Candid Prayer

Learning from Psalms

Sometimes a believer refrains from praying, whether in private or in public, because he feels that he doesn’t know the proper words or pattern to follow. Other times a believer prays, but never truly expresses what he wanted to say, choosing more formal, standard words and phrases instead. Do you identify with either of these scenarios? If so, you’re not alone.

To learn how to pray, I recommend that you read through the book of Psalms, which contains 150 divinely inspired examples of prayer and worship. Examining these psalms will encourage you to pray in a more candid manner, expressing what you need to say to God rather than meaningless, repetitious verbiage. For instance, let’s look at Psalm 13, which is a prayer that David prayed. This prayer comes from the personal prayer life of David, but it was also used in the public worship of God.

Beginning with a Question

This Psalm begins with a question. In fact, it begins with a series of questions (Ps. 13:1-2). So, is it okay to open a prayer with a question? Apparently so. If a genuine question is at the front of your thoughts when you approach God, then ask him about it. Don’t overlook your questions and go on praying as if everything is okay. Ask him about whatever is bothering you. For David, it was a difficult trial that wouldn’t go away. So, he opened this prayer with a series of five genuine questions, four of which began with “how long?”

Don’t overlook your questions and go on praying as if everything is okay.

What trials are you experiencing? What pressing questions do you have about life? Bring those questions to God in prayer, even if you sense you may already know the answer. You’re already asking the question to yourself, so go ahead and ask God. That is an important element of candid prayer.

As you learn to pray this way, you will also learn that prayer does not automatically bring an end to your trials, but it does help you to wrestle through them in faith. Wrestling through your trials in honest prayer to God is the best way to navigate difficulties. If you fail to do this, then you’ll be wrestling with yourself or someone else, and that’s no good.

Acknowledging the Lord

David calls God ‘Lord’ in the opening of his prayer. But does this mean that every time you pray, you must do the same? A cursory glance reveals that the prayers and praises of the other Psalms follow a mixed approach. Some name the Lord in the opening verse, while others do not. This indicates that naming ‘the Lord’ when you open in prayer is a good thing to do, though not prescribed or required in every case. What’s more important than naming ‘the Lord’ is knowing that it is the Lord to whom you are speaking, whether you mention this name or not.

Naming ‘the Lord’ when you open in prayer is a good thing to do, though not prescribed or required in every case.

The name ‘Lord’ here conveys a very strong message, that God is a being who has always been there and will always be there. Furthermore, it conveys that he will always be there to do what he has promised to do for his people. He revealed himself to Moses and the Israelites in this way for the first time in Exod. 3:15. You should notice that the Psalms that begin with this name do not all use it in the same, patent way. “O Lord,” “in the Lord,” “Lord,” “Help Lord,” and so on all reveal that the person who is praying and praising God understands to whom they are speaking. Also, these are natural ways of speaking to God that not only understand who he is, but genuinely express the way that a person is feeling and relating to the Lord in the moment of prayer, whether in confidence, frustration, faith, confusion, sorrow, or something else. This is an important aspect of candid prayer.

Requesting Help

As David prayed, he acknowledged his helplessness (Ps. 13:3-4). He felt as though God was far away and that his enemy was getting closer to hurting him. Notice how David said “consider me” and “hear me.” He was saying “pay attention to me,” which may not sound like a theologically correct thing to say. But it says less about what David thought about God, and more about David’s need for God. The issue here is not whether God was paying attention, because he is always paying attention. It is whether or not David wanted God to pay attention. So, God may allow a trial to increase in your life to persuade you to want his involvement. Too often we don’t feel that we need the involvement of God in life, so wanting God to pay attention is a good sign.

God may allow a trial to increase in your life to persuade you to want his involvement.

Now, what does it mean when David asks God to “enlighten his eyes?” The literal meaning of this phrase is something like “give light to my eyes,” and it means to restore your strength, health, and vigor (see Ps. 38:10; 1 Sam. 14:27, 29; Ezra 9:8). Bright eyes were considered a the sign of good health. So why did David pray this way? The duress of his ongoing trial had weakened his strength and vigor, and trials do that don’t they? They go on and on, making you weak physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. They can drain you. That is why you, like David, need to ask God to bring the glimmer back to your eyes. Do you need to pray that way today or ever? Requesting God’s help like this, in whatever words say it best, is an important part of candid prayer.

Remembering God’s Merciful Loving Kindness

As David prayed, he reflected back over his previous trust in the Lord. Despite the intense suffering that marked his present experience, he chose to remember the confidence he had placed in God before these difficult events had transpired. God had chosen him to be king over Israel. He delivered him from a lion and a bear. And who doesn’t know about Goliath? Clearly, he had trusted God in that climactic moment and prevailed. So, as David prayed, he allowed these past experiences of trust in God to strengthen his resolve to keep on trusting. This approach is an important part of candid prayer, and it is a more reliable reference point than what you are seeming to experience in the present. Reflect back over moments in your past when you trusted in God and experienced his teaching and deliverance. Can you recall them? Can you name them? If so, then let them persuade you to keep on trusting God in the trial that you are presently facing.

This was one thing that David could cling to, even when everything he saw, felt, experienced, and thought was trending in the opposite direction. David calls this past goodness of God mercy. But what does this word mean? It is not an easy word to translate. My Hebrew professor described it as the faithful, steadfast merciful loving kindness of God. It is a word with many aspects to it. It is more than mercy, though it is undeserved. It is more than faithfulness. It is more than love. And it is more than kindness and grace. It is somehow all of these things at once, and it describes the steadfast love and affection that God shows to the people with whom he has a covenant relationship. In the OT, this was the nation of Israel. Today, it is anyone who has placed her trust in Jesus Christ as Savior.

Consider the journey of the Israelites out of Egypt. They were in Egypt for as many as 430 years, away from the land that God had promised. That’s a long time! They were enslaved there for multiple generations. Was God faithful and merciful to them all those years? Yes, even if it didn’t seem like it at the time. Eventually, God called Moses to take action. God sent ten massive plagues to judge Egypt, the major superpower of world at that time. He delivered them from Egypt, then split the Red Sea for them to walk through, and then drowned the Egyptian army. Was God faithful to his people? Yes. But days later, the Israelites found themselves in the wilderness with no water source. Did they resort to prayer, candid prayer that asked “how long?” No. They complained instead.

But David did not do this. Instead, he remembered the past. God had protected him from a lion and a bear and a giant. God has anointed him to be the next king of Israel. None of that seemed very real at the present, but he held on to that anyway. And he knew that, just as God delivered Israel, he would deliver him, too, at the right time.

Friend, being honest with God in prayer is different than complaining. Feeling alone, discouraged, and afraid is one thing, but believing that those feelings are the way things really are, that God is not faithful, loving, merciful, and kind, that God is not faithful to his covenant commitment to you through Jesus Christ – that is wrong. So, what about you? Are you wrapped up in the present ongoing struggle of your faith in difficult circumstances or prolonged prayer requests? Remember the faithful merciful loving kindness of God to you. Remember what he has done in the past and begin to get yourself ready for what he is going to do in the future.

Visualizing the Future

As David concluded his prayer, he not only looked to the past to find the faithfulness of God, but he also looked to the future. He envisioned how he would respond to the final, eventual deliverance that God would provide. By doing this, he expressed his confidence that God would indeed bring his trial to a proper resolution, no matter how long it would go on. In Ps. 13:5, he projected that he will rejoice, which means that he would sing, shout, or perhaps even shriek with excitement after God’s future deliverance. He also anticipated what he would say when he rejoiced (Ps. 13:6). He would say, “The Lord has dealt bountifully with me!” This means that David was confident that he would be able to say at some future point that God had truly taken complete, perfect care of him all throughout the trial. Looking back, he would have no doubt about how God had guided and cared for him, even though it had appeared to be bleak and scary along the way – for a long time. Is this your outlook? As you pray through your trials, are you telling God how you will respond when he delivers you? Can you envision the excitement? Can you foreshadow what you will say? This is another special element of candid prayer.

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