How to Pray

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that there is a big difference between cats and dogs.  Someone has described the difference this way — whenever you feed a dog, pet a dog, care for a dog, or in any way show your love for a dog, that dog believes that you must be God because you provide him with everything he needs.  On the hand, cats are different.  Whenever you feed a cat, pet a cat, care for a cat, or in any way show your love for a cat, that cat believes that he must be God, because it’s obviously your job to give him anything he wants

            Now, whether or not you agree with this very researched, proven, and scientific data I have just shared with you, there is a profound lesson in it.  The Bible, from beginning to end, shows us what God has done for us, and the reaction of many people, even Christians, tends to be more cat-like than dog-like. 

            We tend to think something like this — God created the heavens and the earth just for me, he sent Jesus to this earth for me, to suffer and die for me, and now he’s gone back to heaven to wait for me. Therefore, since God did all of this for me, I must be very, very important.  And so, it’s God’s job to take care of me, to provide everything I need or want, because that’s what God is here for, he’s here to serve me.  That’s cat-like thinking.  We call it man-centered theology.

            But think of it now from the dog’s perspective.  Yes, God has given me everything I need, but everything God has done, is doing, and will do, he does first and foremost for his glory.  The reason he created human beings was to have someone who could reflect his glory.  And when man sinned, God sent Jesus here to this earth to suffer and die so that he could restore his glory in us.  And, by doing all of these things, God is glorified, and in the process, we are blessed.  But, it’s not about us.  It’s about the awesome God that we serve.  There’s a phrase that describes this dog-like thinking, we call it God-centered theology.

            I mention all of that because in our text this morning, we’re going to see a good example of God-centered thinking, as David goes to God in prayer. 

            We pick up in 2 Samuel chapter 7, verse 18, “Then King David went in and sat before the Lord…” (2 Samuel 7:18).   Verse 18 begins with the word “then”. Whenever you see the word “then”, you need to ask, What happened before this that led us up to this point? 

             And what led to this point is what we looked at last week.  David had a desire to build a temple for God, but God told David no.  He had different plans for David.  God wanted David to continue to fight all of Israel’s enemies so that there could be a lasting peace in the land, and during that time of peace, Solomon would then build the temple. 

            But, after God told David that he didn’t want David to build him a house, God said that he was going to build a house for David, a long-lasting dynasty that would culminate in a king who would reign over his kingdom forever.

            Here’s the principle that I want us to gain from this –

1.         Prayer should be a response to what God has said to us. 

            Like David, before we pray to God, we need to allow God to speak to us.  Prayer is a response to what God has said, so allow God to speak to you before you try to speak to him.  Listening to what God says to you in his Word will help you to know what it is that you ought to say to him.

            I would suggest that you make it a habit to read some verses from the Bible before you pray.  Use what you read as fuel for your prayer.  When you start up a lawn mower or a weed eater, you’ve got to use the choke to get it going.  It needs a little extra fuel.  Scripture is our choke, it adds fuel to our prayers.  So, if you pray with an open Bible, it will help you to get your prayers going.

            “Then [after God spoke to David], King David went in and sat before the Lord and prayed, ‘Who am I, O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?” (2 Samuel 7:18)

            Having listened to what God had to say, David reflects on everything that God had done for him.  David was the youngest of eight brothers.  He was a shepherd, born into an ordinary family in an obscure village called Bethlehem.

            David wasn’t born a prince.  He didn’t have any royal blood.  Being a king wasn’t part of his training.  There is no career path by which a hard-working shepherd gets rewarded by becoming the king.  That’s not how the world works!  So, David knows that he did not become the king as a result of his own hard work.

            David thinks about how he became the king, and everything that God has done for him.  So, here’s the next lesson that we learn from David — cultivate a spirit of thanksgiving.  And let me break that down into several pieces

2.         Remember God’s past blessings

            David began his prayer, “Who am I, O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?” (2 Samuel 7:18)

            Lord, you have brought so many good things into my life.  You came to me, where I was and as I was, and you brought me into what I am today and where I am today.   And without you, none of this would ever have happened.

            David was a man like us, which means that there must have been a temptation to take credit for what he had done.  A lesser man might have reacted like this: “Why has so much blessing come into my life?  Well, I was the one who killed Goliath, and all the other thousands of enemies!  And I did what was right by not taking the life of Saul when I easily could have done so.  And I’ve served faithfully as a king for seven years here in Hebron.”

            The natural thing to do is to take credit for all the good things in our lives and blame God for all the bad things.  But prayer should flow from a humble heart that remembers what God has done.  And David has a humble heart: “Who am I, O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?” The Contemporary English Version translates this verse, “LORD All-Powerful, my family and I don’t deserve what you have already done for us.”

            Let me suggest something you can do in those times when you don’t feel very connected to God.  Those times when you get up in the morning and you don’t feel like praying. God seems far from you.  Sit down and think about what God has done for you.

            Think about all the blessings that God has poured into your life.   What gifts or talents do you have?  Who do you think gave those to you?  Have any opportunities opened up for you recently?  Who do you think did that?  Are there any people around you who love you and care about you?  Who do you suppose gave those people to you?

            Now think about all the gifts that are yours in Jesus Christ.  You were forgiven of all your many sins.  You were adopted into God’s family.  God’s Holy Spirit dwells within you and has promised never to leave you or forsake you.  

            “Who am I, O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?”

            This praise comes from a man who could have easily felt sorry for himself.  David could have thought, “I have all this burden of responsibility — dealing with all the problems of this nation.   It’s a heavy weight on my shoulders.  To make matters worse, I’ve been opposed and misrepresented for the past twenty years.  And then God closed the door on what I wanted to do, and that was to build a temple, and he gave me the miserable assignment of fighting all these wretched wars.”

            But you read these verses and there’s nothing like that here.  What does David do when God closes the door on something good that he wanted to do?  He sits down in the presence of God and he counts his many, many blessings.

            If you’re facing a big disappointment in your life, I suggest that you do the same thing.  Sit down in the presence of the Lord with a pen and a notebook.  Think about all the many blessings that you enjoy.  Look back over your life and write down all the things that God has done for you.

            As we often sing, “Count your many blessings, name them one by one, And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.”

            So, David starts by looking back and remembering what God has done for him in the past.  But then he…..

3.         Look forward to God’s promises for the future

            Verse 19, “And now, Sovereign Lord, in addition to everything else, you speak of giving your servant a lasting dynasty!  Do you deal with everyone this way, O Sovereign Lord?” (2 Samuel 7:19)

            David says, “Not only have I been blessed by what you’ve done for me in the past, but there are so many blessings that you have promised to give me in the future!”

            And the same thing is true for those of us who are Christians.  There are so many blessings that we enjoy in our lives right now, but God has promised to give us even more blessings in the future. 

            Peter began his first letter, “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance — an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay.  And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see.  So be truly glad.  There is wonderful joy ahead…” (I Peter 1:3-6, NLT)

            Peter reminds us that there may be some dark clouds in your life right now, but they will pass.  You have a glorious future ahead, because God has promised it.

4.         Marvel at God’s amazing grace

            Verse 20, “What more can I say to you?  You know what your servant is really like, Sovereign Lord.  Because of your promise and according to your will, you have done all these great things and have made them known to your servant. (2 Samuel 7:20-21)

            David says, “What can I say, Lord?  Why me?  Why have I been blessed?  Why have you dealt so graciously with me?  I can’t explain it.  But you did it because it’s according to your will.  You did it because it’s what you wanted to do.”

            I’m reminded of what God told the Israelites in the wilderness.  He said, “Of all the people on earth, the Lord your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure.  The Lord did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations!  Rather, it was simply that the Lord loves you, and he was keeping the oath he had sworn to your ancestors….The Lord your God….lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands.” (Deuteronomy 7:6-9)

            God told the Israelites, “I’ve chosen you to be my special people but it’s not because of who you are, it’s because of who I am.  I am a God of grace who lavishes his unfailing love on those who love me and obey my commandments.”

            As Christians, we can say the same thing.  In Romans 5, Paul wrote, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8).  Jesus didn’t die on the cross because we were so wonderful that he just felt the need to do something for us.  No, he died on the cross even though we don’t deserve it.  It’s not about what we have done.  It’s about what God has done through his amazing grace.  And, as we pray, we ought to marvel at God’s grace.

            When David brings to mind God’s past blessings, and looks forward to his future promises, and he marvels at God’s amazing grace, it leads him to the only conclusion he can come to.  Verse 22, “How great you are, O Sovereign Lord!  There is no one like you.  We have never even heard of another God like you!” (2 Samuel 7:22) 

            Then David turns and….

5.         Widen your prayer to include others

            Verse 23, “What other nation on earth is like your people Israel?  What other nation, O God, have you redeemed from slavery to be your own people?  You made a great name for yourself when you redeemed your people from Egypt.  You performed awesome miracles and drove out the nations and gods that stood in their way.  You made Israel your very own people forever, and you, O Lord, became their God.” (2 Samuel 7:23-24)

            Notice how David moves from what God has done for him to what God has done for Israel. Prayer opens up a window to a wider world.   And while prayer should always be very personal, prayer at its best should always be more than personal.

            If you take the time to reflect on the past blessings in your life, and you look forward to the future promises that God has made to you, and amazing grace that God has shown in your life, it will bring to mind the needs and the blessings of others. Others who have shared the same blessings with you will come to mind.  And that’s what David does here as he rejoices in the blessings that have been given to God’s people, Israel.

            This widening of the scope of our prayers is seen in the Lord’s Prayer.  I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed how often Jesus used the plural pronoun in that prayer — our, us, and we.

            “Our Father in heaven… Give us today our daily bread” (Matthew 6:9, 11).  “God, I bring the need that I have to you, but there are others around me who also have great need today and I pray for them as well.”

            “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” (Matthew 6:12).   “Lord, I stand in need of forgiveness and cleansing from you.  But I know there are others who also need to find your forgiveness and I pray that they will as well.”

            “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13).  “Whatever temptation you allow me to face, keep me from any place where its power would overwhelm me.  Provide this same guarding power over my brothers and sisters who face many temptations as well.”

            Prayer begins with reflecting on God’s grace to you, but it doesn’t end there. The very awareness of your blessings should lead to a widening of your prayer life.  When you draw near to God in prayer, open your heart to the needs and the blessings of others.

6.         Ask God to do what he has promised to do

            Verse 25, “And now, O Lord God, I am your servant; do as you have promised concerning me and my family.  Confirm it as a promise that will last forever.  And may your name be honored forever so that everyone will say, ‘The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is God over Israel!’ And may the house of your servant David continue before you forever.” (2 Samuel 7:25-26)

            I want you to notice these words that David prayed, “do as you have promised.”   When we pray, we need to ask God to do what he has promised he will do.  God has just spoken to David and he said, “I’m going to build you a house, a long-lasting dynasty”, so David prays, “Lord, what I’m asking you to do is what you’ve already said you’re going to do.  So, do what you promised you would do.”

            Then in verse 27, “O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, God of Israel, I have been bold enough to pray this prayer to you because you have revealed all this to your servant, saying, ‘I will build a house for you — a dynasty of kings!’” (2 Samuel 7:27)

            David said, “The only reason I have the courage to come to you and ask for this is because you told me you were going to do this for me.  If God had not spoken to David, David would never have had the courage to ask for this blessing.  “Lord, if you hadn’t said this to me, I wouldn’t have asked for it, but your promise has given me the courage to ask you to do this.”

            I think the same thing is true for those of us who are Christians.  There are things that would be presumptuous for us to go before the God of the universe and ask for, if it were not for the fact that God told us to do that.  As the Hebrew writer said, we can come with “confidence” or “boldness” as we “draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16).

            Verse 28, “For you are God, O Sovereign Lord. Your words are truth, and you have promised these good things to your servant. And now, may it please you to bless the house of your servant, so that it may continue forever before you. For you have spoken, and when you grant a blessing to your servant, O Sovereign Lord, it is an eternal blessing!” (2 Samuel 7:28-29)

            “God, I know that you are someone who always speaks the truth, so I know that you will do what you said you would do for me.  Do what you promised.”

            But that raises the question, Why would you need to pray for something that God has already promised to do?  Because praying that way expresses our need to God, and it also expresses our trust in God.  Those of you who are parents, your children do this all the time.  “You promised me that if I was good in the store you would let me have some ice cream.  Do what you promised!”  “You promised me that if I got all A’s and B’s on my report card, I would get rewarded.  Do what you promised!”

            And I think we need to do the same thing with God.  Maybe there are times when we don’t know what decision we should make, and so we go to God in prayer and we say, “You promised me when you said in James 1:7 that if I ask you for wisdom, you will give it to me.  I’m asking you to do what you promised!”

            “Lord, I thank you that you said in Philippians 4:6 that I don’t have to worry about anything, but through prayer, I can present my requests to you with thanksgiving, and you will give me a peace that passes all understanding.  I’m coming to you now with all my fears and anxieties, and I’m asking you to do what you promised!”

            “Lord, I thank you that your Word says that you are always with me. During those times in my life where I feel far from you, help me to remember that you are with me, and you will never let me go!  Do what you promised!”

            “Lord, I thank you that you promised in Romans 8:28 that all things would work out for good for those who love you.  Right now, I don’t see how things can possibly turn out for good, but I’m trusting what you said to me and I’m asking you to do what you promised!”

            “Lord, right now I’m facing a huge temptation in my life, and I know that you said in I Corinthians 10:13 that you would not give me a temptation so great that I would not be able to bear it and I’m asking you to provide me with a way of escape just like you promised you would.”

            That’s another reason to pray with an open Bible.  What God says to you in his Word will suggest to you, day by day, fresh things that you can pray for yourself or for someone you love. How you ever wondered how you can you pray for people you love year after year without slipping into vain repetition?  “Lord, bless them!  Lord, bless them!  Lord, bless them!” And that’s only the first three days.  How are you going to pray for someone for 25 years?

            If you pray with an open Bible, you’ll often find that the Bible suggests something that you can pray for yourself or for another person, and when you pray for something God has said, you can pray with great confidence.

            For example, Psalm 21:6, “You make him glad with the joy of your presence.”  That may prompt you to pray that someone you love will be deeply aware of the joy of the presence of God with them today and the confidence that comes with that joy.

            Isaiah 43:2, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”  That’s a promise you can pray for someone who is going through  difficult time in their life and is discouraged.

            John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”  That’s a promise you can pray for someone who is anxious or fearful.

            If you pray with an open Bible, you will always have something fresh to ask of the Lord, and you will be able to pray with confidence, because you are saying to God: “Do what you promised to do!”

            So, I leave you this morning with these six principles of prayer that we learn from David:

1.         Prayer should be a response to what God has said to us. 

2.         Remember God’s past blessings in your life

3.         Look forward to God’s promises for the future

4.         Marvel at God’s amazing grace

5.         Widen your prayer to include others

6.         Ask God to do what he has promised to do


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