We all have those concepts that are hard to grasp, don’t we. The eternality of God is one concept that has been hard for me to try and understand. I acknowledge the truth of the fact, but it’s hard for me to really comprehend what that really means. But that is somewhat of an abstract example. Another concept that we can struggle with is prayer. Or more accurately, understanding how we ought to pray. After all, we know we are supposed to pray because the Bible tells us to do so—but how do we go about this?
In Psalm 119, the Psalmist is regularly pouring out his heart to the Lord. In the stanza of verses 145-152, however, he puts a special emphasis upon the importance of prayer. As he does, we see how significant prayer is as well as some principles to keep in mind.
In this set of verses, one of the key elements is that prayer is communication from the heart to God. We can recite a set of words, and while we might say it’s prayer, it’s a mere ritual. On the other hand, the Psalmist commits himself fully and boldly in prayer. He says, “I cried with all my heart; answer me, O Lord” (Psalm 119:145). This wasn’t a half-hearted effort or only something he did before a meal. Instead, he confesses, “I rise before dawn and cry for help” (v. 147). He wasn’t simply reacting in the moment. He intentionally chose to get up and seek the Lord’s help before anything else. He was completely committed in prayer.
Now that sounds a little overwhelming, but it points to the underlying fact that we need God. We can get so comfortable—or busy—that we forget our dependence upon the Lord. As we pray, we are reminding ourselves that we rely entirely upon Him. The Psalmist was going through a difficulty, and so he cried for deliverance (v. 146). While those times of physical difficulty are more evident, we all need the Lord: His guidance, His “love,” His mercy, and His “justice” (v. 149 ESV). He was committed in prayer because he depended fully on God.
This absolute trust and direct communication is only possible because of the relationship we have with the Lord. We know He hears us because of His covenant love, His “lovingkindness” (v. 149). Because of what Christ has done, we are able to “draw near with confidence” through prayer (Hebrews 4:16; Ephesians 2:18). We can come knowing that “He cares for” us (1 Peter 5:7).
Yet all that is more of the foundation—how do we actually pray? There isn’t just one ‘right way’ to pray, but we see some points in the Psalmist’s prayer here. First, he was praying from the heart (as we touched on above). He was communing with the Lord, knowing God was “near” (vv. 145, 151). He expressed the burdens of his heart, laying those burdens at God’s feet, as it were (vv. 145, 146, 150). He was also guided in what to pray by meditating on God’s “word” (V. 148). He acknowledged the Lord’s character as part of his petition, and also as a form of praise (v. 149).
We also see some significant things about the requests he made. Yes, he cried for deliverance (v. 146). Yet he did so in order that he might “keep Your testimonies” (v. 146). He didn’t want an easy lifestyle—he wanted God’s “help” (v. 147). That includes more than simply having hardships removed. He wanted God to “revive” him or give him true life (v. 149). He prayed about his physical circumstances, absolutely. As he did, he prayed specifically that he might be able to live in a way that would please the Lord.
When we compare this with the New Testament, we see these same points emphasized. Jesus wanted us to pray earnestly “and not…lose heart” (Luke 18:1). We “devote [ourselves] to prayer” and pray “in the Spirit” (Colossians 4:2; Ephesians 6:18). And we pray so that we can live in a peaceful way that pleases God (1 Timothy 2:1-4). We commune with the Lord as we pray from the heart, resting in our relationship with Christ, and pray that we can live in a God-honoring way.
There is so much more the Bible teaches on prayer, but these are a few aspects brought out in Psalm 119 and reinforced in the New Testament. There’s no set formula. In fact, sometimes a desperate heart-cry to the Lord can be misunderstood and dismissed by others (1 Samuel 1:10-16). We don’t have to make prayer some difficult part of our faith. We have access to the Father through Christ, and we are invited to cast our burdens upon Him. We praise Him for who He is, then we seek His help and guidance for our lives. And we do all this from a heart fully dependent upon Him. These are a few of the conclusions we draw from the Psalmist’s prayer in Psalm 119.