Psalm 4 – Prayer – shopping list or conversation?

There is a rather trite saying that I have heard when people talk about how God answers prayer, or indeed if God answers prayer. They say “God answers with, yes, no or wait a while!” The idea of prayer presented in this framework is a shopping list that needs approval!

I have found this very unsatisfactory. It is not the picture of prayer that Jesus presents to his disciples in the Lord’s prayer nor what he demonstrates when he is heard praying in the garden of Gethsemane. It ignores many Bible passages where God promises to answer prayer. For example John15:7 says ‘ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you’.

But what is prayer and how do we tie these things together and pray with confidence?

Keys to answer this question can be found in John 14 and revolve around understanding what it means when Jesus says in John 14:13 “Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”

Name and character go together. Phrases like ‘you’ve let down the family name’ emphasise the link. In John 15, Jesus lays great stress on drawing life from God by ‘abiding in Him’. The point then is that what we pray comes out of our understanding of who God is and what he wants. I am not talking about minute specifics, for example does God want me to have a cup of tea or a cup of coffee, that is my choice! But just like my children know what I feel about various things, we get to know what God likes or does like not as we live our lives ‘feeding on His life’.

So, as I get to know my heavenly father, I can have confident conversations with him about the things going on around me.

Psalm 4 is just one of David’s conversations with God. He is reflecting what has been going on during the day. It’s a ‘goodnight’ conversation, he is thinking out loud and not just asking God for things but remembering the people he has encountered during the day; speaking out his thoughts about them to God as well.

Evening Prayer for Help[a]

Answer me when I pray,
O God, my defender!
When I was in trouble, you helped me.
Be kind to me now and hear my prayer.

How long will you people insult me?
How long will you love what is worthless
and go after what is false?

Remember that the Lord has chosen the righteous for his own,
and he hears me when I call to him.

Tremble with fear and stop sinning;
think deeply about this,
when you lie in silence on your beds.
Offer the right sacrifices to the Lord,
and put your trust in him.

There are many who pray:
“Give us more blessings, O Lord.
Look on us with kindness!”
But the joy that you have given me
is more than they will ever have
with all their grain and wine.

When I lie down, I go to sleep in peace;
you alone, O Lord, keep me perfectly safe.

Good News Translation (GNT)

Copyright © 1992 by American Bible Society

Prayer

Lord, you know what has been going on today. Thank you for helping me ‘find space’ in the middle of the pressure.

I wonder how long the people that I work with will keep being deceptive and try to put me in a ‘bad light’ when I try to speak the truth?

Thank you, Lord, that I know you guided me to the job I am doing and that you hear me when I call to you for the strength I need.

Lord, so many of my colleagues are focused on their own needs but what I have found in you, as I seek first your kingdom, is so much more than they will ever have.

Thank you for the peace of mind you give, thank you that I can sleep and that you keep me safe.

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