Summary: King David takes us to the heart of prayer. David shows us a repentant heart, a trusting heart, and a longing heart.
Abraham prayed for his nephew Lot. Actually, he bargained back and forth with the LORD a half dozen times over the destruction of the city where Lot lived. Elijah prayed for a miracle at Mt. Carmel. Hannah prayed for a child. Joshua prayed that the sun would stand still. Jesus prayed for the “cup of suffering” to be taken from him. The Apostle Paul prayed that the Lord would remove his “thorn in the flesh.”
There are literally hundreds of prayers recorded in the Bible. Each of them adds to our understanding of what prayer is and how God answers the prayers of his people. Through the example of Abraham praying for Lot we learn persistence and boldness in prayer. Elijah’s prayer at Mt. Carmel reminds us to pray with confidence. Hannah’s prayer and Joshua’s prayer remind us that since God is almighty we shouldn’t be afraid to pray for things that are spectacular or even humanly impossible. The words, “your will be done,” from Jesus’ prayer on the night he was betrayed teach us to pray with humility. We make our requests known to God but then we humbly ask him to do what is best. And the Apostle Paul’s prayer that the Lord would remove his thorn in the flesh reminds us that although God always answers our prayers he doesn’t always answer them the way we hope he will.
In our sermon this morning we are going to listen to a prayer from King David and learn some things about prayer in the process. His prayer fits with the season of Lent. It is a prayer in which David expresses deep sorrow over his sins. In that sense it is penitential. This prayer is found in Psalm 143, the Psalm for this Sunday. The verses of the Psalm are printed on the back of the worship folder if you would like to follow along as I read them. (Read text.) Through David’s inspired words may the Holy Spirit lead us to:
“LEARN THE ‘HEART’ OF PRAYER”
I. A repentant heart
II. A trusting heart
III. A longing heart
Unlike some of the other Psalms written by David, Psalm 143 doesn’t tell us the circumstances under which he wrote it. In the Greek translation of the Bible that some of the Jews used at Jesus’ time there is a note that this Psalm was written when David was being hunted down by his son, Absalom. Remember that was one of the consequences of David’s adultery with Bathsheba. Although we can’t say for sure it certainly fits the tone and message of the Psalm. The other piece of background information worth noting is the division of the Psalm. At the end of verse six the Hebrew word “Selah,” appears. It marks a break in the Psalm. In verses 1-6 David expresses his thoughts leading up to his prayer. Then in verses 7-12 the actual prayer is recorded. But again, through the whole Psalm we receive a great lesson about the “heart” of prayer. David shows us a repentant heart, a trusting heart, and a longing heart.
Even if David wasn’t thinking about a specific sin that he had committed his words were still an accurate reflection of his need for forgiveness. “O LORD, hear my prayer, listen to my cry for mercy; in your faithfulness and righteousness come to my relief. 2 Do not bring your servant into judgment, for no one living is righteous before you.” Even before he began his prayer David acknowledged the truth about himself and any other person who offers a prayer to God. No sinner has the right to pray to God. And God is under no requirement to listen to prayers that come from unholy hearts and lips.
Understanding that basic fact about prayer sheds some light on David’s words. From the beginning of the Psalm to the end he bases his prayer on God’s mercy, faithfulness and righteousness. David used God’s covenant Name, “LORD,” four times in the Psalm. We hear phrases like, “your unfailing love,” “for your name’s sake,” “in your righteousness,” and “in your unfailing love.” Do you see the foundation upon which David built his prayer? The heart of David’s prayer is a repentant heart. He fully acknowledged that the only reason God had for answering his prayer was because of God’s mercy, faithfulness, and love. It is because God had forgiven David sins and brought him into a covenant of grace that he would hear his prayers.
As we learn the heart of prayer from David we quickly see that prayer calls for a repentant heart. Our sinful nature thinks it can walk proudly into God’s presence and demand that he listen. Such prayers don’t acknowledge the plain truth that our sins separate us from God. Isaiah worded it well when he wrote, “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.” (Isaiah 59:2) Or maybe our prayers have been deadened by a different problem. Satan has convinced us that God only hears the prayers of those who are good and behave decently. Then we fail to pray because we don’t think God will listen to us. In either case we need to come back to the truth about why God listens to our prayers. It is only because of his mercy and love shown us in Christ.