sinned or messed up in some way?” Consider the text in Psalm 51:2–3, 9:
“Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me…
Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.”
The Psalmist, David, is admitting his sin and asking God to cleanse his heart. What an honest prayer!
At other times, people prayed and expressed their confidence in God because of a victory, or miraculous intervention on their behalf. In 1 Samuel chapter two, Hannah prayed with boldness, relief, and joy after God answered her prayer to conceive and bear a child with her husband Elkanah. She had suffered years of infertility and had been the subject of many jokes and insults, from Peninnah, Elkanah’s other wife (1 Samuel 1:6-8). Look at the emotion Hannah displays in her prayer from chapter two:
And Hannah prayed and said, “My heart exults in the LORD; my horn is exalted in the LORD.
My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in your salvation…” (1 Samuel 2:1)
What follows is a declaration of thanksgiving and praise to God, who sees the suffering of a person in need and has answered in mercy and grace.
We know from experience and God’s word that God does not always answer prayer according to our wants. There are times when our prayers are really questions to God, or expressions of doubt amid suffering. Consider the following prayer from Habakkuk, which some have called a “prayer of protest”:
Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted. (Habakkuk 1:3-4 ESV)
Habakkuk struggled to understand the purposes of God, especially when evil went unpunished and those who seek to do right are not honored. The rest of the book is Habakkuk listening to God’s response and appealing to God in prayer. (Spoiler alert: by the end of chapter three Habakkuk has gained much needed perspective.)
Prayer is not always us talking to God, it involves waiting, listening to Him and responding to what he shows us. This is the harder part of learning to pray, because we can be uncomfortable with silence, or we can falsely assume that God is not at work because we have not heard a clear answer. Consider Psalm thirty-eight, where the author cries out to God in the midst of distress: (Psalm 38:9-11)
O Lord, all my longing is before you; my sighing is not hidden from you.
My heart throbs; my strength fails me, and the light of my eyes—it also has gone from me.
My friends and companions stand aloof from my plague, and my nearest kin stand far off.
This person wants an answer soon! It is tough to keep waiting on the Lord when we are in distress, but look at the expression of faith in verse fifteen:
But for you, O LORD, do I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer. (Psalm 38:15)
I hope that you will begin to use some of the prayers that we will be studying over the next month or so in your own personal prayer time. Ask the Lord to renew your heart through these prayers, and let’s praise Him and thank Him together in all of our circumstances throughout 2020.