Prayer is one of those things that Christian believers do or, at least, should do. Prayer is frequently regarded as an indication of spiritual life – if a person is spiritually alive he will pray.
And yet how well do we pray? We may know a lot about prayer and still end up either not praying very much or not praying very well. We may have failed so many times that we have come to the conclusion that we're just not cut out to be one of the so-called prayer warriors of the church.
A gospel minister is supposed to be giving himself to prayer and to the ministry of the word but it is often said that if you want to embarrass a group of ministers all you have to do is ask in a loud voice about their private prayer lives.
Why is this so? Why do we struggle with prayer? And why when we do pray are we satisfied with the simple fact of having prayed and not overly bothered about seeing any answers to our prayers?
There are probably many different answers that we could give to questions like these. The fact that true prayer means engaging in spiritual warfare would be one and having an enemy who opposes us making sure we don't find it all a piece of cake would be another.
Psalm 5 recognises the reality of this spiritual warfare – the psalmist speaks for example about his enemies, about his need of guidance as to how to react to them and about how best to resist their efforts. He also speaks of his need of enjoying the LORD's protective shield. These elements define the context of the psalmist's prayer rather than being the main focus of the psalm. The psalm has much to suggest to us about preparing ourselves in advance that we might pray well.
Multifaceted Prayer vv.1-3.
The psalms are examples of Hebrew poetry. Poetry in English includes rhyme and rhythm but this is not particularly evident in the poetry of the Bible where other devices are much more common. The authors of Hebrew poetry seemed to enjoy the repetition of ideas in parallel forms – saying something then virtually repeating the same idea with a slight change of wording. And yet the slight change in wording, while repeating the fundamental idea, is also employed in order to give a fuller, more complete picture of what the psalmist has in mind. I suppose it could be compared to the difference between a black and white picture and the same reproduced in colour.
That is what we find at the outset of Psalm 5:1-2
Give ear to my words
Consider my groaning
Give attention to the sound of my cry
What the psalmist wants is clear isn't it? He wants God to listen to him: he is in earnest about that! It is so obvious that we could be in danger of seeing it without seeing it – if you see what I mean.
Someone might be tempted to say that surely no-one would bother to pray and then not be concerned that God listens to his or her prayers.
But the simple answer to that is that we do. Have you never heard the expression "to say your prayers"? Is there a difference between praying and saying your prayers? Of course there is! When we "say our prayers" we are discharging a duty or performing a task. Our focus is in doing something. But when we pray properly we are talking to God, relating to him, engaging with him. "Saying your prayers" so easily degenerates into something impersonal and that is something true prayer should never ever be.
That is the first and most fundamental thing for us to notice here and prompts us to ask ourselves the question: Am I really concerned whether or not God listens to me praying? If I'm not then I may just be glad to have got some imagined religious duty over and done with.
Having taken note then that true prayer firstly involves a genuine concern or desire to be heard we are ready to learn what else the psalmist has to say.
"Give ear to my words" At least some of the psalmist's praying takes the form of words. He is able to formulate in sentences what he wants to say. He has thought about what he is going to say and doesn't just ramble on and on – do we really think it appropriate to call upon the Lord GOD Almighty to "give ear to our words" if we are only going to ramble away because we haven't taken any time to think about what we want to say?
No, we use this sort of expression to draw attention to important words, to words that have significance. We chat with a friend about all kinds of things and much of it is not of any great significance but if we had some important message to pass on we might very well underline that message in our conversation by urging our friend to take note of what we've just said, to remember it, to act upon it.
"Consider my groaning" While words are very important in prayer there are times when we simply don't know how to express ourselves – we have our thoughts (indeed some translations put the word "meditation" here and not groaning) but how do we express them. We know pray is needed but oh what to say? In the presence of God this forms part of prayer and what is perhaps impossible for us to express is not at all impossible for the LORD to understand.
We should pray with words but not consider ourselves to be failures when our prayers only seem to be expressed in the form of such groaning. After all our Lord Jesus reacted in this way when confronted by Mary's grief at the death of her brother Lazarus:
Jn.11:33(NKJV) "Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled."
The writer to the Hebrews also tells us about Jesus' prayer life:
Heb.5:7 "In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence."
The apostle Paul writing to the church in Rome spoke of the way in which the Spirit helps Christians when they are struggling to pray:
Rom.8:26 "Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words."
"Give attention to the sound of my cry" Through it all David's praying is urgent; he is wholeheartedly involved in his prayer and wants a response from God. His praying is an appeal for help, help which he needs. An awareness of need is important – after all if we feel that we're well able to cope on our own with our own ressources we won't feel the need of praying. Is this a reason why we fail to pray? Is this a reason why the prayer meeting is poorly attended? We simply don't appreciate our true state.
The determination and the purposefulness of David's praying is brought out in the words of v.3:
(NKJV) "My voice You shall hear in the morning, O LORD; In the morning I will direct it to You, And I will look up."
Yes, it is possible to pray at any time of the day and it is possible to pray several times during the day and yet there does seem to be something about morning prayer in the Scripture. There seems to be an earnestness reflected in the heart of the godly – the night ends and one of the first things to be done in a new day is to seek God. Twice in this verse David signals his intention and determination to pray to his LORD in the morning.
The word translated "direct" here carries the idea of being directed towards a target. It is as though David is viewing his words as a quiver full of arrows each one to be fired off with accuracy and purpose. And he also declares that he "will look up" – yes God is exalted on high and David's prayers must be directed upwards but there is something else here, his "looking up" is synonymous with watching. In other words he wants to know whether his carefully directed prayers have indeed hit the mark , the target he's been aiming at. Will God be moved to answer his prayers!
How important this is and I wonder whether we make as much of this as we should.
David wants to see his answers to his prayers and he is actively looking out for them. Could the same be said of us and our praying? Do we even remember what we've asked for?
The Marvellous God to whom the psalmist prays vv.1, 2, 4-8, 12.
Look at how David varies the way in which he speaks to God in his prayer. This is not variety for the sake of it:
v.1, 12 He begins and ends his prayer addressing God by his covenant name - LORD
v.2 my King my God – note the personal nature of this. David is not content merely to address the LORD as the covenant God of his people but he wants to acknowledge that the LORD is his King, his God too.
True prayer must be offered to a known God, to a God with whom we are in close relationship. Something of that relationship is spellt out here as well – it is not a relationship or a friendship between equals but it is the relationship of a subject to his sovereign.
As David continues he weaves more of what he knows about his God into his praying. In this particular psalm he doesn't try to include everything he knows about the LORD and his character but he does refer to attributes and qualities that do have a direct bearing on the matters he has in mind.
vv.4-8 the righteousness and uprightness of the psalmist's God is brought into view – given that the psalmist is himself being opposed by ungodly and unrighteous men who are not interested in truthfulness this emphasis affords him great comfort and stirs his expectation of being favourably received.
David knows his God and knows that he does not delight in wickedness instead the LORD is a God who has "pleasure in uprightness." (1Chron.29:17)
This God doesn't allow evil to dwell in his presence hates evildoers – indeed he is "of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong," (Hab.1:13)
This God is utterly opposed to falsehood and the violence of bloodthirsty men – do you remember the 10 Commandments? Ex.20:13 "You shall not murder." Ex.20:16 "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour."
But if this righteousness of God is to be expressed in the destruction of the wicked the psalmist has a very different expectation as he respectfully approaches his God in prayer and worship. The LORD is to his covenant people a God a steadfast love – and in very generous proportions!
"the multitude of thy mercy" AV
"the abundance of your steadfast love" ESV
"the abundance of Your faithful love;" HCSB
" by your great mercy," NIV
The Major things for which the psalmist prays vv.8, 10-11.
Having pleaded with the LORD to hear and answer his prayers and having affirmed his confidence in the righteous yet gracious character of his LORD and having recommitted himself to regular prayer and worship David is now ready to make his requests. And for each of his requests he adds a reason why he believes the request should be granted:
He prays for himself v.8
He prays about his enemies v.10
He prays for other believers v.11
David prays for himself. Being in a hard and difficult place David prays simply that the LORD lead him. His enemies are making life difficult for him and he is presented with a variety of options but he wants to do what is right. He needs the LORD's help because he has enemies who are bent on destroying him and because they are using all sorts of deceitful strategies tosecure his downfall v.9.
There is nothing wrong in praying for the LORD to deliver us from our problems and difficulties – David does as much in other places eg.Ps.7:1 – but here David's primary concern is that he might know the LORD's will and follow it righteously.
Is such a prayer likely to be answered? Yes!
Ps.32:8 "I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you."
Are we interested in doing the right thing or are our prayers more concerned with trying to secure an easier life for us?
David prays for those who are opposing him.
What are we to make of the way in which David prays for these people who are opposing him? He doesn't pray for forgiveness but for judgment!
1. There are a couple of factors we need to notice:
2. The guilt of these people – it is not that they have done just one or two things wrong they are completely and habitually evil in what they are doing – their characters are defined by their regular wrong-doing. David is not calling for the destruction of someone guilty of a mistake but for judgment on hardened, inveterate sinners.
This is not to be confused with personal spiteful vengeance. Yes, David is opposed by these people but they are not his personal enemies they are those who have rebelled against the LORD God v.10. Their choice of behaviour set them on a course diametrically opposed to the LORD and their behaviour was a defiant affront to his honour. David calls for justice, divine justice to be meted out to them.
We have no right to use prayer as a cover for personal vindictiveness.
David's concerns for all believers.
Finally David prays more generally for all believers. He realises that his experience is far from being unique and that many believers will find themselves in dangerous situations. These believers will look to the same LORD as David for their safety and security and David wants that experience to be a rich and a positive one.
As believers who are also concerned for the honour of God's name turn to the LORD for protection David prays that they might be filled with joy and enabled to exult in their God.
He wants his fellow believers to 'rejoice in the LORD always' and he wants them to enjoy that peace that passes human understanding to garrison their hearts even in the midst of difficulty and trial. And he again brings his arguments as to why he prays like this – it is because it is in the character of his God to bless the righteous, those that have been granted a right standing with him by his grace. It's as though he says to God "See your own handiwork in their lives and reward it by rewarding it with further blessings. May your favour be so great towards them that it covers them completely with its protective shield.
Well we have come to the end of the psalm and may God teach us to pray.