The Prayer of David (Part I)
It hardly seems necessary for me to say that prayer is a most essential Christian exercise. A Christian without prayer is like a carpenter without a saw; a plumber without a wrench; a fireman without a water hose.
I agree with the statement made by the 19th Century, Scottish preacher, Robert McCheyne: “What a man is alone on his knees before God, that he is, and no more.”
If prayer is the measure of our maturity in Christ, if prayer is the tool that the Christian cannot live without, then it behooves us to make advances in prayer. As I struggle to pray, on so many levels, I find myself thankful for all of the godly examples of prayer that are to be found in the Scriptures. There are too many to number, but for the next couple of months, I shall use this time in the pulpit to have us learn from some of the great prayers found in the Bible.
The prayer of David that we are studying this morning is, of course, but one of many prayers of David recorded in Holy Scripture. The particular significance of this prayer is that it follows a three-way dialogue between David, Nathan, and the Lord about who would be commissioned to build the temple. David was eager to do this (2Sam. 7:2), but the Lord instructed Nathan to tell David that his son would be given the task of building the temple. Moreover, the Lord assures David that his throne, and the throne of his son, “will be established forever” (7:16).
In response to this news, David prays. In David’s prayer, we should note three essential components, which should be present in the prayers of the Lord’s people. First, we should note David’s humble approach. Secondly, we should observe David’s heartfelt praise. And thirdly, we witness David’s honourable petition.
First, David’s humble approach. The first recorded words of David’s prayer: “Who am I, O Lord God and what is my house that Thou hast brought me this far?” (7:18).
David is a king and an accomplished warrior; he is the ruler of Israel and is wealthy beyond measure. In the presence of men, David certainly is ‘a somebody’. If David were alive in our day, and if he were to visit Toronto, he is the kind of person that we would shut the 401 down for, in order that he might travel with ease. He is the kind of person who could attract a million people to Downsview Park to hear him speak. But, how does David regard himself in the presence of God? “Who am I, O Lord God and what is my house that Thou hast brought me this far?” is David’s prayer (7:18).
The context from which this prayer springs, leads me to make the assertion that grace promotes humility. God, speaking through His prophet Nathan, has just promised David that his throne “shall be established forever” (7:16). For a king, this is the best possible news. Who would have argued with David had he emerged from his house declaring, ‘Look at me! I am the mighty king of Israel! I have defeated all of my enemies, and I will continue to defeat all of my enemies—my throne will endure forever!’?
But David does not do this. Rather than boast, instead of calling a press conference, David retreats to his prayer chamber and asks, “Who am I, O Lord?”
Beloved, has grace promoted humility in you? If the Lord Jesus Christ has showered you with grace, what has been your response? Has grace driven you to your knees in humble prayer?
I fear that our churches have too many of the ‘Look at me!’ kind of people, and not enough of the ‘Who am I, O Lord?’ kind of people. Too often we have seen individuals who seek to promote themselves instead of seeking to promote the glory of God. Too often we have seen ministers wanting to advance their career; too often we have seen church members seeking positions of influence and prestige.
David has much to teach us. By David’s response to God’s message we see how grace is intended to promote humility. We see this in the apostle Paul, who says to Timothy, “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all” (1Tim. 1:15). And we see this in the well-known Anglican minister, John Newton, who penned those words, ‘Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.’
If we examine ourselves head to foot we may find many things worthy of adulation in the presence of our peers, but if we examine ourselves with a view of finding something to command God’s esteem, we will find ourselves appropriately humbled. Charles Spurgeon rightly asserts, “The Lord had reasons for choosing you . . . but those reasons are not in you.” Subsequently, when we come to God in prayer, we must come with a humble approach.
The next component we find in David’s prayer is heartfelt praise. We find this in verses 20 through 24 and, again, in verses 27 through 29. First, let us be reminded that the Lord refused David’s request to build a temple. The Lord refuses to grant David his request, but this does nothing to quench David’s desire to praise Him.
David begins by praising God for His character, “Thou art great, O Lord God; for there is none like Thee, and there is no God besides Thee” (7:22). After praising God for His character, David then praises God for His mighty acts; he praises God for “Thy people (Israel) whom Thou hast redeemed for Thyself from Egypt, from nations and their gods. For Thou hast established for Thyself Thy people Israel as Thine own people forever” (7:24).
David is an example to us because he did not vacillate in his affection for the Lord when his request was not granted. David is able to avoid vacillation by focusing on the Lord’s character, and by focusing on what the Lord has accomplished.
As Christians, we would be wise to do the same. The Christian should always be meditating on the character of God, and the Christian should always be bringing to mind that great work of God accomplished for us at Calvary, by our Saviour’s precious blood. Meditation upon these things will inspire our heart to praise the Lord and will keep us from grumbling and complaining.
I do not mean to be unkind when I say that far too many Christians hinge their devotion to God on His willingness to conform to our hopes and plans. This is a grievous error. Prayer is not an exercise of wrestling with God in order to force Him to conform to our will. Prayer is that exercise of humble submission, whereby God begins to shape and conform our will to His.
This leads us, for the moment, from David’s heartfelt praise to his honourable petition. After having his original request denied, David changes his petition. David had originally prayed, ‘Lord, allow me to build your house.’ The Lord responded, ‘You will not build my house, but your son will. And, one more thing, your throne will be established forever.’
Having now learned the will of the Lord, David changes his petition to match the will of the Lord. David prays, “Now therefore, O Lord God, the word that Thou hast spoken concerning Thy servant and his household, confirm it forever, and do as Thou hast spoken” (7:25).
Beloved, every Sunday we pray in The Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done”, and this is very close to David’s prayer, “do as Thou hast spoken”. But, here is a pivotal question: Do you know what the will of the Lord is? Do you know what the Lord has said? If you don’t, what kind of prayer is “Thy will be done”? And what kind of prayer is “do as Thou hast spoken”?
Do you then see the importance of knowing what the Lord has said? If we do know, we are then capable of bringing honourable petitions before the Lord, asking Him to do what He has said He wills to do. If we do not know what the Lord has said, we can have no assurance that our petition will be answered.
Assurance of answered prayer is a precious thing. Sincere Christians long for it, and diligent Christians will gain this assurance as they turn to the Bible to learn what God has said.
We need not regard every aspect of God’s will as a mystery. God’s will is revealed, in large measure, in His Word. And so, if we are to pray as David prayed, if we are to offer honourable petitions to God, we must first know what God has said. Thankfully, we can learn what God has said if we are diligent in our study of the Scriptures.
King David provides us with an excellent model for prayer—not an exhaustive model, but he provides vital principles for us to implement in our prayer life. Our prayers, following David’s example, should include a humble approach, heartfelt praise, and honourable petitions.
I would like to say one more thing about David’s heartfelt praise. The adverb ‘heartfelt’ may appear to be included only to serve the alliteration of humble, heartfelt, and honourable. This is only partly the case. If we look at verse 27, we get a glimpse of David’s motivation for prayer when he says, “O Lord of hosts . . . Your servant has found it in his heart to pray this prayer to you.”
Here David says something that is of central importance regarding the origin of prayer: Prayer must come from the heart. For some, prayer has its origin in the mind, and then it passes through to the lips, without ever touching the heart. For others, prayer has its origin in a liturgical routine; this is when our engagement in prayer is purely robotic. This is a danger whenever we say The Lord’s Prayer. If our reciting of The Lord’s Prayer is to please God, our prayer must originate from the heart. As Spurgeon has well said, “Our prayer must flow from our heart, or it will never reach the heart of God.”
In other words, our prayers must not be mechanical. The English Puritan, Thomas Watson, maintains that there is a difference between saying a prayer and praying, and he reminds us that one of the early church fathers succeeded in teaching his parrot to pray The Lord’s Prayer. For prayer to be prayer, our heart must be engaged, and in communion with God.
I implore you then, by the Word of God, to humbly approach God in prayer; praise Him for His character and for His mighty works; bring before Him honourable petitions according to what He has said in His Word, and make certain that your prayer originates from your heart, as you are moved by the Spirit of God.
Friends, this is the testimony of Scripture; this is how we must pray. Amen.