Learning to Pray from Biblical Prayers

How do we learn how to pray?

I think it’s safe to say that a lot of learning how to pray happens by listening to and praying with others. And that can be a great thing, so long as those people are themselves good modelers of prayer that is consistent with God’s purposes and perspective.

Given that, I’d suggest that nowhere do we find better examples of such prayer than in the Bible itself. By allowing those prayers to shape the outlook and direction of our own, we’re much more likely to be praying in manner that is honoring to God and beneficial for our hearts and lives. In doing so, we’ll often find our prayer moving beyond the set of concerns we limit ourselves to mostly without thinking.

So I thought I’d just give a brief example of how we might let a biblical prayer, in this case Psalm 25, shape our own. The psalms are in fact a rich treasure of prayer expressed in poetry/song—prayer that has rightly shaped the people of God since they were first written. In looking for ways that this psalm can be a model for us, we’re traveling a road that many have gone before. With that in mind, the following is meant to be suggestive, not exhaustive:

25:0 Of David.

1 To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul;

2 in you I trust, O my God.

Do not let me be put to shame,

nor let my enemies triumph over me.

3 No one whose hope is in you

will ever be put to shame,

but they will be put to shame

who are treacherous without excuse.

As I read David’s words in these opening verses, I’m reminded that God is indeed worthy to be trusted. Not only am I encouraged to think back to all the instances recorded in Scripture in which God proves faithful, but also to the many instances in my own life where he’s proven to be the same. This might lead me to praise God for his trustworthiness and ask God for a heart that lives in light of it.

4 Show me your ways, O LORD,

teach me your paths;

5 guide me in your truth and teach me,

for you are God my Savior,

and my hope is in you all day long.

These verses remind me of my need for God to teach me, calling to mind the fact that, left to my own devices, I lack the eyes to see and ears to understand. No other god can or will do this. But God, my genuine Savior and hope, is pleased to do so. This points me to acknowledging my need for him to teach me and asking that I might be willing student.

6 Remember, O LORD, your great mercy and love,

for they are from of old.

7 Remember not the sins of my youth

and my rebellious ways;

according to your love remember me,

for you are good, O LORD.

These words are of great benefit in helping me see clearly the character of the God I worship. Every one of us is tempted to construct a view of God that we’ve gotten from some other source that God’s own revelation of himself. So not only might I pause to confess sin here, but I also will want to ask God to shape my view of him according this passage: that his goodness includes great love and mercy toward his sinful people, including me.

8 Good and upright is the LORD;

therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.

9 He guides the humble in what is right

and teaches them his way.

10 All the ways of the LORD are loving and faithful

for those who keep the demands of his covenant.

11 For the sake of your name, O LORD,

forgive my iniquity, though it is great.

12 Who, then, is the man that fears the LORD?

He will instruct him in the way chosen for him.

13 He will spend his days in prosperity,

and his descendants will inherit the land.

14 The LORD confides in those who fear him;

he makes his covenant known to them.

15 My eyes are ever on the LORD,

for only he will release my feet from the snare.

This stanza can spark a lot of thoughts, but one theme running through it is how the Lord deals with those who fear him in the proper sense, who are humble and obedient (though always far from perfectly so). This encourages my own plea for the grace to be transformed into that kind of person more and more.

16 Turn to me and be gracious to me,

for I am lonely and afflicted.

17 The troubles of my heart have multiplied;

free me from my anguish.

18 Look upon my affliction and my distress

and take away all my sins.

19 See how my enemies have increased

and how fiercely they hate me!

20 Guard my life and rescue me;

let me not be put to shame,

for I take refuge in you.

21 May integrity and uprightness protect me,

because my hope is in you.

22 Redeem Israel, O God,

from all their troubles!

Here David models the action to take in the midst of distress and difficulty: seeking the Lord for forgiveness and grace. These verses are an encouragement for me to pour out my own heart to God in the midst of similar circumstances and to seek the same.

One more thing I want to briefly mention: at each point, it would be wonderful to pray these things not only for myself, but also for others. After all, I want God to open the eyes of my family and friends as well, that they also might better understand who he is, his worthiness to be trusted and served, his willingness to pour our forgiveness and mercy in the lives of his people, etc.

Over the next few days, try praying through a psalm or two yourself. You could also look for other occurrences of prayer in the Bible: Solomon in 1 Kings 8, Daniel in Daniel 9, Jesus’ own model prayer in Luke 11, Paul’s prayers for churches in Ephesians 1 and 3, or Colossians 1, etc., and many others.

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