Day 4 – Prayer in the Psalms
Effective Prayer Podcast, by Colin Dye
Look at Psalm 38. You will never find a more real expression of the human heart and the human spirit than that. If we compared that to the kind of prayer language that we hear in our churches, or maybe that you pray in your bedroom or your home, what a contrast. Do you know what I notice about that psalm? This man is being real. And these were used in the worship life of ancient Israel. You would not find a charismatic chorus like that today. We just want to say, “Lord, everything is happy and everything is lovely and everything is sweet, and you are sweet and we are sweet, and isn’t that nice?”
We need to be more real in our worship life. We need songs that describe the anguish of the human heart, that acknowledge that we are feeling down, that we are oppressed, that we are depressed and there is something happening against us, and that we have sinned and we need to repent. And then out of that reality can come a new experience with God to teach people to pray and be real.
We need to be more real in our worship life.
When I’m teaching people to pray, I say, “Just tell God exactly how you feel. Express your feelings, and as soon as you have done that, God will tell you how He feels, and it will be in sympathy with you.” Yes, He will. But at the same time, He will say, “Now you know why you are feeling like that, don’t you?” God will communicate to us and speak back to us, there is no doubt in my mind, but He wants to be our deliverer.
Then we have prayers which confess faith in God, just a simple prayer which declares the goodness of God and declares our faith in Him, God as creator, God as Lord, God as king, God as judge. Let’s have a few verses from Psalm 145,
“I will extol you, my God, my king, and I will bless your name forever and ever. Every day I will bless you, and I will praise your name forever and ever. Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and His greatness is unsearchable.”
“One generation shall praise your works to another and shall declare your mighty acts. I will meditate on the glorious splendor of your majesty and on your wondrous works. Men shall speak of the might of your awesome acts and I will declare your greatness. They shall utter the memory of your great goodness and shall sing of your righteousness.”
“The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and great in mercy. The Lord is good to all and His tender mercies are over all His works. All your works shall praise you, O Lord, and your saints shall bless you.”
Can you see how this man is full of the Lord and comes to declare that fullness of his faith in God?
Then we have prayers for repentance and forgiveness, and the clearest one of these, perhaps, is when we study it, of course, tremendous, tremendous pleas for forgiveness in Psalm 51.
But here we have in Psalm 32 the fruits of this, “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity and in whose spirit there is no deceit.”
There are pleas for intercession, prayers of intercession, rather. We cry out to the Lord in times of intercession, in times of need. And then comes a prayer which is harder for us to understand: prayers which plead for vengeance. Prayers that plead for vengeance. These psalms are difficult for us to understand how that in Old Testament times often they would come and say, “Lord, smash my enemies. Break the teeth of the wicked,” and all of that, but we’ve got to understand that God was teaching them the principles of spiritual warfare.
The weapons of our warfare are spiritual, not carnal, for our battle is a spiritual battle. So when we read these warring kind of psalms, or psalms of vengeance, we do need to direct them against the enemy, the real enemy, which is Satan and all the demonic forces, not against people, not against our brothers, not against even our enemies of flesh and blood, because Jesus taught us to love our enemies.
Here is a sample and example of how we have to take the psalms and filter them through the love and teaching of Jesus. You can’t just take these Old Testament verses and apply them directly to yourself without doing that. But nevertheless, some of the groundwork is done for us.
Psalm 35, “Plead my cause, O Lord, with those who strive with me. Fight against those who fight against me. Take hold of my shield and buckler and stand up for my help. Also draw out the spear and stop those who pursue me.”
He was praying because he is in a difficult position, but we must be careful that we don’t pray out of hatred. We can pray prayers exactly like that, but the ultimate prayer must be that God blesses them. We love our enemies and pray for those who despitefully use us.
Then there are prayers of wisdom and instruction throughout the psalms. We are asking God. We need wisdom. We need instruction. Then there are psalms that simply ask questions. Simply ask questions. Why, Lord? This isn’t wrong to ask God. Where have we got this idea that we have to be so pious and so holy that we can’t ask God why, that we can’t bring our needs and concerns and desperation and reality to Him? What kind of false language have we adopted in our Christian lives?
God understands what we go through, and He understands that if you need to ask God, why, ask Him why. Ask Him a question. He may not tell you the answer, but it’s okay to ask. He may say, “You won’t know that now. It will become obvious later on,” but time and time again we need to ask God questions which reflect the true situation of our heart.
Then we have psalms which praise God’s Word, psalms which just simply take the Scriptures and say, “I love your Word and I embrace your Word.” For these people, the Word of God was perhaps the only thing that they had which they could hide in their heart to demonstrate their relationship with the Lord.
Now taking these psalms as a whole, it seems to me that there are a number of principles — five principles, in fact — that we can learn about prayer. Let’s go through them. Number #1, prayer is simply pouring out from the heart. It’s not bringing some great, finely tuned intellectual prayer. It is pouring out your heart to the Lord.
Secondly we find that the psalms, in their prayers, blend moods. If you’re going to pour out your heart, you’re going to find that what comes out sometimes is different from what comes out at other times, because you are a beautiful person and a complex personality, and so we must be ready to express ourselves in every way to the Lord. We have…we find that the psalms express moods of praise and complaint; confession and depression; devotion, revenge. There are examples of this throughout all of the psalms.
You are a beautiful person and a complex personality, and so we must be ready to express ourselves in every way to the Lord.
I am not saying that God will back some of those emotions and tell us, “Well, okay, you just keep on being miserable, because that’s a good thing.” No, I’m not saying that. I’m saying that if you are going through those emotions, tell God about it, express it to the Lord. He understands. If you are angry, express it to the Lord, and the Lord will soon deal with it. That’s why we are careful not to, because we want to be goody-two-shoes when we come into the presence of the Lord and pretend.
One of the most powerful, life-changing moments was when I actually spoke to God very freely about how I felt in a way that I considered He had let me down and not healed a young man who had polio. In one of the African tribes where I was preaching we saw powerful miracles. That boy wasn’t healed. I was devastated, and I pretended I wasn’t until finally I managed to get it out honestly before God, “Why did you not heal that boy?”
And oh, He was waiting for me to be honest, and He had an answer ready. He said, “I have purposes for him, just as I have purposes for you. End of story.” And His finger pointed right through me, and it was me He began to deal with, and out of that came an experience with the power of God and a healing ministry was born, and from that time onwards, for the next 36 hours, every body, every body part — maybe one or two —that I prayed for was instantly healed during that season of whatever condition they had during that powerful visitation of revival, and from that time, the healing and anointing has flowed through my life and other people as we’ve met God in that way.
We also notice, number #3, that the psalms teach us about corporate and personal prayer. Some of the psalms are corporate, and some of them are personal. Sometimes it’s I, me; sometimes it’s us and you. But somehow it teaches us that all prayer, even though it appears personal, actually is corporate. Do you understand that?
When you are discussing with the Lord your problems and sharing your concerns, you are actually doing it in good company, because as the Body of Christ prays, you are expressing something that is corporate. In fact, we’ve got to get back to this corporate mentality. Even Jesus in the New Testament tells us to pray, “Our Father,” not “My Father.” It is something we can share together with other people.
When you have a need, remember when you pray that there are other people who also have that same need, and you can, in a sense, represent them as you come before the Father and pray for other people.
We also learn, number #4, that the psalms are concerned, of course, with material needs, but spiritual requests are threaded through them as well. Up to this point in the Bible, most of the Old Testament prayers have been for physical needs. There have been others, but mostly they have been physical. Now we have a whole new dimension opening up where the spiritual needs become the topic of prayer, and we find that there are three basic spiritual concerns that are woven throughout all of these psalms: Prayer for communion with God, number #1. Number #2, prayer for forgiveness, and number #3, prayer for knowledge of God’s will.
Then number #5 we find that there is an extreme urgency about the way people pray. There is a feeling in the psalms that praying is an urgent matter, that God must be made to hear — almost at times as though He needs to be wakened, to be urged, to be persuaded. And this is because our needs are immediate and desperate at times, not because God is reluctant or deaf or goes to sleep. Not at all. But there is a sense of urgency. There is a need for zeal — the effectual, fervent prayer. There is a need for fervency here. And so when we come before God, we need to be prepared to pray with the same spirit of urgency. And so we find, time and time again, that the people of God pray to Him like that.
There is a sense of urgency.
Then we come to the final category: praying in the Prophetic books. These are the last 17 books of the Old Testament. They are called The Prophets, and they are collected as writings of some of Israel’s prophets and some of them lived over a long period of time and some people ministered to Jews, others to the kings, other to Judah, some to Israel, but all of these prophets share some things in common. Prayer has a high profile in these books — a very high profile — especially the books which were written after the Jews were expelled from Jerusalem.
You see, their temple was destroyed, and that meant they were unable to offer sacrifices at the temple as they used to, so they had to worship Him through prayer instead of coming through and offering physical sacrifices, and in that way, the foundations were laid for the New Testament type of relationship with God, in which God’s presence is not localized, or necessarily expressed in physical and tangible ways, but it is by the eye of faith we see Him. We approach Him by faith, we enter His presence by faith, and we pray, and so our prayers put us in touch with the immediate presence of God. You can see how the prophetic books prepare the people of God for the revelation that is to come.
The last 17 books of the Old Testament books prepare the people of God for the revelation that is to come in the New Testament.
Also during this period of history they felt abandoned by God and pressed Him both to explain why and what had happened to them, and asked Him to bless them again. And we find the kind of praying happening over and over again in the Old Testament.
Now as I said before, intercession was exclusively the work of the prophets. Every time you read people interceding, it is a prophet. Every time you see people healing the sick in the Old Testament, it’s a prophet. And that shows us how we, as the prophets of the Lord in the New Testament, the prophethood of all believers, that we are called to seek His face, to intercede and to pray. It is a gift given to all the church, as indeed the ministry of healing. And in the Sword of the Spirit series I pick up on those two themes time and time again, as you will see as you progress with us.
All the prophets were intercessors. It was their prophetic anointing because they had an anointing which gave them access to God in prayer. Not everybody had that. The Holy Spirit did not fall upon everybody equally in Old Testament times. Only certain people were anointed, and the prophets were certainly anointed, and their anointing gave them the ability to approach God in prayer.
But now in New Testament times we all have the Holy Spirit and we are all given that anointing to enter into the presence of God. They were given, in this anointing, power to wrestle with God in intercessory prayer in very, very difficult times. They were given, also, the prophetic ability to interpret God’s Word to the people, and in that interpreting of God’s Word to the people, they were given very clear insights as to the needs of the people as they would therefore come and be able to pray. And so the revelation that God gave the prophets was, in many ways, primarily for intercession; not just to prophecy, but to pray these things through.
Now we’re going to look at the prophets’ general ministry of intercession in another session, but we see certain things now in the Prophetic books that I want to mention. Personal prayer. Yes, the prophets were primarily intercessors, which meant praying for others, but they did not neglect to pray for themselves, and in fact their personal prayer life is very, very special.
You can read, for example in the Book of Jeremiah. Look at these for yourself and meditate on them. They show you how at times of special difficulties and trials that the prophets faced, they prayed for themselves when they had problems, and that teaches us that when we go through difficult times, we go to God. Don’t complain to others; go to God. Talk to God about them.
Don’t complain to others; go to God. Talk to God about your problems.
We also find that in prayer they were hearing God’s Word. As they came to pray, they heard God’s Word for others and also for themselves. Jeremiah 33:3 is a case in point. This was a promise, first of all, to Jeremiah, “Call to me and I will answer you and show you great and mighty things which you do not know.” So when we come to God and seek Him personally, He is going to speak to us. That is how we receive revelation — by coming to the Lord and seeking His face in prayer.
We also see that the prophets were called to pray to avert evil. We are doing that right now and London stands under the revealed judgment of God. We are crying out to God to, in his wrath, remember your mercy. We are praying out to God that during this time of visitation of His wrath and anger, that there would also be blessing, and we know we can turn back God’s wrath to a certain extent. The prophets did it. Amos chapter 7 you read it, verses 1 through 6. Amos intercedes and turns away God’s wrath. Jeremiah 15, Jeremiah did it. So this is a very important aspect. We need anointed prophetic people today who will direct their prayers to the Lord and will cry out to Him and say, “Lord, help us. Turn your anger away from us.” And we will see more and more examples of this as we go through this teaching program.
Now also during this time, the prophetic time, fasting becomes more and more closely connected with prayer. Of course, the prophets have to come and say, “Your kind of fasting is wrong.” Isaiah 58, “You are doing it to bless yourself. You are doing it to please yourself. You are doing it mechanically and artificially.”
Again in Zechariah 7, two passages that really show that the people of God had really moved away. They were using fasting as a kind of religious ritual, but the prophets bring fasting much more in line with the biblical purpose of prayer and seeking God and repenting and dealing with their sins and correcting their greed and turning their attention to the needs of the poor and all of the things that the prophets confront the children of God about.
It is easy to understand this kind of praying when we understand that in the prophetic books these people are wrestling with great prevailing issues. Prophetic prayer is flowing as they have been anointed by the Holy Spirit. There are, to me, two outstanding examples of this in the Old Testament: Isaiah chapter 63:7 through to Isaiah chapter 64. Now it’s a long passage, but it’s amazing to see how, in this prayer, the prophet seems to step forward and lead the worship of God’s people in exile. It was prophesied way before the exile, but the language — I want you to turn to Isaiah 63:16, we’ll look at that one, and also in 64:8. We’ll come to these verses and I highlight this because it is the first recorded prayer in the Bible which addresses God as “our father,” and it’s very significant to us as New Testament believers.
“Doubtless,” Isaiah 63:16, “Doubtless you are our Father, though Abraham was ignorant of us, and Israel does not acknowledge us. Yet you, O Lord, are our Father, our redeemer, and everlasting is your name.”
Isaiah 64:8 says, “But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay. You are our potter, and all we are the work of your hand.” A wonderful, wonderful reference to understanding God as Father.
Then Isaiah 63 verses 10 and 11, again a very significant Old Testament prayer, because here we have the only time where the Holy Spirit is addressed as Holy Spirit, or is called the Holy Spirit. Two times in these verses, but it is the only time in the Old Testament,
But they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit, so He turned himself against them as an enemy and He fought against them. Then He remembered the days of old, Moses and his people saying, “Where is He who brought them up out of the sea with the shepherd of His flock? Where is He who put His Holy Spirit within them?”
And so we have a very powerful, powerful reference to our Father and the Holy Spirit, and when we develop this in the teaching of Jesus in the New Testament, we will see that these two themes of addressing God as father, approaching Him in our relationship, understanding who He is by the Holy Spirit who gives us to say, “Abba, Father,” when we see these two themes here in the New Testament, we will understand and appreciate this Old Testament foundation.
Now one more passage before we close this session: Daniel chapter 9. Daniel chapter 9:1-27. And here is another very powerful corporate or representative confession, an example of representative confession—similar to the prayers of Ezra and Nehemiah. In his prayer and fasting, Daniel fully identifies with all God’s people in their wickedness, even though he himself had not personally sinned, and so it says,
“In the first year of Darius, the son of Ahasuerus, of the lineage of the Medes, who was made king of the realm of the Chaldeans—in the first year of his reign I, Daniel, understood by the books the number of the years specified by the word of the Lord through Jeremiah the prophet that he would accomplish 70 years in the desolation of Jerusalem.”
“Then I set my face toward the Lord God to make a request by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes, and I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession and said, “O Lord, great and awesome God who keeps His covenant of mercy with those who love Him and with those who keep His commandments, we have sinned and committed iniquity. We have done wickedly and rebelled, even by departing from your precepts and your judgments.”
And then he goes on confessing sin after sin, crying out to the Lord and calling to the Lord for His mercy and His forgiveness. And then he comes to this point in the prayer when he wants the Lord to touch, and he says, towards the end of the prayer, describing why the disaster has come, and he says, verse 15, “And now O Lord our God who brought your people out of Egypt with a mighty hand, made yourself a name as it is this day, we have sinned and done wickedly. Lord, according to all your righteousness I pray, let your anger and your fury be turned away from your city Jerusalem, your holy mountain, because of our sins and the iniquities of our fathers.”
So we see as we close this session, we come to a very important moment in biblical history, and I mention it and emphasize it at the end because that is where we find ourselves now in our nations. We need men and women who will progress to such levels of intercession that they are praying according to the revelation of God, their representative confession according to the conviction of God, and the pouring out of their spirit according to the burden of the Lord will touch the Father in heaven and He will come and restore us in our nations.