January 13, 2017 • Life for Leaders
Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice. He rescues me unharmed from the battle waged against me, even though many oppose me.
Throughout the five decades of my Christian life, I have heard at least a hundred sermons or teachings on prayer. I have read countless books and articles on prayer. Most of these sermons, teachings, books, and articles emphasize the amazing truth that God answers prayer. The all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise God of the universe actually listens to us and, in some mysterious and gracious way, takes our prayers into account. This is amazing and wonderful, to be sure.
In Psalm 55, David affirms the reality of answered prayer. When David cries out to God, “He rescues me unharmed” (55:18). According to this psalm, God hears David’s prayer and responds in ways that satisfy David’s longings. What a fine rationale for prayer!
But this psalm says more about prayer than this. It also illustrates the paradox of faithful prayer. Yes, David is confident that God will answer his prayers. Yet, notice verse 17: “Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice.” If David is so confident that God hears his voice, if he has such assurance that God will answer his prayer, why does he cry out repeatedly? Why not simply cry out once in the morning? Why not pray once and go about his business, sure that God has heard him and will respond? Why does David keep on pouring out his heart to God if he believes that God has already heard him and will do what he has asked?
There are many answers to these questions. I’ll mention one here. Prayer is not simply a request delivery system. Yes, through prayer we make our requests of God. And, yes, through prayer, God hears us. But, of course, God knows what we need even before we ask (Matt. 6:8). And we mustn’t think that we will get what we want from God because we “babble on and on,” as if we could wear God down with endless repetition (Matt. 6:7). So why would we cry out morning, noon, and night? What would be the point of this?
One point would be to enter into a deeper, truer, and more honest relationship with God. Prayer is not just a way to communicate our needs to God. It is an invitation to relationship. It is an opening to intimacy. It is a door into the hospitality of God’s home. Thus, in times of distress or in times of rejoicing, we repeat our prayers, not because God missed something the first time we prayed, and not because repetition of prayer will somehow change God’s mind, but because our souls yearn for God’s embrace. More than answers to prayer, we need God.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Can you think of times when you have cried out to God morning, noon, and night? What happened as you prayed?
Have you ever experienced intimacy with God as you persisted in prayer?
Are you crying out these days for something, but God has not yet seemed to answer your prayer, or at least not in the way you would hope? How are you dealing with this? Do you feel the freedom with God to continue to pray?
Gracious God, thank you for the amazing gift of prayer. Thank you for inviting me to communicate with you, not just in words, but also in the opening of my heart to you. Thank you for the freedom to approach your throne of grace with boldness, confident that you will accept me and embrace me.
God, as you know, I am often perplexed when you don’t answer my prayers in a way or in a time that makes sense to me. I keep on crying out to you because I am eager for you to act as I desire. But, what I need most of all is a deeper relationship with you, the reassurance that comes from knowing you are with me, the peace that passes all human understanding.
May I know you this way today, by your grace. Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online Bible commentary: Wealth and Provision (Matthew 6)
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.