A Motivation of Praise

When you pray and ask the Lord for good, what reason do you give to the Lord? Often when we ask God to please do something, we add to that request a “because.” WE ask God to heal a sick mom, because she has little ones who need her. We ask God to provide for our financial need, because we want to be able to continue to honor him in all our dealings.

It is interesting, when we look at Scripture, to see the motivation that is behind many a prayer. It is not the same as is often prominent in today’s world.

Psalm 6:4-5

4 Turn, O Lord, deliver my life;
save me for the sake of your steadfast love.
5 For in death there is no remembrance of you;
in Sheol who will give you praise?

In Psalm 6, David is in significant danger. People want to kill him. And David is asking God to spare him. Notice here the reason that David offers the Lord for sparing his life. In simple terms, David asks God, “Keep me alive so that I can praise you.” David says that, if he dies, his voice of praise to the Lord will be silent.

Now, to avoid confusion, this is not David failing to believe that there is life after death. It is David saying that it is a good thing for the living to praise the Lord. David knows that those who pass on have eternal souls. But David also knows that the creation exists for the praise of the Lord, and it is a good thing when God’s people declare his glory.

Let me suggest that we make David’s motivation in this prayer a significant one for us as well. When you pray, how often is your prayer motivated by something other than the praise of God? How often do you give God all sorts of reasons behind your prayer that are not his ultimate priority? God loves us and cares about our needs. God loves his church. But let’s not be confused about what God is doing in the world. God is about his praise resounding from every corner of the globe. God is focused on being glorified. God is God’s ultimate priority, and this is good.

Think about this as you pray for your church or your family. Why should God grow your church? If your motivation for that prayer is primarily to keep the church alive, go deeper. If your priority for praying that people come to faith is ultimately the comfort of their eternal souls, go deeper. Friends, having strong churches and saved souls is good. But, understand, the reason churches need to grow, and souls need to be saved is so that the people God has created will rightly praise the Lord. I’m not saying God does not love us and care for us. I’m saying that, if we are to pray in tune with God’s ultimate priority, we pray that his name be praised and glorified from now until forever. Indeed, we pray, “Hallowed be thy name,” and we know that this is a prayer in concert with God’s ultimate will.

A Prayer for Mercy

In Daniel 9, the prophet prays a prayer of confession. He acknowledges that the people of Judah have sinned against the Lord, ignoring the words of the prophets and violating the law of God. Daniel knows that the people are suffering the just judgment of God for their actions. But, Daniel, like any of us would do I would hope, is beseeching God for mercy.

Take a look at the section of the prayer that asks for God’s mercy, as there is something significant we need to see in it.

Daniel 9:16-19 – 16 “O Lord, according to all your righteous acts, let your anger and your wrath turn away from your city Jerusalem, your holy hill, because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and your people have become a byword among all who are around us. 17 Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your own sake, O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate. 18 O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. 19 O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.”

Take note in this section of how God-focused the prayer is. In verse 17, Daniel prays that God will make his face shine again upon his sanctuary for his own sake. In verse 18, the prophet points out that the city is called by God’s name and that God is merciful. In verse 19, Daniel asks God not to delay for God’s own sake and reminds him that the people he would be rescuing are called by his name.

Daniel asks God to have mercy for the protection of and the glory of God’s own name. This prayer is not about Israel’s comfort. Nor is this prayer about some sort of political advantage. The simple fact is that Daniel, after confession of a great many sins of the nation, asks for the Lord to have mercy based on God’s exaltation of God’s own name. The name of God is most important. The reputation of God as faithful to his word and merciful to his people is most important. And Daniel understands this as he prays.

We will face our own circumstances where we need to ask God for mercy. It might be in our churches. It might be in our families. But there will be times when we cry out to God for forgiveness, for healing, for mercies of all sorts. It would be wise for us to learn from Daniel’s prayer. God is good, even when we do not understand his ways. God is perfect while we are not. But God has put his Spirit in his people. God’s church is the people of God built together into a holy temple for his dwelling. God’s name is on his people of all nations who are united in Christ. Thus, when we pray, we need to be seeking that God’s name be honored by his actions. We need to focus our prayers on the defense of and glorification of the name of the Lord.

Consider, as you prepare to pray, how you can shape your heart so that you focus more on the name of God than on your own comfort? How can you ask god better for that which will honor him and display his faithfulness? How can you ask God for blessing based on his honor more than simply on your ease?

Friends, do not be confused here. I am not suggesting that if you somehow figure out a new way to word your prayers that you will be able to manipulate and control the Lord. Such a notion is pagan and evil. What I am saying is that, as we pray, our prayer should be more focused on the glory of the Lord. God’s name is and will be hallowed. His kingdom has come and will come. His will is going to be done on earth as it is in heaven. As you consider that for which you pray, remember that God’s name is of the utmost importance, it always has been. Then pray a sincere prayer that asks the Lord to do that which will, in eternity, most magnify his name through you, your family, your church, your nation. Ask God to act for his own sake and allow you to be a part of experiencing that glory.

A Prayer for Salvation

What does it look like to pray that God save you? There is, of course, no “sinner’s prayer” as a prayer of salvation in Scripture. There is no prayer like the prayer at the end of the gospel tracts. That is, of course, good, as the point of coming to God in faith is not empty repetition of magic words to get yourself into heaven.

With that said, it is also nice to have something of an example of what it looks like when a sinner in need cries out to the Lord.

Let me preface. This Psalm is not a prayer for spiritual salvation. It is, in fact, a prayer for a physical salvation. But, if you study the Scriptures well, you will find that the physical salvation of Israel from Egypt or David from enemies is a picture for us of the coming and eternal spiritual salvation we find in Christ. There is a parallel that we can see. And with that in mind, I want us to see how David opens this prayer.

Psalm 143:1-2

1 Hear my prayer, O LORD;
give ear to my pleas for mercy!
In your faithfulness answer me, in your righteousness!
2 Enter not into judgment with your servant,
for no one living is righteous before you.

David cries out to God. Please hear me. Please have mercy. Be righteous as you always are. Please do not enter into judgment over me. I, like all people, cannot stand up to your perfection. Lord, have mercy.

That is a beautiful prayer. When a person comes to God admitting right away that we have no ground upon which to stand, that is good. When we realize that we can only fall upon the mercy of God, that is right. And, thanks be to God, the Lord is both perfectly righteous and wonderfully merciful.

Is the gospel here? Of course it is. God is just and merciful. The justice of God is perfectly satisfied as Jesus, God in flesh, took upon himself the right wrath of God for my sin. The mercy of God is perfectly evident in God rescuing me, a sinner, from the wrath I deserve.

And, let us not leave this prayer without a moment to focus on the state of all people. David says, “for no one living is righteous before you.” No living human being can be righteous on his or her own. If you are outside of Christ and think you are OK with God, you are thinking unbiblically. We are not righteous before the holy one. We are less than his perfection. We need to be forgiven. WE need to be saved.

Let David’s prayer be yours even today. If you are a Christian, let this prayer remind you of your state before salvation and your continuing need for God’s grace. If you are not a believer, know that you need the righteousness of God and his mercy to forgive you, as none of us can stand under the judgment of God and live.

How Much Provision?

When you pray for God to meet your financial needs and provide for you and your family, how much do you ask for? Do we follow the model of the prosperity preachers and claim the right to have a jet, sports car, and mansion? Do we follow the path of the ascetic, asking for only enough bread and water not to starve?

Proverbs 30:7-9

7 Two things I ask of you;
deny them not to me before I die:
8 Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with the food that is needful for me,
9 lest I be full and deny you
and say, “Who is the Lord?”
or lest I be poor and steal
and profane the name of my God.

In the proverb here, we see a simple wisdom regarding what we should desire from God when it comes to finance. There are two requests. The writer asks for God not to give him too much and for God not to give him too little.

The prayer for God not to give too little is an obvious one. We do not want to lack; none of us like that. I would think that everybody of the modern age who has prayed about provision has asked for God not to leave us without something we need.

But the other prayer is interesting. The writer also asks for God not to give him too much. That one is strange to our ears. Most folks do not say to God, “Be careful. Do not give me more wealth and comfort than I should have.”

What you need to see is the rationale behind why the writer prays both things. The same motivation is behind the proverb writer’s prayers not to have either too much or too little. The writer does not wish to dishonor the Lord. He wishes to properly show the value and the glory of God. And thus, the writer prays for God to give him just enough, neither too little nor too much.

Having too little could lead the writer to dishonor God. The man is honest. If he lacks food to feed his family, he might be reduced to stealing. He does not want to steal, as he knows that theft dishonors God. But he also knows that letting his own family starve would dishonor God. The man does not want temptation to do wrong to gain wealth, so he asks God to provide. But the prime motivation, please see it, is to be sure he properly honors the name of God.

Similarly, in the prayer that we find weird in our greed-saturated, comfort-focused culture, the proverb writer asks God not to give him too much. Why? He has the same motivation. He does not want to get so comfortable that he forgets that he still needs God. He does not wish to dishonor the Lord. He wants to live to the glory of God, and that includes being sure that he does not become so self-sufficient that it appears to him that he can make it on his own.

Friends, we can learn from these prayers. Our prayers need to be focused first and foremost on the honor of the name of the Lord. What will give God glory? What will show the world around us that God is great. What will prevent us from falling into sin and so dishonoring the Lord? These are the things that we should be asking God to give us. We should always ask God to answer our prayers in the ways that will most give him the glory he is so richly due.

A Prayer We Often Miss

When you pray, do you pray for governmental leaders? When you pray for them, do you pray biblically?

In 1 Timothy 2, God calls us to pray for political leaders, but the rationale he gives us might surprise you.

1 Timothy 2:1-2 – 1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.

Paul says to pray in all sorts of ways for all sorts of people. He includes rulers, which is fascinating since Nero was the Emperor of Rome at that time. Part of a Christian’s prayer life is to include requests regarding kings, presidents, etc.

But note the why. I think that is fascinating. We pray for our leaders, because we want to live peaceful and quiet lives, godly and dignified. This is not praying for the leaders that we be massively impactful in the community. It is not praying for the leaders that we get special favor to become the church of the state. It is not praying for our leaders that we get to put up a nativity scene in the town square or a monument to the Ten Commandments on the courthouse lawn. It is a prayer for our leaders that we be allowed to live out our faith in peace.

Christians, be praying for leadership. Be praying for government. But this is no call to think that government is the solution to the problems of the land. We pray so that we can be free to serve the Lord. WE pray, because we want to see leaders saved, which pleases God just as much as it pleases God when non-leaders are saved (cf. verses 3-ff). And with that prayer is our commitment to live out peaceful, quiet, godly, dignified lives as Christians.

May we be people who pray for our leaders and pray biblically. And then may we be a people who live as the Lord has called us, peacefully, quietly, with dignity, in godliness, in accord with the Lord’s commands, to the glory of God.

Two Prayers We need

It’s easy to be that person who speaks out slamming all of the things we have in our culture. It is easy to write the post about how messed up we are because of smart phones, selfies, and social media. It is easy to take shots at the 30-year-old gamer and his friend, the social justice political Tweeter-, both of whom are still living in their parents’ basements. Goodness, yesterday I saw a tweet from a man linking to his article about how he needed to step away from social media—he tweeted it instead of just doing it.

So, I don’t want to take the easy road of declaring that everything modern stinks. That has all been done. But reading God’s word, I am reminded of a couple of prayers we need to have on our lips if we are going to try to live in this odd culture that has become ours in the 21st century.

Psalm 119:36-37

36 Incline my heart to your testimonies,
and not to selfish gain!
37 Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things;
and give me life in your ways.

These two verses are a great check on us today. They are not hard to understand, but they need to be central to us. David wants God to direct his heart, not toward selfish gain, but toward God’s testimonies. David wants God to focus him, not on getting ahead, but first on the word of God. Because David knows that a focus on the word of the Lord, the testimonies of who God is and what he has done, that will change his personality, values, and worldview.

David also prays that God keep him from focusing his eyes on worthless things. There are so many to choose from, and David did not even have the Internet. Yet David knew that focusing on worthless things would be a way to have his heart turned away from the Lord. David knew that life is found in the ways and commands of the Lord, not in the foolish time-wasters of his day.

If David needed these prayers, how much more do we? On the negative side, let us pray that God would keep us from seeking selfish gain and looking at worthless things. I’m not here aimed at legalism. I will not define for you what is and is not worthless. You, if you will talk to the Lord and study his word, will have the Spirit of God help you to know what is worthless. You, if you will be honest, will know when you are frittering away your time and focusing yourself on yourself and not on the things of God. Pray for God’s protection here.

And do not think that the positive sides of these commands are not important. They are where we find life instead of just turning from wrong. Ask God to incline your heart toward his testimonies and give you life in his ways. That, dear friends, is a heart focused on and leaning toward the words, the proclamations, the commands of holy Scripture. That is asking God to make you a strongly biblical person, a person who loves and obeys his word. You need this to battles selfishness and foolishness in this generation.

Don’t Miss This When You Pray

Psalm 109:26-27

26 Help me, O LORD my God! |
Save me according to your steadfast love!
27 Let them know that this is your hand;
you, O LORD, have done it!

In Psalm 109, the psalmist is in great distress. Enemies have tried to destroy him with evil words and false accusations. And the Psalmist is miserable. He is suffering in many ways, emotional and physical. And, as we might expect, he is asking God to deliver him.

This all seems normal, but then we look at the thing that the psalmist asks for in how he asks to be delivered. The psalmist is conscious of the fact that the best way for him to gain victory is when that victory is to the glory of God. The psalmist asks for God to make sure that his enemies know that it was god who delivered him.

There is a simple lesson here for us. When we pray, we often pray for our own comforts and desires. We often pray for health or for the growth of our churches. But we sometimes forget that we need to be praying that the Lord show the world that he is the one who did the amazing thing. God and his glory are uttermost. When we pray, our prayers need to remind us that, in our circumstances, the best possible outcome is the outcome that demonstrates that our God is glorious and worthy of praise.