In a book written in 2005 by Christian Smith entitled, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, the author concludes that many young American adults have a faith characterized by "moralistic, therapeutic deism." According to this view of God, if we live good lives and if we're kind to others, then God will provide "therapeutic benefits" to us like self-esteem and happiness. Other than that, God is not involved much in our world.
This view of God has a profound effect on prayer. Smith found that American teens personally prayed frequently; 40 percent prayed daily or more, and only 15 percent said they never prayed. However, their motivation for prayer largely focused on meeting their own needs.
Additionally, Smith also found that many young Americans' prayers lacked any sense of repentance or adoration. Smith writes, "This is not a religion of repentance from sin." Again, Smith concludes that this "distant God" is "not demanding … because his job is to solve problems and make people feel good. There is nothing here to evoke wonder and admiration."
We may not be teenagers, but I have to wonder how this might this characterize adult prayer today. I have noticed that people run the spectrum from “I need to start praying” to “All is well. I am constantly in prayer”. Regardless of where we are on this prayer response spectrum, our passage today, David’s prayer, has some helpful insights for us. It helps us to realize that how we pray is just as important as that we pray.
To put David’s great prayer in context, let’s look at his background. The story of his battle with Goliath has made its way into common folklore. Most folks also know that he was the youngest of his father’s eight sons, called away from his duties as a shepherd to be anointed as the successor of the reigning king, Saul. However, less well known is his path to his own kingship. His well-known battle with Goliath while in Saul’s service was the start of his rising star in the nation of Israel, as he became a national hero. In the ensuing years and decades, as David sought to fulfil the prophet’s commission toward kingship, things weren’t quite so easy. David’s ascent to power included a series of political maneuverings, including several, shall we say, convenient deaths in which David may or may not have been particularly innocent, as these deaths removed all threats to David’s safety and ultimate future as king.
That David succeeded Saul to the throne was due in part, according to one commentator, to ruthless cunning and careful alliances. He also became king partly by wondrously good fortune. But mostly, the nation of Israel believed that David became king because of the Divine resolve; that YHWH/God had chosen David to be king, and thus, he was made ruler because of YHWH/God’s faithful attentiveness to him. In fact, just prior to this prayer, YHWH/God speaks an oracle to the prophet Nathan which includes God’s abiding commitment to David. Furthermore, YHWH/God promises that he will never, under any circumstance or for any reason, remove fidelity and commitment from the dynasty of David.
So, in light of God’s great faithfulness and promise, how does one adequately respond to God? There are three alliterative aspects one author mentioned: Doxology, Deference and Demand. We might also call them Praise, Prayer and Petition. David addresses God in his prayer in this specific order, which is something worth considering for our own practice of prayer.
He begins with doxology (our first “D”), a word which denotes a formula or liturgy for praise. David began with celebrative and exuberant praise, loading his doxology with generous acclamations of God’s name. He speaks of God’s incomparable lordship; saying, “there is no one like you!” No one as great as our God, the one who does great and awesome things for his children, redeeming them and protecting them from their enemies. No one is worthy of standing beside God; God’s stature is above all others. David’s prayer is all about praise.
One commentator noted that often we forget to praise God in our prayers, and cut straight to the petition, or so often as it feels, our demands. We just seem to throw up the petition without giving the Lord the praise and worship that God deserves. He calls these “Drive by-prayers”. Consider this: Suppose the only time we ever talk to our dad is to ask for something. We omit the “Hi Dad, you are such a good Dad, thank you for being such a good dad. Hope you are having a good day and I pray that you will be encouraged and strengthened” before asking, “hey dad can I have some money?” How would that go over? David’ praises God before bringing forth his petitions, just as we ought to begin our prayers with words of praise.
The second “D” stands for deference. As David praises God, he also acknowledges the enormous differences between himself and God. He acclaims God for God’s wonder and majesty, in comparison to his own humble insignificance. He approaches God with the modest words, “Who am I and what is my house? Nobody and nothing!” He remembers where he came from. He was a little kid, the baby of the family, with no claim to anything, not even a piece of the family inheritance. I am sure he had no political ambitions when Samuel first found him among the sheep. Thus, David comes before God with the acknowledgement that all he has become and all that he possesses is a pure gift of God, given in-ex-plic-ably by God’s generosity, without any claim or achievement on David’s own part. David never forgot where he came from; well, most of the time. But even when he used his power for ill-gotten gain, he quickly repented.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes, I have to wonder who am I? Who any of us are, out of countless generations of countless individuals, that God would have anything to do with you and me and actually have us to be a part of His plan? That he would keep us and protect us? For truthfully, God does not need us… he is beyond us all, more than we could imagine. As David wrote in his psalm, “What is man that you are mindful of him?” Yet, by God’s own choice, God is our Father who is in heaven. Our God is the God who has promised steadfast love and faithfulness to all God’s children, including you and me. So, here we recognize our humble place before God. And this is why we worship and praise Him. In light of such a great God caring for each of us, what can we do but give God praise?
Once David acknowledged God’s greatness and his place before God, then he was able to make his demands to God (the third “d”, for the sake of alliteration). He was able to bring his requests before God. David prayed for his people, the nation of Israel. We know David to be a man of prayer, many of which have been recorded as hymns in our book of Psalms. There is an old saying that “he who sings, prays twice”. David relied on the Lord, prayed constantly to God and brought all his needs before God, with the assurance that due to God’s steadfast love and faithfulness; that God would answer his prayers in accordance with the promises. Thus, we can also claim the same promises when we come to God with our petitions.
David’s prayer is a model for our own prayers. David gave praise to God and for God’s plan, remembered how blessed he was in the sight of God, and then prayed for God’s people, and petitioned for God’s promise to be fulfilled. It is a model that can guide our praying even today. Let us first come before God with praise and thanksgiving, remembering God’s great goodness to us. Then, let us make our hearts’ desires known to God and ask for God to answer, according to God’s will. Let us come before God, today and every day, knowing God will hear us when we come to God in prayer. Amen.