“I cried with my whole heart; hear me, O LORD: I will keep Thy statutes” (Psalm 119:145).
Are you frustrated with your prayer life? Does it seem to be lacking in confidence, being more of a routine than a reality? How blessed would it be to pray, “Hear my voice!” (v. 149), and then to know that God on high not only hears but is eager to answer! What gives the psalmist such confidence in his praying? Thanks to an insight given through Alexander Maclaren, two causes for confidence can be discerned. Both of them are loosely marked by a play on the Hebrew words qiddam and qedem, which begin with the Hebrew letter for this stanza (qoph).
First, confidence in prayer comes through continuance in sincere, regular prayer (vv. 145-148). Please mark the word “continuance.” The reality of God is not to be judged on the basis of a short-term experiment. When the Bible says, “O taste and see that the LORD is good,” it does not have in mind a session of cheese sampling, where nibbling comes before committing, but rather the start of a lifelong trust in the Lord (Psalm 34:8; cf. 1 Peter 2:3). In other words, the proof of God comes to those who abandon their skepticism and cast themselves on the Lord. Then, and then only, as they believe and persevere in believing, they begin to see again and again how faithful God is–that “the LORD is good” (cf. Hebrews 6:11-12).
Prayer is no different. The confident cry of the fifth verse (“Hear me!”) does not occur without the habits of the previous four verses–habits of sincerity and regularity. How silly, then, are we, to act as if prayer were somehow magically different than all other habits of life, which gain confidence through continuance! Yet, how hopeful we should be that through perseverance in the power of the Holy Spirit our prayer life can be truly changed! Let us consider, then, the habits of sincerity and regularity.
On the one hand, the psalmist asserts his sincerity (“with my whole heart”), which he amplifies as a commitment to obey (“I will keep thy statutes”). In the next verse, the sincerity is so great, it becomes the motivation for salvation: “I cried unto thee; save me, and I shall [literally, so that I may] keep thy testimonies” (v. 146).
Here we have our first clue to ineffective prayer: We may be praying without the heart to obey. We may be asking God to deliver us from temptation, but inwardly wishing He would not. We may be asking God for something spiritual, but inwardly eying something carnal. According to James, the famous rubric “Ask and ye shall receive” had some assumed conditions, such as proper motivation: “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts” (James 4:3; cf. Matthew 7:7). Similarly, a psalmist acknowledged, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” (Psalm 66:18). Conversely, if, in general, we do obey the commandments of faith in Christ and love to one another, we will have confidence in prayer (1 John 3:21-23). Therefore, prayer must be sincere.
On the other hand, the psalmist asserts his regularity:
“I prevented the dawning of the morning, and cried: I hoped in thy word.
Mine eyes prevent the night watches, that I might meditate in thy word” (vv. 147-148).
The word “prevent” (Hebrew qiddam) means to come before, or to confront someone or something. Literally, the psalmist is saying that he prays in the twilight before dawn, and then meditates before the night watches, which would seem to imply evening twilight. Therefore, in the twilight zone, both morning and evening, the psalmist regularity turned his attention to the Lord.
What a practical insight! If you are frustrated with your lack of praying, please heed this clue: Make prayer the first item of the day. In fact, if you are able, imitate your Lord, and rise before dawn (cf. Mark 1:35), to make the morning twilight a season of uninterrupted prayer. After all, who speaks to you then, other than morning songbirds? Furthermore, if you are frustrated with having nothing to pray, especially with having no promise to fuel your faith, but yet find it too time-consuming or distracting to imitate George Mueller’s method of reading Scripture before prayer, then imitate the psalmist: Meditate in the evening twilight, and then pray in the morning twilight. Please note: This sequence will only work if you truly meditate on God’s word, that is, go over and over in your mind what God has said in His word. Instead of meditating on your worries as you go to bed, which is the miserable habit of many, fall asleep with a promise on your heart. In so doing, by God’s grace, you will find that the promise rehearsed in the evening becomes the promise prayed in the morning–and praying the promises in faith becomes the fuel for continuance in prayer.
Second, confidence in prayer also comes through continuance in God’s word (vv. 149-152). While mere habits in prayer may give a stock of words, it is continuance in God’s word that gives a confident heart. Merely to pray many words ourselves, or to garner many prayers through lots of people praying, is not the road to effectual prayer, for our Lord warned us against the mere multiplication of words (Matthew 6:7-8). For prayer to be heard, it must be according to God’s will, and God’s will is best expressed in His holy word (cf. 1 John 5:14-15; John 15:7). It is in God’s word that we learn of His character, and thus can pray with confidence, as the psalmist does here–that God would not merely give life, but do so in accordance with His holy character of loyal love and justice (v. 149). Therefore, confidence in prayer will also come through continuance in God’s word.
Specifically, by continuing in God’s word and by learning from God’s testimonies, the psalmist came to know long ago (Hebrew qedem) that God had founded them forever (v. 152). In other words, he came to see that the only permanent foundation in all of life is God’s word. Therefore, on that basis, the psalmist locates all others with respect to the topography of God’s word:
“They draw nigh that follow after mischief: they are far from they law.
Thou art near, O LORD; and all thy commandments are truth” (vv. 150-151).
In this geography of certainty, the evil schemers may be near for now, but they will not be for long, since they are far from the foundation of life! God, in contrast, will remain near, for all that He commands is true; and, blessed be God, one of the greatest of His commandments is “life everlasting,” granted to all who have faith in His Son, Jesus Christ (John 12:50; cf. 3:16; Psalm 133:3). If Jesus’ words abide in us, as we abide in Him, then we will indeed have great confidence in prayer (John 15:7)! May the Lord grant us all such confidence through continuance! Amen.