For most people, talking to other people is second nature.
But talking to God, now that’s a different story.
How do we talk to God?
What do we say?
How do we say it?
I’ll never forget this moment in college. I was on my front porch with a few friends. Every Wednesday we held a Bible study at my house. Towards the end of the night we broke up into smaller groups to pray. This particular evening a friend of mine decided to come for the first time. He had recently decided to follow Jesus. He was a “new” Christian. We each took turns praying. When it came to be his turn, the rhythm of prayer came to a screeching halt. 3 seconds of silence seemed like 3 minutes. He burst into laughter. Then, in a refreshingly honest moment, he said, “Guys, I have no idea how to pray.”
I think if we’re honest, we’ve all felt this same thing at some point.
So, how do we learn how to pray? What’s the best way to learn how to talk to God?
That’s what the Psalms are for.
The whole purpose of the book of Psalms in the Bible is teaching God’s people the language of prayer.
The language of lament – “Why God?”
The language of praise – “Thank you, God!”
The language of confession – “Oh God, forgive me.”
THE EMOTIONAL TRIGGER
When are we drawn to prayer? What often triggers us to pray?
During positive emotion we offer prayers of praise. During negative emotion we offer prayers of lament.
It’s important to recognize that emotion has a place in prayer. The Psalms show us a middle ground. They show us not to stuff our emotions…but also not to let our emotions drive/control us.
The Psalms teach us to pray through our emotions.
A reflective, intentional processing before God. Understanding the source of my emotions. Sorting through them. Pouring out the whole mess in God’s presence. That’s prayer. That’s biblical prayer.
Over the past few weeks I’ve become very aware of the emotion of fear.
Thankfully, the book of Psalms has prayers that cover all sorts of emotions. A great example of how to pray through the emotion of fear is found in Psalm 3.
How does David (the author of Psalm 3) pray through his fear?
Why is he fearful?
The context of this Psalm can be found in 2 Samuel 15. Absalom (David’s son) forms a resistance army against his father. David has to flee his own house and the city he established as the capital (Jerusalem). He’s running into the foothills with a few hundred people and there’s an army of 12,000 foot soldiers chasing him.
That’s a bad day. That’s a really, really, bad day. You can imagine the fear and the unknown that he’s experiencing.
David prays through his fear by first bringing his fear to God’s attention and identifying the source of his fear.
What’s wrong with David? Where is his fear coming from? Verses 1-2 make it pretty clear. 12,000 people want to kill him. A very clear, physical, identifiable source of fear. His life is in danger.
However, his fear is two-sided here.
There’s a clear, physical threat: 12,000 soldiers.
The other side of his fear is the propaganda that Absalom is spreading about David. What is the propaganda being spread? That God is through with David. That he was God’s chosen King, but not anymore. That there is no more favor or salvation for David left in God anymore.
This a very different kind of attack. This is not an attack on his life. This is an attack on David’s identity – on David’s sense of his significance and status. “Who is David now, if he’s no longer a successful King and Father anymore?” That’s what the propaganda is calling into question.
There are different kinds of fear. The most common kind of fear is what’s commonly known as Anxiety. Psychologist Rollo May is responsible for the concept and the word “anxiety” that is used to describe this specific category of fear.
Rollo describes the differences between fear and anxiety this way:
Fear: when there’s an identifiable source of danger or threat that instinctively produces a burst of energy/clarity to help you respond and save your life.
For example, a drunk driver swerves off the road onto the sidewalk you’re walking on. The emotion of fear instinctively causes you to jump out of the way. Rollo says this is a positive, constructive emotion – because it saves your life.
How is this different from anxiety?
Fear is temporary. It’s a flood of intensity and energy.
Anxiety is very vague. It’s a feeling of dread and weakness. It has no clear identifiable source.
Rollo believes that what’s at stake with anxiety is not our physical well-being, but rather our very sense of who we are. Our identity. The idea that I’m a meaningful person and my story has meaning.
Fear is like a lightning storm that comes through and flashes and it’s gone.
Anxiety is like continual gloomy skies.
DAVID PRAYS THROUGH HIS ANXIETY AND FEAR
David has a clear identifiable threat: 12,000 people want to kill him.
But the propaganda of his enemies is eating away at his identity. His status as a King and Father had all fallen apart. What meaning did his life have if he’s not King? What meaning did his life have if God has now abandoned him?
When fear and anxiety collide, it can destroy a human being.
So, how does David pray through the identification of his fear?
After first identifying the source, David moves his attention from his circumstances onto God – to God’s character.
“But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.” – Psalm 3:3
David uses the analogy of a shield. Why does he use a shield? Does a shield prevent anything bad from happening to David?
David knows bad things are coming. 12,000 people are chasing him. The shield doesn’t prevent bad things, but rather protects the most vital parts of David. In other words, God is not going to prevent bad things from happening, but God is going to be right there…. he’s going to be so close to David, protecting the most vital part of who he is from being swept away in this onslaught.
David then says that God is his “glory.” The Hebrew word here that’s translated to “glory” is “kavod.” The most literal meaning of kavod is “heaviness, significance, honored status.”
So, to say that God has “glory”….or to glorify God…or give him glory…. means for me to say out loud that God is the most significant, important thing that there is to know and be aware of.
Humans can have glory, too. 1 Chronicles 29: 26-28 says that David had glory (kavod). So, kavod is about your status. It’s about whatever it is within your status or position that gives you significance and importance.
And so for David and his “rags to riches” story, what defined him was this poor Shepard boy becoming a great King. But now all of a sudden, he doesn’t have that kavod anymore. Any kavod he had from being a successful father of a large family, a successful nation builder, a powerful King, or a man with moral integrity have been shattered.
Why is David saying this at such a low point in his life? He’s saying in a new way, “You, God, are my kavod (glory). You are the thing that gives me significance, identity, meaning, and purpose.”
Clearly, he has to say this because something else has been his kavod and this can be seen in the story of his life. His wealth, power, status, and significance. He was his own kavod.
So, praying through his fears, David realizes he has misplaced his kavod – he’s misplaced his glory.
All of his eggs were in the basket of being the King. Now, all of a sudden when his kingship is called into question, he crumbles. Anxiety and fear. Who is he if he’s not a king?
David recognizes God’s going to protect his vitals, the most important things about him (the shield analogy)…
The hardship strips the rest of his life away and all he has left is to say, “Yahweh, you are the only thing that’s important and significant about me. The fact that your attention is towards me and your care is on me, is all I need to give me meaning and significance.”
David’s anxiety is like a cloud of smoke, that’s just a symptom of a fire burning below. And that fire is his misplaced kavod.
So, David prays through it. He has to identify that misstep he took and restore God to be in the place of glory in his life.
Finally, David says that God is the “lifter of my head.” Essentially what he’s saying is, “I don’t have any reason to be confident in myself anymore. I took what God gave me and I ruined it and made horrible decisions.”
So, David directs the attention away from himself….”You, God, are the one who gives me significance and identity. You are the one through whom I can hold my head high. Even though by everything around me I look like a total failure.”
DAVID’S CONFIDENT PRAYER
In verse 4 David says, “I cried aloud to the LORD, and he answered me from his holy hill.”
David is referencing the temple in Jerusalem.
How is David so confident that God is still for him in the midst of this onslaught?…in the midst of all his failures?
Because he’s confident in the substitute that’s been offered up on his behalf in the temple. He’s confident in the sacrifice made on his behalf to atone for his sins.
It’s important to remember that David’s vantage point is “pre-cross”, but as believers on this side of “the cross” we can still pray through our fears in the same way – recognizing the ultimate sacrifice and substitute that Jesus represents.
FROM PRAYER TO SLEEP
David prayed through his fears. What did this allow him to do?
He’s identified the source of his fear and anxiety.
He’s aligned his priorities again.
He’s looked to the substitute that’s done for him what he couldn’t do for himself.
And now he knows he rests in God’s mercy and grace.
May I learn how to pray through my fears using the language of prayer provided in the Psalms.
May I learn from David’s prayer.
When I’m overcome with anxiety and fear, may I identify the source and re-place my confidence and significance in God.
May I pray confidently, knowing that Jesus was the ultimate substitute and has done for me what I could never do for myself.
And ultimately, may I find rest in God’s mercy and grace.
Credit: As always, big thanks to my guy, Dr. Tim Mackie, for a majority of the ideas and content in this post. You inspire me to dig deeper into God’s Word. The study you did on this topic has personally helped me pray through some fears in my life that have plagued me for years. Also, writing this down helps me remember these ideas so I can share them with others.