Two Ways of Praying
The opening verses of Psalm 25 pose a very personal question to me. That question is, ‘What do some people think about my faith in God when my family and I are in obvious need of miracles?’ King David was in need of a similar miracle. He prayers, ‘Let me not be put to shame.’ God, don’t let my trust in you be put to shame. Don’t let my faith in you be put to shame. Don’t let my prayers to you be put to shame. That plea is followed by ‘let not my enemies exult over me.’ I have met people who seem to delight in the suffering of Christians. Some of you have had co-workers sit in waiting for you to act contrary to your faith so that they can mock you. What is worse are Christians who play oneupmanship in comparison to other Christians!
Psalm 25 prays through the question ‘How can God use our troubles for his glory and his name’s sake?’ That is a question worthy of prayerful meditation. The short answer is that God will redeem not only us, but every trouble we go through as we submit to his ways.
1. Psalm 25: 1–7 THE BEGINNINGS OF PRAYER
The first section of Psalm 25 is about the beginnings of prayer. Using God’s name is one thing. Praying to him rightly is another. Psalm 25 teaches that when troubles come there are two ways to pray, our way or God’s way. Only God’s way is Christian prayer. King David had tired his way and it did not work. He needed to learn to pray God’s way. He prayed to God that he would vindicate him over against his enemies. He asked God to not remember his sins. He prayed that God would be his guide; today we would say that he asked God to be his Life Coach. These first verses teach us that prayer involves waiting on God and letting him be the judge of all things. Let’s hear verses 1-7:
To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
O my God, in you I trust;
let me not be put to shame;
let not my enemies exult over me.
Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame;
they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all the day long.
Remember your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for the sake of your goodness, O Lord!
Waiting on God
Prayer involves patience to wait on God. We wait on him so that we can hear what he wants to tell us. To hear him we must first listen. Listening involves waiting with an intent to hear God. Listening is what makes prayer a two way conversation. God speaks, we listens; God listens, we speak.
David had started off extremely well as a young king in waiting. He had a prayerful disposition to wait on God with an ear to hear and obey exactly what God said. He refused to act against God even when he had opportunity to smite his enemies. As time went on life became a lot more complex for him. He had tried to get his way with another woman. That didn’t go unnoticed and made his life complicated. It became harder and harder for him to hold his family together. He had enemies inside as well as outside of his family.
I don’t doubt that King David had ‘tried’ praying. In that sense David was not that different from us. I ‘try’ prayer too. I talk to myself throughout the day. I think that I am praying. Then I realise that God may not share my perspective on the issue or person I am mumbling about. At that point I need to repent.
We cannot mutter a word to God without first doing a heart check. That is not navel gazing. Repentance is keeping our eyes front and on God. There is nothing better than to lift our eyes toward God and put our trust in him.
Jesus told the disciples to wait for the Holy Spirt to give them Power from on High. We can do a lot worse than wait on God to answer our prayers. God’s timing is impeccable. He carried out his every covenant promise and prophecy with precision timing.
Like David, we need to repent of taking things into our own hands. We need to let go of impatience, repent of doing things our way, and not waiting on God. We need to repent of moving ahead of the Holy Spirit’s leading. When we repent, God’s forgiveness is there for us. With his forgiveness comes the promise, ‘Indeed, none who wait for God shall be put to shame.’
Letting God be the Judge
If waiting on God seems difficult, letting him be the judge is even harder. Let me explain. In order to understand and fix things (our way) we make judgments about people, and the troubling situations we face. Our judgments determine how we pray. When we make a judgment about a person or situation, we become fixated on what we think should happen. We even judge God – for being slow, for not answering prayers, and so on. When we bring our judgments into the prayer waiting room we are not able to hear what God wants to say or do. This is because we have predetermined the outcome of our prayers by our judgments.
What creates anxiety in prayer is our inclination to judge. It is not our waiting on God that creates anxiety. Our physical and mental health can be greatly affected because of the judgments we pass on others and ourselves. It is interesting that St Paul said he did not even judge himself. Whether we judge ourselves, others, or a troubling circumstance we play God and prevent him from being the judge. That is a hinderance to prayer, because we stand in the way of God. God is the best judge in all matters. So the way to go is to hold back on forming judgments about people and our troubles, and let God be God.
There are two ways to pray: our way or God’s way. There is a big difference between the two. We are to wait on God and let him be the judge. All that leaves for us is to pray. What a relief!
2. Psalm 25: 8–14 INCREASING INTIMACY WITH GOD
Part two of Psalm 25 gives us insights on intimacy with God through prayer. David relied on the goodness of God to answer his prayer. He confessed his sin and humbled himself before God to obey his covenants. He knew that humility and obedience precede intimacy with God. Intimacy with God is critical to prayer.
Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble his way.
All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.
For your name’s sake, O Lord,
pardon my guilt, for it is great.
Who is the man who fears the Lord?
Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose.
His soul shall abide in well-being,
and his offspring shall inherit the land.
The friendship (secret counsel) of the Lord is for those who fear him,
and he makes known to them his covenant.
Prayer is concerned with God’s Reputation
We learn from these verses that prayer is concerned with God’s reputation not ours. One of the things we all dislike is when someone we talk with constantly talks about themselves. We can fall into this trap ourselves, even in prayer. When we shift the focus from God to ourselves it interferes with our relationship with God. It also prevents him from helping us.
In Psalm 25 David shifted his focus off himself and his troubles on to the goodness of God, his Saviour and Redeemer. He did not dwell on the details of his troubles. Nor should we. This is not a matter of telling someone to count their blessings. We need to listen to each other’s perceptions of our troubles so that we can discern the causes of our mis-judgments. Then we can shift our focus back onto God and his goodness. David came to relearn God’s goodness because he knew that God was good and would keep his promises. We can only understand how God works when we have such a clear picture of how good he is.
David had repeatedly experienced God’s goodness. We also know that God is good because Jesus revealed the Father to us. Jesus embodied everything we are speaking about in this sermon. Then he showed his love and his Father’s love for us by dying in our place. How good is God our Saviour!
As we pray through our troubles with a focus on God’s name and his goodness we gain direction for how to pray. Focusing on God’s name and his goodness spares us from the delusion that every thought that we have is prayer.
The Heart of Prayer is Confession
We also learn from these verses that the heart of prayer is confession. We confess our faith and we confess our sin. The two are inseparable because we believe in a forgiving God who does not exact vengeance upon us, nor impose ‘impossible laws’ upon us.
- Confession of our sin and of our faith in God keeps our hearts right with him. It makes sure that we keep our focus on his goodness, his promises of faithfulness, his long-standing mercy, his steadfast love. Prayerful hearts are hearts full of God and not hearts full of ourselves. Confession empties our hearts of ourselves and fills our hearts with God’s love and forgiveness.
The quality of our prayers has nothing to do with eloquence. It has everything to do with trusting God’s goodness. If we doubt his goodness, then our prayers will be despairing. I have been there, done that, and think I am fed up with it. (Do I have any friends?) God is good; he redeemed his people out of Egypt, then out of Babylon, then from the cross! God forgives sin and answers prayer in his name for the sake of his reputation as a forgiving God.
Prayer is the Language of the Humble
Another lesson we learn from these verses is that prayer is the language of the humble, teachable and obedient child of God. For us to have anything to say to God we need to empty ourselves of our own self-importance. That includes our own opinions on matters. This is so that God can give us the prayer language of the humble.
David knew that to get out of trouble and enjoy God’s blessings he needed to do things God’s way. He needed to keep God’s covenants (V 9-13). Like David, we need to humbly take correction from God, seek his ways, and obey his covenants. We do this, not for reward; rather motivated by God’s love. Again, there are two ways to attempt conversation with God, the language of the proud or the language of the humble. Only one is prayer.
Intimacy with God
With his heart set on prayer, King David understood that intimacy with God required a conscious effort on his part to learn more of the truths and ways of God. Intimacy with God is not something that just happens. It is critical to prayer. There are things we can do to grow intimacy with God.
To grow intimacy with God we need to ask him for direction. Rather than focusing on answered prayer it may be more helpful to think about directed prayer. That is prayer in which God leads or directs us to pray. We need to ask God for directions on to how to pray. What does God want for this person? What does this person need? God, how do you want me to pray for this situation? This is how God directs us in prayer.
David asked God for directions when he prayed that God lead him, guide him and teach him. Asking for direction is not the same as asking for suggestions. We can take or leave suggestions. If your boss provides a suggestion box most of the suggestions will probably be discarded. On the other hand, if he gives directions he usually expects you to follow them.
To experience intimacy with God we also need to ask him for forgiveness (V 11). When we forgive each other we have intimacy, for into me you see. In the same way, when God forgives us our sin and guilt we experience intimacy with him, for he sees into our heart, and we see into his heart.
A major step toward intimacy with God is that we learn to fear and love him. Intimacy increases through the fear of God (V 12 & 13). Where there is a healthy fear and respect then relationships blossom and people get to enjoy the blessings of those relationships. This is how it also works in our relationship with God (V 13).
Intimacy with God also comes as we trust him more and more. As we trust him more he gives us further insight into his truth and ways. Intimacy increases through the sharing of confidences (V 14). That is what friends do – they share confidences.
Jesus said, ‘I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you’ (John 15: 14, 15). God delights to take us into his heavenly board room or before his throne to give us his counsel. He desires to share friendship with us. We can confidently expect that he will give us his counsel and prosper our homes in relation to him (V 13).
3. Psalm 25: 15–21 TROUBLES ARE THE CRUCIBLE OF PRAYER
In the third part of Psalm 25, verses 15-21, David prays for deliverance from his troubles, about his loneliness and about his enemies. He knew that his troubles were opportunities for God to teach him his ways. Troubles are the crucible of prayer.
My eyes are ever toward the Lord,
for he will pluck my feet out of the net.
Turn to me and be gracious to me,
for I am lonely and afflicted.
The troubles of my heart are enlarged;
bring me out of my distresses.
Consider my affliction and my trouble,
and forgive all my sins.
Consider how many are my foes,
and with what violent hatred they hate me.
Oh, guard my soul, and deliver me!
Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.
May integrity and uprightness preserve me,
for I wait for you.
We get to know people by how they handle adversity. I think of great passages in the Bible like Romans 5: 1-5 and 1 Peter 1: 5,6 which teach how suffering produces character. Despite all that David went through he did not wallow in self-pity. He learned that troubles are the way God gets our attention so that we can rededicate ourselves to him (V 20, 21). Therefore his depiction of his troubles are minuscule. If there is a blessing to be gained from the troubles we experience it is that they are the crucible of prayer in which our soul comes to rest in God and experience his goodness.
4. Psalm 25: 22 THE BEST PRAYERS ARE COMMUNAL
In verse 22 David prayed for all God’s people. Our best prayers are personal not private. They are not self-centered. They are not selfish. They are communal prayers that take up needs which we share in common with others. David recognised how his own troubles had a bearing on the well-being of those he served as king. So he prayed for them as well.
Redeem Israel, O God,
out of all his troubles.
We do exist in community with all of God’s people, not apart from them. What we experience individually reflects the experience of others. Just as Israel is the name of a singular person which was given to the whole people of God, so we understand that the best prayers we pray are not our’s alone. They are the communal prayers of all God’s people. This is why the Psalms are central to scripture and central to the Christian’s prayer life. The struggles each of us go through personally provide the substance for the very prayers that we are called to pray on behalf of others, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Let’s summarise what we have learned about prayer: The big idea in this sermon has been that when trouble comes there is nothing better than to lift our souls and eyes toward God to put our trust in him. God reveals himself and his ways to all who fear him. Fearing God is how we become God’s friends whom he then takes into his counsel. When we have God’s ear he will guide us and deliver us from troubles. He will also use, and even redeem those troubles for his name’s sake, even as he redeemed us in the first place. The humble receive God’s promises of divine intervention, forgiveness, guidance, security, friendship, deliverance and salvation. When we know God intimately as friends, we can learn how he works in any situation or circumstance.
By the way, there was a secret buried in Psalm 25 – was buried! It is no longer buried. And that is very good news. Not only did Jesus pray Psalm 25. It is also a Psalm that looked forward to Jesus showing us the ways of God and teaching us the truths of God. Jesus is the one who lifted the lid off the covenant secrets of God, so that we could teach and learn them (V 12, 14) and glow in their glory. It is a Psalm that expects Jesus, who was still to come, to fulfil its heart yearnings. Jesus did come. And he said of himself, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’ (John 14: 6). As we pray to the Father in Jesus’ name, we can pray confidently, fervently, and expectantly. His help comes undeserved but not unexpected. We do not deserve his help, but we can expect it because he has promised to help in time of need, in Jesus’ name, for Jesus’ sake.
Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame;
they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
Let us ‘fear and love God so that… we call on him in every trouble, in prayer, praise and thanksgiving.’