Have you ever wondered how to pray? Have you ever not known how to pray? Not that you didn’t know the mechanics (that’s easy enough), but you didn’t know what to ask for. Faced with a certain problem or situation, you were at a loss and didn’t know what to say or do. As a leader, this can be especially hard when we are called to lead others but are at a loss for ourselves.
Sometimes it seems hard to find answers in scripture, especially when we are looking for answers to specific questions. But maybe what we really need is theology on principles so that we know how to answer or respond to these specific questions.
For this reason, I am drawn to the Psalms. Although they can be quite confusing at times they provide great encouragement and depict beautiful images of God’s faithfulness. In reading through the Psalms, more specifically on prayer, it’s challenging to read about David however, there is great confidence in God’s faithfulness to use someone like David. In Psalm 13 it is clear to see David’s frustration with God as he questions if God has forgotten him. This is easy to relate to because at one point or another in our lives we have felt like God has forgotten us. However, we can learn from David as he puts aside those feelings and trusts in the steadfast love and salvation of the Lord. Another example we can look at is Psalm 19 which says,
“Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults. Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.”
Here we see how David reflects on God’s perfection and righteousness. In this Psalm David showcases his understanding of God’s righteousness and the grace he shows David in calling him righteous and blameless as well. David greatly understands the faults in his flesh which leaves him in awe that the Lord would declare him innocent. This leads well into our last example, Psalm 139.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”
While this is a beautiful prayer by David in which he asks the Lord to search him and know his heart, it may be difficult to grasp the whole picture of who David was.
Especially apart from his other times of confession, this could seem obtuse to his own sinfulness. John Piper says we often use the line, “God knows my heart” as if that’s good news. I feel a little like that when I read David saying “search me.” I think oh, no this isn’t good.
The way David talks is a great picture of something very unique about prayer. It may seem like it is a very lopsided relationship, right? But at the same time, we have a freedom to communicate in prayer that doesn’t exist anywhere else. This is a powerful thing to demonstrate to others—that God is approachable. Which leads to the point that this is something we as leaders can model for others.
This begs for our consideration on how to approach prayer since often times we are completely confused on how to even get started. Yes, God has shown himself to be approachable and absolutely prodigal in his love for us. Yet, he is the ruler of the universe, right? He is the creator and sustainer of all things. And, as you know, he is perfect. These attributes ought to give us pause.
Charles Spurgeon said, “A true prayer is an inventory of needs, a catalog of necessities, an exposure of secret wounds, a revelation of hidden poverty. Ah, my friends how many of our prayers are an abomination to the Lord.” It is interesting to think about the idea that God is very specific at times about how he is to be approached and how he is to be worshipped. Did you know there is a recipe that God gave for the incense that would be used to please him? And no one else was ever to use it? God gave very specific instructions on the incense that was to be used and offered up to him by the Priests of Israel in prayer. See Exodus 30:34-38.
”The Lord said to Moses, “Take sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum, sweet spices with pure frankincense (of each shall there be an equal part), and make an incense blended as by the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy. You shall beat some of it very small, and put part of it before the testimony in the tent of meeting where I shall meet with you. It shall be most holy for you. And the incense that you shall make according to its composition, you shall not make for yourselves. It shall be for you holy to the Lord. Whoever makes any like it to use as perfume shall be cut off from his people.”
This is a fascinating section that makes me curiously ask the following questions. Have you ever wondered what that would smell like? Would we even have the same sense of smell as God? And why did he choose to show himself as having a preference for a particular smell since he is a spirit? To me this section eminently captivating.
It is also interesting to know what each spice was and where it was derived from. There are two main theories about what Onycha actually was based on similar words. Onycha would have either been a part of a snail, which makes one wonder if that even smelled good, or a type of desert rose petal. Next is state which is a sap from a type of balsam tree. Lastly was galbanum which is an essential oil that comes from another common plant in that region.
It is beautiful that God would request specific fragrances that he found pleasing to be reserved solely for Himself. In the same way that he decided what was gratifying and acceptable to him, he found one sacrifice from Abel acceptable and one from Cain not. He also says our acts of worship are an incense to him as well. This serves as a great reminder that he is the one that makes our works acceptable—even to himself. He makes them a fragrance that is pleasing to him. And so, he receives our prayers.