The language of prayer in the Psalms is often quite different to the way most of us pray. Let’s see then if there is anything we can learn from Psalm 38 to help our prayer lives.
When I talk to God, I often tend to give a little explanation of my circumstances (knowing that God knows all about it anyway) and then spend the majority of my prayer letting God know what I would really like him to do about it. Maybe I will add after that, “but God, not my will but yours be done”, hoping that actually my desires are in alignment with God’s purposes.
But, if Psalm 38 is typical of the prayers of the psalmists (and I think it is), then the opposite is true concerning how he prays. In fact, what he does is go into a lot of detail about what is happening in and all around him before making a couple of simple requests. He presumes nothing when it comes to God knowing all about these details, obviously considering that God needs to somehow be reminded.
So, here in this psalm David talks of a number of his issues:
- He has a severe and painful physical ailment. He, in fact, says concerning it, that there is no health in my body; there is no soundness in my bones…My wounds fester and are loathsome… My back is filled with searing pain.
- At a time when he needed them the most, his so-called friends seem to have deserted him and the reason being, so it seems, is related to his illness. He says of them, My friends and companions avoid me because of my wounds; my neighbours stay far away.
- Due to his vulnerability his enemies have seized on the opportunity to try and bring him down, He says about them, Those who want to kill me set their traps, those who would harm me talk of my ruin; all day long they scheme and lie…Many have become my enemies without cause; those who hate me without reason are numerous. Those who repay my good with evil lodge accusations against me, though I seek only to do what is good.
- And on top of this (or it seems because of this) his sinful actions have created not only a rift between him and God but a deep heart ache for David, Listen to how he describes his feelings. My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear… all day long I go about mourning…I am feeble and utterly crushed; I groan in anguish of heart…I confess my iniquity; I am troubled by my sin.
As I mentioned above, a very full description of his dilemma! Maybe you can identify with one or more of them?
Then we see how short and simple are David’s requests as compared to his description:
He asks, Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath… Lord, I wait for you; you will answer, Lord my God. For I said, “Do not let them [his enemies] gloat or exalt themselves over me when my feet slip”… Lord, do not forsake me; do not be far from me, my God. Come quickly to help me, my Lord and my Saviour.
There are a few key verses here which reveal something of David’s heart. We learn that:
- He is open before God, truly repentant and recognizes the gravity of his sin. He says, All my longings lie open before you, Lord; my sighing is not hidden from you…I confess my iniquity; I am troubled by my sin.
- Despite his failures, deep down his desire is to do what is good and right (and not to sin). He says, I seek only to do what is good.
- He remains confident in God’s grace and mercy to forgive. He says, Lord, I wait for you; you will answer, Lord my God.
- He knows that if God does not help him he is lost. He says, Lord, do not forsake me… Come quickly to help me,
- He knows who God is and desires to be in a right and close relationship with him. He says, do not be far from me, my God…my Lord and my Saviour.
So, lots we can learn about prayer from David in this remarkable prayer poem.
Father, teach us to pray!