Both praise and prayer are appropriate and necessary responses to God’s revelation of himself to us. He has spoken to us, and we, in turn, speak to Him. That such communication is possible is due to the fact that the divine Word became flesh for us, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). Now, as a consequence, human words may enter into God’s presence through the mediation of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The book of Psalms is a book of praises. God’s people were to enter His presence with praise (Pss. 92:1; 100:4), and with psalms (47:7). But the psalms were more than praise, or, perhaps we should say, that which praises God is not merely a description of His greatness. The fact that some psalms are actually prayers is a reminder to us that God is glorified by us when we express our dependence on Him. Prayer is the language of the child who comes as a dependent to his father.
Indeed, one of the most helpful keys to the canonical prayers of the book of Psalms is to see how they breathe the spirit of the Lord’s Prayer. When we pray, we long to see God’s name glorified and magnified. “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” says David in Psalm 8. “O God, save me by your name,” he prays in Ps. 54:1, on an occasion of great trial. The prayers of God’s people extol God’s name and take refuge in it.
When we pray, we seek the extension of God’s kingdom. In our prayers, we acknowledge that “God reigns over the nations and that “the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods” (95:3). We pray that the testimony of the church will “make known to the children of man your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom” (145:12). We honor God as we seek the extension of His kingdom. We pray that God’s will may be done on earth, as it is in heaven. In prayer, we acknowledge that God’s sovereignty is exercised over His creation, as He governs the world by His providence (147:15) and commands angels for the good of His people (91:11). But we long to see men yield to Jesus Christ and pay homage to His authority by ‘kissing the Son’ (2:12).
We pray for our daily bread, knowing that as “man ate of the bread of the angels” in the wilderness (78:25), so God will not leave His people begging for bread (37:25). In prayer, we acknowledge that as God can cut off the supply of bread (105:16), so He can supply strength to man with food (104:15).
In prayer, we confess our trespasses to God. This is surely the most difficult prayer of all. When David did not confess his sin, his strength was gone (32:4), but when he confessed, he found God faithful to forgive (32:5). The language of David’s penitence in Psalm 51 is deep, as he opens his heart to the God against whom alone he sinned, and who alone could forgive. Yet the language of prayer is not only the language of dependence but of confidence as we approach the mercy seat saying, “With you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared” (130:4).
As we pray to God, we ask that He will keep us from temptation: “I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless,” says the psalmist in Psalm 101:3. The resolution becomes a petition in 119:37—”Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.” Grace gives us new resolutions, and it turns us to God for the power to keep them.
We pray that God will deliver us from evil. Some of the most moving psalms are those which arise out of the groanings of the psalmists in hard circumstances. In Psalm 74, there seems to be no future for the cause of God in the world. In Psalm 123, God’s people bemoan that they have had their fill of the world’s contempt. In these, and many other cases, the only place for faith to go is to the God of the covenant, who can deliver from trial, from distress, from darkness, and from death.
The confidence of the faithful man of God is summarized in these glorious verses:
He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord. His heart is steady; he will not be afraid, until he looks in triumph on his adversaries. (Ps. 112:7–8)
When Jesus taught us to pray following the pattern of the Lord’s Prayer, He was summarizing the great themes of the prayers of the Word of God. All of these encourage us to come before God in the confidence that all our longings are before Him, and our sighing is not hidden from Him (Ps. 38:9). It truly is good to draw near to God (Ps. 73:28).