Since I was old enough to sing “Jesus loves me, this I know,” I’ve ended all my prayers with “In Jesus’ name, Amen.” I’m now starting to incorporate another phrase into my prayers: “In the words of David.”
When I study the prayers of the psalmist David, I see that they are different than mine. I want to pray his prayers, but are they mine to pray?
Anglican Priest Tish Harrison Warren thinks so. She sees other people’s prayers as gifts that can deepen our faith. “When we pray the prayers we’ve been given by the church—the prayers of the psalmist and the saints…,” writes Tish in Prayer in the Night, “—we pray beyond what we can know, believe, or drum up in ourselves.” Left to myself, I tend to drum up trailing qualifiers to my prayers.
O LORD, show me the way I should go, if it isn't too inconvenient and you have a spare minute between answering the prayers of the homeless, hungry, destitute, influential, ministers of peace and justice, and better Jesus followers. In Jesus' name, Amen.
When David, however, wants something from God, he outright asks for it.
Come to my relief.
Show me the way I should go.
(from Psalm 143 NIV)
In fact, rather than deferential phrases, David tacks on vivid descriptions to his requests.
[I am] as thirsty for you as a desert thirsty for rain.
Hurry with your answer, God!
I'm nearly at the end of my rope.
(Psalm 143:6-7 The Message)
Can I really say the same thing to God? Isn’t telling God to hurry like saying I don’t trust in His timing to make everything beautiful? Isn’t telling God to pay attention to what I’m asking like saying I’m too impatient to be still and wait for Him?
Warren offers us encouragement to walk in the steps of David: “We come to God with our little belief however fleeting and feeble, and in [praying the prayers of psalmist and saints] we are taught to walk more deeply into truth.”
So I’m beginning to let David’s words mingle in my prayer and walking into a deeper truth.
O LORD, do not hide your way from me.
In the words of David, answer me quickly;
Wake me each morning with your unfailing love.
For now, it’s my way of saying, “Lord Almighty, if it’s wrong to ask you to hurry, then blame David, not me.”
Psalm 143 fell into my lap so I’m using it as my entry point. It’s an emotional petition from David to the LORD Yahweh.
In just 12 verses David lays out 15 descriptions and 22 verbs with only a single qualifier, “Don’t put your servant on trial”(NLT). There is much for me to learn here.
First, David doesn’t minimize his situation or feel the need to rank his despair against the despair of others. He lays it out straight with nine descriptions and seven actions he’s taking to try and keep his spirit from draining away.
In verse 3 we find out what has brought David to this terrible point: his enemies. He mentions his soul-crushing foes three times and makes two requests of the LORD toward them.
It is interesting to me that even though it appears the relationship between David and his enemies is the cause of David’s deep duress, he only asks God twice to take action against them.
David instead makes the primary focus the relationship between himself and God. He’s clear about who he knows himself to be: “Don’t put your servant on trial, for no one is innocent before you”(NLT). And he’s clear about who he knows the good Spirit to be: merciful, faithful, righteous, unfailing in love.
With those descriptions and titles as the framework, David makes thirteen very specific requests.
For all his dismay, longing, and trouble, David spends surprisingly little time railing against his enemies. The majority of the time his thoughts are on the LORD Yahweh.
There’s a part of me that wants to continue neat-nicking the psalm to come up with a practical application for my own prayers with God. Perhaps there’s a pattern here I can follow:
It’s not a bad pattern and a younger me would have wrapped up my study right here. I know exactly how to put such a pattern into practice. ABCDABC, in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Another part of my soul though wants to study the artistry of David and God writing poetry. The phrases and repetitions. The contrasts and symmetries.
There is holy beauty here, enough to fill the meditations of my heart many times over.
But tonight, my soul doesn’t want prescriptive patterns or even rhythmic verse; it only wants communion with the Master Poet.
O LORD, David’s God, are you there?
In your unfailing love, hear my prayer.
My created one, He who fashioned the ear is the Most Faithful Hearer of all.
Do not haul me into court, my God;
my defense cannot withstand one whisper of your righteousness.
Remember the words not only of my servant David, but also Saul turned Paul, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Show me the way I should go,
for I am dismayed and overwhelmed;
let there be light.
Take comfort, there is no amount of darkness that can topple the Light that is coming for you.
I am thirsty and faint,
parched for your goodness and beauty;
I am not right,
the world is not right.
Chosen One, look and see. I have been to the desert and done a new thing: there are now streams in the parched land and a way through the threatening wilderness.
Yes, it is in the wandering wilderness that the Adversary threatens;
He pursues my soul.
My child, the Adversary lies. Listen to my voice instead. As much as the Thief will try to convince you otherwise, you cannot be snatched from My hand. The Father of Truth is greater than the Father of Lies.
Listen to my cry for mercy, good Spirit;
in the words of David, “Come quickly to my relief.”
In the words of David, remember:
My mercy pursues you morning, noon, and night, Imago Dei.
Do not hide your face from me O LORD;
light a path for me,
Use neon bright lights if you must,
do whatever you must so my eyes won’t miss the way.
Mediate on these things: “The LORD will fulfill His purpose. His loving devotion endures forever, and He will not abandon the works of His hands.”
I am yours.
Indeed, you are;
you are a daughter of the King.
Lord, King Jesus, come quickly.