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Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Arguing with God in Prayer?

Our prayers are too lame!
Compared to the psalms, our prayers are pretty dull and lifeless affairs! "Help Lord!" (Psalm 12:1), "Why do you stand afar off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?" (Psalm 10:1) are more the urgent substance of psalmist's prayers.

Perhaps our prayers are dull by comparison, because our western lives are so easy by comparison?

Using Arguments to support a request
In this blog, I want to tease out one aspect of prayer from Psalm 16 - true prayer is not afraid of using arguments. I am not thinking here of disputation, "arguing with God",  but of using reasons why God should answer the particular request we are bringing.

Using arguments to encourage a response in someone else is part of any relationship. If a child wants something, they may think of a long list of reasons, or arguments, as to why mom or dad should give (in!). So we should not be surprised when the psalmist backs up his requests with good reasons to answer.

Keep me safe
The basic request of Psalm 16 is "Keep me safe." We are not told what danger the psalmist was  facing  for good reason. If it was specified we would feel upon reading the psalm, "that psalm doesn't apply to me." And so, it seems, the Holy Spirit has withheld mention of the specific danger so that we can apply it to ourselves: what saint has not at some time felt in danger?

So that's the basic request of this psalm: "Lord, keep me safe." And it is very clear by the end that the psalmist felt safe, " Because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken."

But his journey to answered prayer began with arguments...

Why should God keep David safe? (verses 2-4)
David gives God four good arguments as to why he should answer his prayer....
  1. Because he has taken refuge in God (v.1). This is a good reason for God to take note - someone has come to him and made him their castle.
  2. Because he has no other good thing apart from God (v.2). The second reason God should take note is that God is number one in this person's life. 
  3. Because God's people are his number one people (v.3). 
  4. Because he has rejected all other helps (gods, v.4). There is a good practical reason for this rejection of other idols, to be sure - seeking the help of other gods, whether the mind, whether food, whether money, always leads to more, not less sorrow! Nevertheless, rejecting other gods, "puts pressure" on the Lord to hear this sold-out petitioner.
David rejoices in God's goodness (verses 5-6)
After using these arguments, we see faith rising! Of course the Lord will answer! He must hear me!  David is "feeling better!" He acknowledges that even though he is in a risky situation, he is in God's perfect location (verse 5-6). God has assigned him this lot, these pleasant fields - and he has thrown a delightful future inheritance into the bargain!

David stirs up praise (verses 7-8)
David tells himself to praise the Lord, the one who through the meditations of his heart counsels, comforts and helps him (verse 7). Praise leads to tremendous confidence (verse 8) - he knows he won't be shaken.

David is confident of future hope (verses 10-11)
David is confident not only in the present, but his newly blossoming assurance makes him confident of the future. There is a future for his present-dying body and eternal pleasures in heaven.

What a prayer!
David, who starts this psalm in danger, ends it with utter confidence, not only in the present but in the future. And where did that confidence start? With arguments to God as to why God should hear him.

Now, were these arguments for God or for himself? Did God send assurance in response to the arguments?  Or did assurance grow in his heart because as he listed the arguments one by one he himself became convinced that God could not fail to answer such a prayer? Either way, and probably some of both, David was moved from fear to assurance - through argument-filled prayer.

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