Learning To Pray From A Man After God’s Own Heart

Neal Pollard

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray (Luke 11:1), they were asking the most qualified instructor. However, they had a good teacher from the background of their own heritage in David. The book of Psalms is at times a songbook and at other times a prayer journal. Numerous examples of David’s prayers are contained in this beautiful book of Old Testament poetry. In Psalm 141, for example, we have several characteristics of prayer from a man after God’s own heart (cf. Acts 13:22).

First, David’s prayer was urgent (Psalm 141:1). He writes, “Lord, I cry out to You; make haste to me!” David saw prayer, not as a last resort, but as a first retreat. Since David knew God was able to help, he wasted no time in bringing matters into God’s own hands.

Then, David’s prayer was intense (Psalm 141:1b). He continues, “Give ear to my voice when I cry out to You.” You will not hear rote memorization of prayers or lackadaisical lethargy in David’s prayer. David cried out to God. He is pleading with God. These are indicators of a fervent prayer life, which God includes as typical of righteous people of prayer (James 5:16).

Further, David’s prayer was sincere (Psalm 141:2). He treated his prayers as if they were actually offerings or sacrifices. He says, “Let my prayers be set before You as incense, the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” He was willing to lay open his prayers to the All-Seeing eye for His scrutiny. The entirety of this psalm reflects no superficial piety or pretentiousness. David simply laid his heart before God.

David put obvious trust and hope in the power of prayer. He had confidence in God’s ability and he had cognizance of his own dependence upon God’s ability. Never wait to turn to prayer until the need is desperate. The man after God’s own heart made prayer a staple in his religious diet. So should we.

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I Sin Against The Lord When I Don’t Pray For You

Neal Pollard

Jonathan Martindale punctuated an unforgettable worship service yesterday morning with one of the most thoughtful prayers I have ever been privileged to be a part of. What made it so effective was the people and issues he prayed about. This is not exhaustive, but here are some of the specific people he prayed for among his beautiful words.

  • Individuals in nursing homes that are facing the end of life (they believe they are prepared for eternity, but are not)
  • Individuals who are in college who are not being adequately equipped for the challenges and skepticism being thrown at them (both those who are fighting for their faith and those who have started to drift)
  • Individuals who are have been rocked by broken families
  • High Schoolers who are dealing with temptation
  • Junior high youth (trying to figure out who they are in life and those dealing with depression)
  • Elementary kids that have not made the decision to follow Christ yet but still need prayers to learn Christ correctly and led to that decision.
  • Those who are in the world who are perfectly content with where they are but still do not have Christ
  • Those who are good moral people but don’t have Christ
  • Those who are in the world and caught up with various vices (drinking, drug use, pornography)
  • Those who have fallen away (and our being visionary and courageous to help them)

That prayer reflected true thoughtfulness, contemplating those who are lost or drifting. While I’ve heard other prayers devoted to groups of people, I cannot remember one exactly like Jonathan’s.

It reminded me of Samuel’s words to Israel after the coronation of Saul. They had sinned against God by rejecting Him as their king. He assured them of God’s care, adding, “Far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you” (1 Sam. 12:23). It seems that, in principle, we can be guilty of sinning against God and our spiritual family by not praying for them. James encourages praying for one another when sin infiltrates our lives (Jas. 5:16). The church prayed for Peter (Acts 12:5). Paul wanted Thessalonica to pray for him (1 Th. 5:25; 2 Th. 3:1). So did the writer of Hebrews (13:18).  So often, Jesus and His inspired spokesmen urged His followers to carefully, considerately pray for each other.

Let’s take every opportunity to do that today. Sit down and make a list of people—especially those who may get overlooked. Then, pray for them. Be as specific as you can about them. Talk with them and find out what they need from us in prayer. What a hedge of protection we may be giving one another by taking the time to pray for each other. What a huge blessing we can be for one another through prayer!

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FOURTEEN SUGGESTIONS FOR BUILDING YOUR DEVOTIONAL LIFE

Neal Pollard

Maybe you have resolved repeatedly to become a better, more faithful Bible student, person of prayer, or simply one who truly desires to build a closer relationship with God. While a lot of that will be personal and peculiar to you as an individual, you may lack direction about how to get started or give yourself the best chance to succeed in that goal. Perhaps these few suggestions can prove helpful to strengthening your daily connection with your Creator.

  • Adjust your wake up time. 15 to 30 minutes head start will prove the most vital moments of your day.
  • Find a quiet, solitary place. Distraction can equal detraction.
  • Study and pray with pen and paper or computer nearby. This will aid specificity and memory.
  • Do not rush. Better a paragraph or chapter pored over than ten chapters glossed over.
  • Take advantage of the commute. Pray through it or play the Bible on audio, if you can.
  • Pick a book or topic of interest and drill down.  Pick it for its relevance to your weakness, need, ignorance, or curiosity. Drink it in deliberately and carefully.
  • Be specific and transparent in your prayers. In the solitude of prayer, drop all pretense, denial, and pride. He knows it all anyway.
  • Always seek application in the Bible text you are reading. This is not a history lesson or academic exercise. This is spiritual food, armor, and survival.
  • Create a list of ways you can enact the principles you read from Scripture. See yourself in the text of Scripture, and challenge yourself to think, say, do, and be what God desires of you.
  • Ask questions of the text. Don’t pass over what you don’t understand. Don’t skim the surface. Mine for meaning.
  • Build a prayer list. Challenge yourself and add people that many others may overlook in your local circle—widows, little children, new Christians, struggling folks, those facing an anniversary of loss, leadership, missionaries, non-Christians where you work and play, the poor, etc. This ever-expanding prayer list will bless lives in ways you won’t know here on earth.
  • Mean what you say. When you tell someone you’ll pray for them, have integrity. Make an honest effort (write it down, put it in your phone) and honor your word. Ask the people you encounter how you might pray for them, then do it.
  • Review. Revisit prayer lists or notes from Bible study periodically. Make it live on through reflection.
  • Pray for what to study and study prayer. You will find that these two spiritual strength-building exercises are interconnected. This is about relationship with God. Spare no exertion.

Consider these “jump starters.” You will come up with more and far better ways to help yourself to a closer walk with God. These days, we’re being pulled in every direction and most lead away from Him. You will have to be deliberate to swim against the tide. May God bless you as you let Him bless you through a vibrant devotional life!

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THE RESCUER AND THE ONE IN TROUBLE

Neal Pollard

In Romans 8:26, speaking of the work of the Holy Spirit, Paul writes, “ In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” The Holy Spirit “helps,” lending “a hand together with, at the same time with one” (AT Robertson) and coming to the aid of one (Bauer). This is said in connection with the Christian’s prayer life. It is an acknowledgement that sometimes we need the help of God’s Spirit in particularly agonizing times, times where words like “weakness” and “groanings” describe the struggles in prayer.

In the same passage, Paul says the Spirit “intercedes,” a picturesque word of rescue by one who ‘happens’ on one who is in trouble and ‘in his behalf’ pleads with ‘unuttered groanings’ or with ‘sighs that baffle words’” (Reinecker 367). What graphic imagery! When I am in real trouble, no one can help me like God can. Sometimes, only God can help me when I am in trouble. Paul teaches that there is no depth of struggle or trial in prayer too complex or incomprehensible for the omniscient God. As the Psalmist once wrote, “Out of the depths I have cried to You, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications” (Ps. 130:1). Paul is saying, “The Lord does hear and is attentive not only to my voice, but even to the unspoken, unutterable fears, desires, and longings in my heart that cannot be formed into words on my lips when I pray.

Our God is a God of rescue (Ps. 18:19; 116:8; 136:24). He has rescued man in dramatic ways, from the Red Sea crossing to Jericho to Gideon’s tiny army to Calvary’s cross. He has demonstrated that He wants to help us and will freely extend Himself to do so. But, He wants us to reach out to Him and appeal for help. Even when the words will not exactly come to us, He knows the intent and desire and He looks with an eye toward aiding His children (1 Pet. 3:12). Do not only come to Him when in trouble, but do come to Him when in trouble. You do not have trouble too big for Him to come along and rescue you from it.

Trust that!

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Ebenezer!

Neal Pollard

No, not Scrooge (though my favorite version starred George C. Scott)!  That Ebenezer is the one even most Christians are more familiar with. The Ebenezer I’m referring to is from the Bible. You’ll read about it between 1 Samuel 4-7. The first two references are to an existing village (4:1; 5:1). But, it’s the last reference that Robert Robinson makes use of in his well-known, 1758 hymn, O Thou Fount Of Every Blessing.

In the thread of Jewish history, Eli is rejected as High Priest for the corruption perpetrated in his house against the people in their priestly functions. Samuel is chosen to be his replacement. Due to the terrible leadership of Eli’s sons and their influence over the people (2:24), God allows the Philistines to rout them in battle (4:2). The Israelites try to form their own solution by bringing the Ark of the Covenant from Shiloh to Ebenezer as an icon of power (4:3-4) and perhaps to intimidate the Philistines (4:6-9). This backfires, the Philistines steal the ark (4:11), and keep it in the house of their god, Dagon, for seven months (5:2; 6:1). This brings what might have been Bubonic Plague on the Philistines until they, desperately, return the ark to Israel (6:12). Except for the over 50,000 people of Beth Shemesh who look into the ark when it was returned to them and were destroyed (6:19), things were much improved for Israel.

By now, Eli’s successor has been named. Eleazer cares for the ark, safeguarding it for 20 years at Kirjath Jearim. Samuel leads a Restoration Movement to free Israel from Philistine oppression. The people repent when they gather at Mizpah. The Philistines hears of Israel’s prayer meeting and prepare to fight them.  Samuel urges prayer and sacrifice (7:8-9). It was then God made His appearance and confused the Philistines so much that Israel utterly defeats them. There, between Mizpah and Shen, Samuel takes a stone and laid it on the ground, calling the place Ebenezer. This means, “Thus far the Lord has helped us” (7:12). Israel regains cities lost to Philistia and were relieved from their oppression. The place where Israel had been defeated twice became the place where God helped His people win with finality!

Why would Robinson use such a relatively obscure Old Testament moment to talk about God’s guidance and assistance? First, Israel had to come as far as they could from wickedness to salvation. But, it was not by their goodness or power that they were delivered. Far from it! God “thundered with a loud thunder upon the Philistines.” The Lord “confused them.” So, Samuel sets up a memorial in an attempt to remind Israel of their dependence on Him.

Because of human nature, we still need that reminder today. The Lord’s Supper is a memorial of dependence, a continual reminder of our need for a substitute sacrifice to save us from hell. Prayer is an inherent reminder that we’re preserved only by the Lord’s help. Even our bodies remind us we are finite. When we look at the incredible world of nature, our souls sing out, “How Great Thou Art!” The next time you sing that Robinson hymn, remember that “it is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not” (Lam. 3:22).

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When Warriors Meditate

Neal Pollard

CBS News was doing a report about a new, effective therapy for soldiers who return from combat, suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  Chris Eder, an Air Force veteran who had near-death experiences, has found a way to cope and helps other veterans in a group, veterans, that loses 22 people every day through suicide.  Some turn to legal or illegal drugs or other unsatisfying or unhealthy means of coping, but Eder discovered yoga and meditation.  In the course of an interview, he said, “When a warrior sits down to meditate, we know how to focus, and it happens like that” (cbsnews.com/news).

While yoga may certainly seem at odds with the tough-guy picture we have of our military, the idea of meditation is nothing new.  One of the Bible’s fiercest warriors, David, was a strong proponent of it.  The meditation he called for was not eastern or mystical, but spiritual.  12 of the 15 times the word is seen in the NASB, David is the penman, calling for the godly to meditate.  He meditates on the law of God (Ps. 1:2). He meditates in the place of worship (Ps. 27:4). He meditates on God (Ps. 63:6). He meditates on God’s works and deeds (Ps. 77:12; 145:5). He meditates on God’s precepts and ways (Ps. 119:15).  That word “meditate” means to “muse” (BDB, n.p.), “to read in an undertone” (Koehler, et al, Hebrew-Aramaic Lexicon, n.p.), or the idea of contemplating something before then uttering it (cf. TWOT, n.p.).  With all of these definitions, there is the idea of deliberate, prolonged thinking about the object—whether God or His word.  The process has a profound change on the person, shaping and influencing them. There are rewards like knowledge, peace, grounding, hope, and godliness for the meditator.

It is great and necessary for you and I to engage in spiritual warfare.  We are defined by God as soldiers (cf. Eph. 6:10ff).  Yet, when we as spiritual warriors meditate through prayer, study, and contemplation of our God, we do more than soothe the savage beasts within us.  We draw greater power and strength to continue doing battle.  This week, please be found on the battlefield, but make sure you take time to meditate, too!

PRAISE IDEAS FOR PRAYER

Neal Pollard

Prayer is a very personal exercise, a life built between an individual and God. Thus, these suggestions may of themselves feel intrusive or foreign to some.  However, through the years, I have heard many express some difficulty in knowing how to praise God or what to say in praise to Him when in prayer.  Leah, in naming Judah, was the first to articulate the idea (through his name), “I will praise” (Gen. 29:35).  Moses resolved the same at the head of his song in Exodus 15:2.  The remaining six times the phrase appears, the psalmist pens the words (Ps. 22:22; 35:18; 69:30; 109:30; 145:2; 146:2).  Twice in the Psalms we learn that “praise is becoming” (33:1; 147:1). In fact, it makes little sense to make the case for the importance of praise to anyone who professes a belief in God and has seen His blessings and assistance in his or her life.

Having said all of that, what are some specific things one can praise God for in the exercise of prayer?

  • Praise Him for His attributes (eternality, limitlessness, superlativeness).
  • Praise Him for the wonders of creation (try praying under a starry sky, as the sun is rising, or out in the midst of nature’s beauty—words of praise will flow like water).
  • Praise Him for His blessings.
  • Praise Him for His sovereignty and superiority.
  • Praise Him for His promises.
  • Praise Him for His desire to have relationship with you.
  • Praise Him for His providence.
  • Praise Him for His plan of salvation, giving thought to its component parts.
  • Praise Him for the glorious future He has prepared for you.
  • Praise Him for the victorious work of Christ and the spiritual benefits that brings you.

Obviously, this is just a primer list of ideas.  Contemplate God, His nature, His work, His personality, and you will have an ever-growing, ever-changing, and ever-deepening “praise component” to your prayer life.  It is good to thank Him and petition Him, but take sufficient time to exalt Him by infusing your supplications with praise to Him!  As David urged Asaph and his relatives to proclaim, “For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised” (1 Chr. 16:25a). Amen!

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