Scripture Text: Psalm 143
We have been learning some specific things that are necessary to be disciples of Jesus Christ. Disciples need to know who God is, who they are, and about having a relationship with God. Disciples need to be students of God’s Word, the Bible. A couple of weeks ago, we looked at Psalm 63 where we learned about our need to earnestly long for God. We learned that we need to find our satisfaction and joy in Him and not in anything else. We need to have a deep, meaningful, relationship with God. In a conference of biblical scholars many years ago, one person wrote a paper that argued for at least five ways that old medieval Christianity is present in the Church today. One of those ways was this: “The worship of God is increasingly presented as a spectator event of visual and sensory power, rather than a verbal event in which we engage in a deep soul dialogue with the Triune God.” Believers have become more interested in what tickles the eyes and ears, rather than what moves the soul into a deeper relationship with God. Prayer is an essential part of having a deeper relationship with God. We cannot have a real relationship with God without a fervent prayer life.
So, if someone were to ask you, “How should I pray?”, what would you say? What are some key things about prayer that you would tell that person? How long should a prayer be? Should you pray aloud or silently? Should you pray by yourself or with a group? Should you pray God’s Word? Those are all good questions. Even though prayer is so important to a disciple’s life, I think we treat it so carelessly. Prayer can become either a much neglected part of our lives, or a ritual that is rote or meaningless. Prayer should never be an item on a list of spiritual things to do. It is not a religious task, but rather a natural part of our relationship with God. Prayer is simply a conversation with God that includes the humble act of taking our natural concerns to a supernatural God. I do not really think that prayer has to look a certain way or sound a certain way to be heard by God. I do not think that we have to be kneeled by a bed or locked in a prayer closet for God to hear us. I do not believe that a long prayer impresses Him or a short prayer disappoints Him. I think that God really wants us to be honest with Him and to pray with whatever faith we can muster in that moment. In short, prayer should be genuine.
A Model Prayer of Penitence
To see how prayer is done, we need to look no further than our Lord and Savior. When Jesus was praying one time, one of His disciples said to Him, “Teach us to pray.” Jesus responded with what it commonly called the “Lord’s Prayer” (Luke 11:1-4), which really is the “Disciple’s Prayer”, for it is instruction on how we should pray. There are so many passages we could read about prayer, but many of the psalms are heartfelt prayers from God’s people. I think Psalm 143 paints a good picture of someone calling out to God in a time of great need. It reveals several things about prayer that I hope will help us in our prayer life as well as help us tell someone else how to pray. Psalm 143 is what is the last of what are called “penitential psalms”. There are seven of these types of psalms. One of the most well known of them is David’s prayer in Psalm 51 after he sinned with Bathsheba. A prominent theme in a penitential psalm is the self-confessed guilt of the psalmist. The psalmist realized he was guilty and that he deserved God’s judgment. Therefore , he called out for mercy with a repentant spirit. This psalm helps us to see ourselves as people in need of forgiveness from a merciful God.
Know God and Know Yourself
Other than verses one and two, Psalm 143 looks very much like other psalms where the psalmist is praying about his condition to God and asking the Lord to intervene. In verse one, though, David cried out for mercy and in verse two he acknowledged his guilt and need for God’s mercy. There is something else to note about these first two verses, though. They tell us to know God and to know ourselves. Look at these verses.
Psalm 143:1–2 1 Hear my prayer, O Lord; give ear to my pleas for mercy! In your faithfulness answer me, in your righteousness! 2 Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you.
David opens this prayer for help by asking God to listen to his pleas for mercy. Why does David ask for mercy? On what basis does David come before God expecting Him to hear His prayer and to give him mercy? David had a great need at this time and He knew to whom he needed to turn for that need. David knew of God’s mercy, God’s faithfulness and God’s righteousness. David knew God and he appealed to God for mercy on the basis of God’s nature and character. Thus, in order to have genuine dialogue with God, in order to truly come before Him in prayer, we must understand who God is. We must understand that God is one who first hears our prayers, even if the answer is sometimes “no”. We must understand that God is one who is merciful. We must understand that God is one who is faithful to His promises to us. You can trust Him. He is also righteous. He is just. He is right in all that He does. That is who God is.
Verse two explains why David asked for God’s mercy. David was a sinner very much in need of God’s grace, just like the rest of us. David was not a fraud. He was a true believer who was capable of falling badly, and he did many times. David knew that no one is righteous and can stand before the holy God. This is similar to what Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans when he said, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Whereas God is merciful, faithful, and righteous, we are not. David was aware of his own sins that would warrant God’s righteous judgement. David sinned constantly, as do we. He may have been one after God’s own heart, but his own heart was desperately wicked. Therefore, David prayed that God would not judge him, for no one living is righteous before God. No one is qualified to stand in the presence of a great, almighty and holy God. Therefore, the “mercy” David prayed to receive is not only relief from his immediate situation, but also God’s merciful acceptance of him.
We often think we are righteous, but in God’s sight “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). If we are to be saved by God, it must be on the basis of a righteousness that is not our own. David asked God not to deal with him on the basis of his own merit, but rather on the basis of God’s character and God’s promise. It is like saying, “Lord, give me the help I need, not the judgment that I deserve.” God’s mercy is made available to us by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. David may not have understood the promise of the Savior when he wrote this prayer, but it is similar to what the apostle John wrote in the opening chapter of his first letter. John declared, “If we confess our sins God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). We are saved on the basis of the work of Jesus Christ alone. The only answer is the cross of Jesus Christ. Jesus suffered for our sin and has become our righteousness. It is through Jesus that we are declared righteous.
Be An Open Book to God
Now that we know God hears our prayers, and we know something of God’s character and who we are in relation to Him, David tells us in verses three and four the circumstances in which he was asking God for mercy. David was oppressed by enemies many times. In this case a single enemy pursued him, crushed [him] to the ground, and made him dwell in darkness like those long dead. Look at the following verses.
Psalm 143:3–4 3 For the enemy has pursued my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead. 4 Therefore my spirit faints within me; my heart within me is appalled.
David did not sugar coat his situation. He told us exactly how this situation made him feel. He told us how low it had brought him. He spelled it out before the Lord. Do you pray like that? Do you go into detail before the Lord about whatever situation you are in or do you just give kind of a generic summary? Do you give God a full report of your problem or just the CliffsNotes version of it? You may say, “God already knows what my situation is. I do not need to tell Him.” Then why pray at all? What can you possibly tell God that He does not already know, anyway? How long is too long a prayer to God? How much detail is too much detail to God? God knows everything, and David knew that, and David told God anyway. You cannot tell God too little or too much, for He knows all things. That does not mean you should not tell God about your situation. God wants you to bring your concerns to Him. Think about it like this, prayer is not to inform God or to change God, but to bring us closer to Him. Thus, be an open book to Him.
Verses three and four of this psalm describe how the enemy’s pursuit had drained David of all strength. David was at the end of his strength and ability to strive. He was spiritually and physically exhausted. Have you ever been so exhausted from something that you just did not know how you would go on? David knew about this, and he was exposed to God. He poured his heart and situation out to God. This brings up another issue: You cannot hide anything from God. I know that may seem silly to say, but we sometimes act as if God is not looking. It is like when we get around other people, when we pray with others, we become guarded. We put up our defenses and shut the door to our hearts so no one can see what is going on inside. If you are going to have a deep relationship with God, you must be honest with Him. He knows what is going on in your life. God knows your predicaments and sin. You may as well tell Him.
Remember God’s Past Provision
Being out of strength does not mean that we should give up; instead, if you can remember the things God has done, you can have courage to reach out to Him. We should continue to pray in all circumstances. Paul wrote in his letters for us to “continue steadfastly in prayer” and to “pray without ceasing” (Colossians 4:2, 1 Thessalonians 5:17). Jesus once told a parable of a persistent widow to teach us to always pray and not lose heart when we face trouble (Luke 18:1-8). Yet, we will often times only pray when something bad happens and if then, only as long as we think it is helpful. We give up too easily. David teaches us in this prayer to remember how God has delivered His people in the past, and how what we really need is God. Look at the next verses.
Psalm 143:5–6 5 I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands. 6 I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. Selah
David said, “I remember how You delivered me and my ancestors. I remember it and I meditate on what You have done.” David acknowledged how God had worked in the past. He remembered them. Why did David do this? He may have done this in order to work through his painful distress and fear of his enemies. He remembered how God had been with him previously; he meditated on that deliverance; then he considered, or reasoned, from that past experience to the present. If God helped him in the past, why should God fail to help him in the present? He is the same God. Because David remembered what God had faithfully done in the past, he reached out to Him. David knew that God had come through for him in the past, so, he turned to Him for help. Do you remember how God has delivered you before? When you pray, do you remind yourself and God of His faithfulness? That can be a powerful tool to build up your faith.
Seek God as Your Greatest Need
Remembering who God is and what He has done in the past moved David to long for God during His time of need. We saw this “longing” in the last psalm we read where David wrote, “I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1). In verse six, David revealed his utter need for and dependence on God. When David wrote, “My soul thirsts for you,” he was saying, “God, You are what I really need.” He was saying, “You may not answer my prayer according to my desire, but You are really what I need. You may deliver me by removing this problem or You may remove me from this problem. You may bring me through it, but whatever You do, what I really need…is You. The worst thing possible for me, Lord, would be to be delivered from this circumstance and not have You because You are what I need.” That needs to be our prayer, too. That needs to be our desire.
In any predicament, our temptation is to think that our greatest need is to get out of that situation. You may pray, “Lord, the greatest need in my life is to get out of this mess!” But, here is David, before he is even gotten to praying to get out of his mess, saying, “No, Lord, the greatest need in my life is not to get out of this mess; the greatest need in my life is You. My soul longs for You. I lift up my hands to You. You are what I need.” When you go through a difficult situation, when you have some tremendous need, when you experience something terrible, you will be tempted to think that getting through that situation is your greatest need. You may think that the mortgage payment that is three months late is your greatest need. You may think that your current medical condition is your greatest need. You may think that a job interview or a co-worker not doing her job, or an overbearing boss is your greatest need. None of those things are your greatest need. Your greatest need is God. You need Him more than your body needs air. David’s prayer shows us that he was not merely looking for what God could do for him in his trouble, even though he clearly needed help. More than that, he was thirsting for God Himself, which is far better. Is that your prayer? Do you thirst for God above all?
Petition God for Help and Guidance
Thus far in this prayer, David has acknowledged who God is and who he is. He stated his predicament, remembered how God had helped him in the past, and sought God as his greatest need. Now, we get to the actual petition of the prayer. The rest of this psalm is a request for God to help him and to guide him. Look at the following verses.
Psalm 143:7–10 7 Answer me quickly, O Lord! My spirit fails! Hide not your face from me, lest I be like those who go down to the pit. 8 Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. 9 Deliver me from my enemies, O Lord! I have fled to you for refuge. 10 Teach me to do your will, for you are my God! Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground!
The situation David experienced was still dire, and David was still desperate; therefore, he asked God to answer him quickly. He wanted to hear from God soon. He looked for reassurance soon! The specific relief may take longer, but the reminder of God’s steadfast love enabled David to endure. He trusted God for he knew of God’s character and God’s past deliverance. David prayed for deliverance, though he did not know when it would come. He knew his Deliverer and he trusted Him to act. We can always pray with expectancy, because God always hears and answers our prayers. It may not be a “Yes,” or it may not happen when we expect it, but God’s answer will always be what is best, whether we understand it or not. There is one overacting theme to these petitions, though — tell me what to do, Lord. David wrote, “Answer me,” “Let me hear,” “Make me know,” “Teach me to do,” and “Let your Spirit lead me.” Though David did pray for the deliverance and the destruction of his enemies, at the core of what he prayed is a prayer for guidance. He basically said, “Lord, show me what I am supposed to do.”
Whether God moves you, or moves your problem, or brings you through it, as long as God is leading you and you are in His will, that is what matters. For David, the situation he was going through was serious. He had a great need, but it was not as great as his need for God. It was like saying, “Lord, I do not know what to do, but I always know the right thing to do is Your will.” That is the way Jesus taught us to pray, “God’s will be done, not my will be done.” When you do not know what to do, pray like this, “Lord, I do not know what I am supposed to do, but I do know this — I am supposed to do Your will, so teach me to do Your will.” David knew it is not enough to just know God’s will, it is also necessary to do it. Many people talk about seeking God’s will—what job they should take, whom they should marry, what church they should join, and so on. They pray the prayer of verse eight: “Show me the way I should go,” but do they also pray the prayer of verse ten: “Teach me, God, to do your will?” It is one thing to know God’s will, but are you are willing to do it no matter whatever it takes? Let the Spirit lead you. The prayer closes by repeating David’s request for deliverance. Look at the last two verses.
Psalm 143:11–12 11 For your name’s sake, O Lord, preserve my life! In your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble! 12 And in your steadfast love you will cut off my enemies, and you will destroy all the adversaries of my soul, for I am your servant.
David prayed for God to preserve his life. He prayed for God to bring him out of his trouble. David’s expectation for this is based on God’s steadfast love and for the sake of God’s reputation. We know God loves His people and we can be sure that we are on good ground when we pray for God’s honor and not our own. David wanted everyone else to know that those who have fled to God for refuge have a sure protection in Him. If this is what is required for David to live and continue to be God’s servant, he asked God to destroy all his foes. Our petitions to God, whatever they may be, ought to be on the basis of God’s unfailing love for us and the desire for God’s name to be known. It is an honor to serve God. When you pray, it ought to be with a servant’s heart and with the desire to continue serving God, no matter what it takes. Are you praying for that? Are you praying for God to remove the obstacles in your life so that you can serve Him better? Are you praying to serve God more faithfully?
In closing, do you know what it is to be desperate, to be cornered, and to be in a predicament? David did, and Jesus did, and they prayed, “Not my will but Your will be done, Lord.” That is always a good way to pray. When you pray, remember to acknowledge God’s holiness and your sinfulness. Call upon God’s mercy and love, which He gives without measure. Be honest with God in your prayers. Tell Him what is on your heart. Expose yourself to Him; He knows your situation anyway. Remember God’s abundant love and the times He has delivered you in the past. In your prayer, trust God to deliver you from whatever situation you face, whether that is by removing your enemy, or moving you from it, or by carrying you through it. God is faithful and is there to help His servants, His children, even if it is not the way they may think. Lastly, seek God as your greatest need. Do not replace Him with whatever situation you are enduring. No matter what, Jesus is the greatest need we all have. That is good news. Thanks be to God. Amen!
This sermon was delivered at Good Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, NC. More information about Good Hope may be found at the following site: www.GoodHopeBC.org.