January 6, 2017 • Life for Leaders
Hear my prayer, O God; listen to the words of my mouth.
When I first moved to Texas in 2007, road signs I had not seen in California impressed me. One read: “Drive Friendly – The Texas Way.” You sure don’t see that in California, I thought to myself, nor do people drive friendly there. Another sign read, “Don’t Mess with Texas.” The footnote on the sign clarified the intent: “Up to $2000 fine for littering.” One of the strangest signs, in my opinion, proclaimed: “Observe Warning Signs – State Law.” I figured that if somebody were inclined to ignore warning signs, that person would ignore this one as well. Whereas the sign-obeying person would not need a sign urging obedience. The “Observe Warning Signs” sign seemed to me either worthless or unnecessary.
At first, Psalm 54:2 strikes me similarly. What good does it do to say to the Lord, “Hear my prayer, O God”? Let’s face it, if God is not listening, then he won’t hear or respond to that request. If God is listening, then asking him to listen is unnecessary. So why bother? Why would we ever echo David’s cry, “Hear my prayer, O God; listen to the words of my mouth”?
David’s example reminds us that prayer is more than an exercise in communicating factual information to the Almighty, All-Knowing God. Prayer is much more than asking God for things that make logical sense. Prayer is opening our souls to God and letting all of our messiness spill out. It’s crying out like a child to a parent, with freedom, urgency, and spontaneity. Yes, there are times when we pray in carefully constructed words of liturgy. And there are times when we groan before God in sighs too deep for words. And sometimes we use words that express what’s in our hearts even though they aren’t theologically neat and tidy.
When you imitate David by saying, “Hear my prayer, O God,” you’re not making a theological statement about prayer. Rather, you’re expressing your need, your hope, even your desperation. This is the language of the heart rather than the head, of passion rather than reason. David teaches us that the language of prayer doesn’t have to be perfect. Rather, it expresses genuinely who we are, including our fears and insecurities, our dreams and desires. God doesn’t want us to pray perfectly. Rather, God wants us.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Do you ever ask God to hear your prayers? If so, what do you really mean when you pray this way?
How free are you in your prayers?
Do you feel as if you can bare your heart before the Lord? Why or why not?
What helps you to pray with freedom?
Gracious God, how thankful I am that I don’t have to speak to you with perfect words. You don’t want a good show from me. You want me, who I really am, with all that is good in me and all that is wrong. What an amazing privilege it is to be able to pray to you openly. Thank you!
Help me, Lord, not to hold back when I pray. Help me to lay before you all that I think and feel . . . indeed, all that I am.
All praise be to you, O God, because you invite me to approach your throne with boldness and confidence. I pray in the name of Jesus, who has opened the way to you. Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online Bible commentary: When Prayer Is Hard, Hang in There!
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.