Prayer – developing a wider vocabulary.

One of the biggest benefits of reading the book of Psalms daily is that it develops our ‘prayer-vocabulary’. 

Sometimes we don’t know what to pray about (this really should never be the case!) and our prayer can feel stagnant and uninspired.i

The way we approach prayer can also be the very thing that takes away from us the joy that Jesus had when approaching the Father. Jesus was a man who loved to talk and converse with His Father, sometimes talking to him through the night.

We don’t know what he prayed about, what request he was making but in the mystery of him being fully God and fully man, we know from the gospels that he praised his heavenly Father.

The book of Psalms, not all written by David, was full of David’s encounters in life and reflect his joy, deliverance from enemies, deep despair, prophetic gifting and his heart-felt intercessions. There are elements of the Psalms that are replicated elsewhere in other songs, as if there is a mutual number of life issues being dealt with by the different authors.

Something to reflect on as you read the Psalms is that this is the very prayer handbook that Jesus would have regularly and systematically read through in His devotion to the Father. These prayers were embedded in Jesus’ heart, but I wonder as Jesus read through the Psalms if He was able to reflect on exactly what was going on in the heart of David as he sang these songs to the Lord. Was Jesus aware of the long night of the soul that David was encountering? It is one thing to be told what a psalm is about by a Rabbi or teacher, and another to be the one to whom David was singing the song. Jesus singing songs that had been sung to him and about him. What an awesome thought to dwell on.

I’ve recently given thought to the way that we pray. I wonder if a wider prayer-vocabulary would help us and inspire us as we seek God’s face together.  On Sunday as we gather together it is not unusual for us to remind God of what He has done for us. That is always a good thing, and serves as having a living testimony of God’s mercy and faithfulness among us, especially as our guilt and sin has been dealt with at the Cross and now our sin has been removed from us as far as the East is from the West, infinitely. We can delight in (and should do) the fact that we are now the righteousness of God in Christ (2 Cor 5:21).

There is an odd sort of tension that works in our heart that I think could be worth serious consideration.

We come to God in prayer and remind Him of who we were, what we were and how awful we were, but does God have any idea what are talking about?

In our friendship with God that is built out of honour and intimate relationship with Him, there is a deep gratitude in our hearts that Jesus knows about our darkest moments in the entirety of our lives, knows what we have repented over, and what still besets us, including our multitude of unknown sin – and none of it takes him by surprise. We do need to thank Him for forgiving, restoring and repairing that which we have broken through our sin. Paul in His prayers wants to take us on into the deep fathoms of God’s mercy and love as He prays, asking for us that we might have a spirit of wisdom and revelation to know Him better, to grow in our understanding and knowledge of Him, knowing how wide, high and deep the love of God is for us. It’s a different sort of prayer than we pray.

I see this happening too with the gift of interpretation. Paul tells us that the interpretation is about praise, blessing and thanksgiving to God, but something quite profound is thrown into the mix, it is not just a prayer, the interpretation speaks mysteries. So there is a challenge.  Sometimes in many churches interpretation has just been a prayer. A prayer that reminds everyone what a sinner we were and what God did to bring us to Him. It’s a sort of testimony prayer. And we need to hear it, but I wonder if there is something wonderful about God’s redemptive purposes, providence or sovereignty that we are missing out on and we would get if people just took time (connecting the dots now) to widen their vocabulary by immersing themselves deeply, richly and often, in the book of psalms.

Now don’t get all legalistic on me – I appreciate we need all of the above, but I hope you can see what I am proposing here!  Comment if you like!

  1. of particular encouragement to me years ago, is Mike Bickle’s  comment about persevering in prayer that whether it was inspired or not, the pay was the same!  (back)

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