While Matthew Henry’s Method for Prayer gives attention to the Biblical content of our prayers, Isaac Watt’s helpful book A Guide to Prayer offers ministers helpful insights into matters of expression, voice, gestures, and other practical matters of delivery. The book breaks down into 5 sections:
The Nature of Prayer (i.e. Invocation, Adoration, Confession etc.)
The Gift of Prayer (Free, Conceived, Extempore; expression, voice etc)
The Grace of Prayer (The various ways that prayer engages the grace of God)
The Spirit of Prayer (Relying on God’s Spirit)
Persuasive Arguments to Learn to Pray
Watt’s book helped me consider the distinctions between prayer and preaching and how that distinction instructs certain expressions and gestures in the pulpit. All of us have heard prayers that turned into “preachings.” By giving us boundaries for the delivery of prayers, Watts elevates prayer as a distinct and necessary ministry in the worship service.
But there is one thing that is infinitely more absurd and unpractical than burning a man for his philosophy. This is the habit of saying that his philosophy does not matter, and this is done universally in the twentieth century, in the decadence of the great revolutionary period.
Chesterton, G. K.. Heretics (AmazonClassics Edition) (p. 2). Kindle Edition.
Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
who was and is and is to come!
11 “Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created.”
PRAYER OF ADORATION
Glorious and Gracious Father,
We come to worship in your presence because you have commanded us to appear before you. We come, as well because have placed our faith in the blood of Jesus Christ, your Messiah.
We do not stand in your presence based on our own work or merit, but solely based on the cleansing and purifying work of your Son, Jesus Christ.
Father, we recognize that you have made us, and we have not made ourselves. You formed our bodies, and they are fearfully and wonderfully made. All of our days were written in your book before we had taken a single breath. You are the potter, and we are the clay.
You have been our shepherd all our life to this very day. Because you love us, and your eye is fixed on us you have kept us close to you. Even though our sins threaten to separate us, your loving kindness is steadfast towards us, and your mercies are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness, O God.
You speak and it comes to pass. You command and it is done. All authority is yours in heaven and on earth. Some trust in chariots and some trust in horses, some in governors and some in presidents, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
So, all glory to you Father, through Christ the Son who rules and reigns with you and the Spirit. One God, world without end. Amen.
David begins with a description of practical atheism. Three words for “fool” in Hebrew all relate to moral orientation rather than intellectual beliefs. This denial of God isn’t philosophical atheism, but rather, pragmatic deism. The fool, therefore, is anyone who lives as if God doesn’t exist. (v.
Scripture doesn’t repeat itself verbatim often and Psalm 14 is one of the rare cases in which Scripture repeats itself 3 times. Psalm 53 is the first repetition with a few modifications and the Apostle Paul quotes the Psalm at length in Romans 3 concerning human depravity. God’s Word uttered a single time demands no less of our attention than words he repeats. Nonetheless, we ought to pay special attention to Words God considered worth repeating.
Our text for today is Psalm 14. These are God’s Words.
14 To the choirmaster. Of David.
1 The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds;
there is none who does good.
2 The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand,
who seek after God.
3 They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.
4 Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers
who eat up my people as they eat bread
and do not call upon the Lord?
5 There they are in great terror,
for God is with the generation of the righteous.
6 You would shame the plans of the poor,
but the Lord is his refuge.
7 Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people,
let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
It’s quite possible that the bulk of the Psalm was written by David and the final lines were later additions during Israel’s exile in Babylon. The restoration of God’s people features heavily in the Prophets.
David begins with a description of practical atheism. Three words for “fool” in Hebrew all relate to moral orientation rather than intellectual beliefs. This denial of God isn’t philosophical atheism, but rather, pragmatic deism. The fool, therefore, is anyone who lives as if God doesn’t exist. (v. 1) For this reason, instead of the word “fool,” one commentator chose the word, “scoundrel.”
And, how bad off is the world of men? So bad that when God opens the window of heaven and peers down, not even divine omniscience is able to find a single person seeking after God. (v. 2) God looks down to see if anyone is looking up.
Everyone has become corrupt. It’s a Hebrew word often applied to the souring of milk. All have turned aside from obedient living. Notice again the moral orientation of this Psalm, rather than the intellectual orientation. (v 3)
God asks a rhetorical question because he already knows the answer, “Doesn’t anyone know God?” No, instead, the practical atheists are like contract killers: they’re able to eat the poor as easily as they eat a steak dinner. Self-inflicted spiritual blindness produces callused moral indifference. (v. 4)
Verses 5 & 6 tell us why the unrighteous are unnerved and why the righteous, though oppressed, are calm: The Lord is in the midst of his people and the people are in the midst of God’s refuge. He is in us, and we are in him.
Psalm 14 ends with a prayer for deliverance: Zion is the place of God’s dwelling and rule—and when salvation comes from Zion, God’s people will be restored. This is a cause for great celebration even now. (v. 7)
THE TRUE NATURE OF ATHEISM
Surprisingly, the Scriptures almost never address philosophical atheism. In fact, Scripture teaches us that knowledge of God’s existence is baked-into creation. Eternity is written into our hearts (Eccl. 3:11) God’s existence and his attributes are so manifestly obvious in the created order that no one can claim ignorance (Romans 1:19-20) To the philosophical atheist, the Bible says, “Are you kidding me?”
The Scriptures do, however, address an atheism of a more practical nature. Psalm 14 and Romans 1 both teach that atheism is living as if God didn’t exist—and any philosophical arguments against God’s reality are simply efforts to suppress the truth so that we don’t have to change our behavior.
And this kind of lawless living doesn’t just show up in pagan Gentiles, it shows up in Judaism and Christianity too. Even those who grant the philosophical reality of God can be guilty of living as if he doesn’t exist. In fact, Psalm 14 is more a critique of widespread faithlessness within God’s own people, than the nations surrounding them.
This Psalm produces in us a kind of hopelessness. None is righteous. None seek after God. This isn’t hyperbole; it’s realism. This is the Reformed (and Biblical) doctrine of total, or radical, depravity. Everyone is running from God. Some of us run from him through rule-keeping religion, others through rule-shattering rebellion. But no one is born loving God for his own sake.
As we keep the moral orientation of this Psalm in our sights, we see what’s fundamentally wrong with all of us. Our problem isn’t one of knowledge, but of the desires and the will. We don’t find God for the same reason a thief doesn’t find a police officer. (Romans 1) We don’t keep our own self-legislated laws either. (Romans 2)
In the end, there are only two options: keep running pell-mell into all your slippery sins. Refuse to believe that God knows your name and sees everything you do. And in the end, as Lewis said, “that Face which is the terror of the universe will be turned upon you, inflicting shame that can never be disguised.” Or you can turn around acknowledging you’ve broken all your laws and all of his, and you will find the arms of Christ spread wide and nailed to a cross. God will look down from heaven, and that same Face which is the delight of the universe will be turned on you, conferring glory inexpressible.
Because God mercifully forgives and transforms sinners, it is possible, and obligatory for those redeemed from their depravity to begin trusting God and obeying his commands. And this makes them an irresistible target.
The Scriptures, from Genesis to James, teach an antagonism between the offspring of the serpent and the worshippers of the Lamb; between the flesh and the Spirit, and between the world and the church. It is unavoidable. (Gen. 3:15; James 4:4; 2 Cor. 6:14-16; 1 John 2:15)
Why does the church come under attack? Because God is in our midst. When the people down in the village who hate the king cannot get up the mountain into the castle to attack the king what do they do? They tar and feather his image down in the village.
Church, prepare yourself. You cannot serve worship and serve the Lord and avoid the castigation of those who hate him. If you love respectability in the eyes of the world, you will compromise. And if you love your own peace and quiet too much, you’ll retaliate against mistreatment in the flesh.
As we stand and work for the truth, we must do so refusing to make a name for ourselves and refusing to return evil for evil. Don’t take the bait of respectability on the one hand or retaliation on the other. When we are reviled for serving Christ, then we are most blessed. (Matt. 5:10-12)
99% of my personal library consists of reference books. As a pastor, I’m required to bury my nose in commentaries, theologies, and cultural studies; and that’s just fine. I happen to enjoy that kind of reading. But we become like what we read and pastors who only read non-fiction reference material begin sounding like textbooks. For that reason, I always have a mixture of other types of literature in my reading diet. I listen to novels on audiobooks, and I typically have a book of poetry on my desk or bedside table. In this series of posts, I am sharing some of my favorite sacred poems. I hope they inspire you to search for more.
This is “La Corona” by John Donne
Deign at my hands this crown of prayer and praise,
Weaved in my lone devout melancholy,
Thou which of good hast, yea, art treasury,
All changing unchanged Ancient of days.
But do not with a vile crown of frail bays
Reward my Muse’s white sincerity ;
But what Thy thorny crown gain’d, that give me,
A crown of glory, which doth flower always.
The ends crown our works, but Thou crown’st our ends,
For at our ends begins our endless rest.
The first last end, now zealously possess’d,
With a strong sober thirst my soul attends.
‘Tis time that heart and voice be lifted high ; Salvation to all that will is nigh.
Salvation to all that will is nigh ;
That All, which always is all everywhere,
Which cannot sin, and yet all sins must bear,
Which cannot die, yet cannot choose but die,
Lo ! faithful Virgin, yields Himself to lie
In prison, in thy womb ; and though He there
Can take no sin, nor thou give, yet He’ll wear,
Taken from thence, flesh, which death’s force may try.
Ere by the spheres time was created thou
Wast in His mind, who is thy Son, and Brother ;
Whom thou conceivest, conceived ; yea, thou art now
Thy Maker’s maker, and thy Father’s mother,
Thou hast light in dark, and shutt’st in little room Immensity, cloister’d in thy dear womb.
Immensity, cloister’d in thy dear womb,
Now leaves His well-beloved imprisonment.
There he hath made himself to his intent
Weak enough, now into our world to come.
But O ! for thee, for Him, hath th’ inn no room ?
Yet lay Him in this stall, and from th’ orient,
Stars, and wise men will travel to prevent
The effects of Herod’s jealous general doom.
See’st thou, my soul, with thy faith’s eye, how He
Which fills all place, yet none holds Him, doth lie ?
Was not His pity towards thee wondrous high,
That would have need to be pitied by thee ?
Kiss Him, and with Him into Egypt go, With His kind mother, who partakes thy woe.
With His kind mother, who partakes thy woe,
Joseph, turn back ; see where your child doth sit,
Blowing, yea blowing out those sparks of wit,
Which Himself on the doctors did bestow.
The Word but lately could not speak, and lo !
It suddenly speaks wonders ; whence comes it,
That all which was, and all which should be writ,
A shallow seeming child should deeply know ?
His Godhead was not soul to His manhood,
Nor had time mellow’d Him to this ripeness ;
But as for one which hath a long task, ’tis good,
With the sun to begin His business,
He in His age’s morning thus began, By miracles exceeding power of man.
By miracles exceeding power of man,
He faith in some, envy in some begat,
For, what weak spirits admire, ambitious hate :
In both affections many to Him ran.
But O ! the worst are most, they will and can,
Alas ! and do, unto th’ Immaculate,
Whose creature Fate is, now prescribe a fate,
Measuring self-life’s infinity to span,
Nay to an inch. Lo ! where condemned He
Bears His own cross, with pain, yet by and by
When it bears him, He must bear more and die.
Now Thou art lifted up, draw me to Thee,
And at Thy death giving such liberal dole, Moist with one drop of Thy blood my dry soul.
Moist with one drop of Thy blood, my dry soul
Shall—though she now be in extreme degree
Too stony hard, and yet too fleshly—be
Freed by that drop, from being starved, hard or foul,
And life by this death abled shall control
Death, whom Thy death slew ; nor shall to me
Fear of first or last death bring misery,
If in thy life-book my name thou enroll.
Flesh in that long sleep is not putrified,
But made that there, of which, and for which it was ;
Nor can by other means be glorified.
May then sin’s sleep and death soon from me pass,
That waked from both, I again risen may Salute the last and everlasting day.
Salute the last and everlasting day,
Joy at th’ uprising of this Sun, and Son,
Ye whose true tears, or tribulation
Have purely wash’d, or burnt your drossy clay.
Behold, the Highest, parting hence away,
Lightens the dark clouds, which He treads upon ;
Nor doth He by ascending show alone,
But first He, and He first enters the way.
O strong Ram, which hast batter’d heaven for me !
Mild Lamb, which with Thy Blood hast mark’d the path !
Bright Torch, which shinest, that I the way may see !
O, with Thy own Blood quench Thy own just wrath ;
And if Thy Holy Spirit my Muse did raise, Deign at my hands this crown of prayer and praise.
Have you ever read one of the big classic novels? I’m talking about books like Pride and Prejudice, The Brothers Karamazov, and War and Peace. Those books intimidate readers for several reasons. First, they are long. It will take a large investment of time to work through them. They’re also full of new character names and, in the case of the Russian novels, difficult character names. Feeling overwhelmed by complicated relationships and multiple plot lines, many readers give up and never experience the joys of completing the story.
The same can happen for first-time Bible readers. Just like those big Russian novels, the Bible is chocked full of characters, plots, and subplots. The Old Testament speaks to an ancient Hebrew world, and the New Testament speaks within the context of a Hellenized (Greek) Roman empire. On top of all that, the Bible is full of different kinds of literature: narrative, poetry, law codes, and more. Those of us who have read the Bible daily for years often forget what it’s like to have to stop every line or two to reference a term we don’t understand.
All that being said, here is my exhortation to you: don’t let the intimidation of this new Biblical world stop you. It may slow you down, but do not stop. Mortimer Adler, writing about the intimidation of big novels says that we don’t allow that same intimidation to stop us from attending parties or moving to a new town. Adler writes, “They do not give up in those circumstances; they know that after a short while individuals will begin to be visible in the mass, friends will emerge from the faceless crowd of fellow-workers, fellow-students, or fellow-guests.” (1) We may not remember all the names, but we will remember the person talked to for an hour. Even though there are many plot points, read long enough and you will discover the most critical moments of the story. The same is true with Scripture.
Church, I cannot stress this enough: we must root ourselves in the living and abiding Word. (1 Pet. 1:23) Every member of our church needs to possess a working knowledge of the Bible. You need not be a Bible scholar, but the culture in which we live grows increasingly antithetical to our faith every moment and the Word will be an anchor in the stormy years to come. It won’t be enough to attend church for an hour a week. You must cultivate the habit of Scriptural intake.
There are plenty of resources available to you. The Same Page Summer reading plan is leading us through the New Testament this summer. Beginning in September I will be releasing a Bible Reading Challenge that will take us through the entire Bible by May of 2023. This means following those two plans will take you through the Old Testament once and the New Testament twice in a single year. If you get bogged down or miss a few days, get back up. Don’t try to catch up. Just pick up on the current day of the plan. There are hundreds of other resources out there, and the plan I create isn’t magical. But don’t sit on the sidelines. Get in the game. Read the Word.
And I promise you this: if you will commit to meeting God in his Word, and if you do that for several years, you can’t imagine the riches of wisdom and character and hope that come from his Word. It is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path. (Psalm 119:105) I pray you will hide God’s Word in your heart. (Psalm 119:11)
(1) Van Doren, Charles; Mortimer J. Adler. How to Read a Book (p. 214). Touchstone. Kindle Edition.
What should a pastoral prayer include? What should a pastoral prayer avoid? How should we transition from element to element in the worship service? Terry Johnson’s Leading in Worship is a wonderfully short and practical treatment on both the philosophy and the “nuts and bolts” of conducting worship.
Johnson helps us think about regular services (Lord’s Day) and occasional services (Baptisms, Funerals, Weddings) as well as seasonal services (Easter, Christmas).
He’s a man thoroughly committed to his craft and I appreciate his straightforward tone. “Do it this way. It’s Biblical. Trust me.”
Hot Tip: Johnson is a wonderful expositor of the Word. I regularly dip into his preaching for my own edification, but also as extra material in my own sermon prep.
Our text for today is Psalm 13. These are God’s Words.
13 To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.
1 How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
3 Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
4 lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.
5 But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
6 I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
Psalm 13, written by David, neatly divides into three stanzas. First, David asks a question, then he makes an accusation, and finally, he resolves to sing. The first stanza consists of 5 lines, the accusation is 4 lines, and the song is 3 lines. As one commentator put it, Psalm 13 “casts up constantly lessening waves, until it becomes still as the sea when smooth as a mirror.”
David doesn’t record the circumstantial occasion for this Psalm. We don’t know if it was sickness, betrayal, or his own sin. That’s because the focus of this Psalm is on the apparent absence of God in David’s life. Worse than any other suffering is the suspicion that God has willfully turned his face away from David. He doesn’t ask, “Why are you hidden,” but, “Why are you hiding?” (v. 1)
This spiritual desolation has been prolonged. “How long” occurs 4 times. His mind is racing like a car with a stuck accelerator, and there’s no end in sight. (v. 2)
Three petitions are asked in rapid-fire succession: consider me, answer me, light up my eyes. If God doesn’t intervene there is no hope for David. (v. 3)
And, if David goes down, this will be a stain on God’s promises. David is not just a Christian, he’s the anointed king placed on the throne by Yahweh. There is more at stake than David’s life if the enemy shakes him. If the Philistines took the judge, Samson, to grind their grain, what will they do to David if God doesn’t deliver? (v. 4)
We don’t know how much time elapses in David’s life between the despair of verses 1-4 and the renewed hope of verse 5 & 6, and we ought not to assume that David’s circumstances changes as quickly as we can read the Psalm. It’s likely that the single space between the period of verse 4 and the word “But” initiating verse 5 represents months or perhaps even years of David’s life.
But now, like a ship’s captain who has come through the hurricane of depression, David is radioing back to us a chart by which we too can safely endure the storm of anxiety. We do so by remembering God’s faithfulness and singing in hope of his deliverance. (v. 5-6)
SUCH AS IS COMMON TO MAN
Psalm 13 reminds us that not even a man after God’s own heart, not even a hand-picked king is immune to extended seasons of depression and anxiety. David knew this, and so do all true Christians.
The great Puritan, Matthew Henry: “The bread of sorrow is sometimes the saint’s daily bread. It is a common temptation, when trouble lasts long, to think it will last forever. Those who have been long without joy begin, at last, to be without hope.”
We don’t know what caused this extended season of depression for David, but we know exactly the kind of circumstances that cause it for us. The happiest early days of a marriage can stretch into years of callused resentment. A child who was baptized at an early age abandons the faith, wandering for years in agnostic unbelief. Chronic pain daily gnaws away our ability to see God in prayer. Even joyous blessings, given to us in the context of a fallen world can lead to depression. A new mother who has stayed up all night with a colicky baby for months on end knows the physical exhaustion that can lead to feelings of isolation and abandonment.
GIVE US EYES TO SEE
David’s threefold petition at the center of the prayer is “Consider me, answer me, and give light to my eyes.” In other words, “God, I’m not sure you see what I’m going through, and I’m certain that I can’t see where you are taking me. I’m blind to your purposes in this, and I want to see, right now what you are teaching me.”
We must remember that our lives are not like a Caesar Salad, and God is not working off a recipe card. If it was, we’d wonder why he just threw a couple of slugs in with the croutons. “But God, that’s not how you make a salad!” And God replies, “I’m not making a salad. I’m writing a story.” How good would the Lord of the Rings be if Frodo was never hounded by Black Riders?
Samuel Rutherford said, “Whenever I find myself in the cellar of affliction, I always look for the Lord’s choicest wines.” Charles Spurgeon said, “The Father’s wagons rumble most heavily when they are bringing us the heaviest gold of grace.”
I WILL SING
David petitions God on the basis of his anointed position. David was God’s anointed and if he goes down, it will stain God’s reputation. Thankfully, God delivers David from his troubles. But we must not forget that David had a greater descendant, the Lord Jesus Christ, and he was also God’s anointed.
Isaiah tells us that Christ was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. (Is. 53:3) The anxieties of Christ were not momentary, or even seasonal: they were life-long. Jesus is proof that a man can be fully empowered by the Spirit and bear a heart of grief simultaneously.
Added to his own sorrows, Isaiah tells us that he carried ours. He was pierced for our lawlessness, and at the cross, the Father hides his face, and the Son sleeps the sleep of death. And he did all this so that he claim you for himself.
And because Jesus did all this, the title deed to heaven is not written in the sand, but in the eternally beating heart of Christ.
So, what is God doing with your life? Some of you are thinking, “Boy would I like to know.” But if you are a Christian then you do know. He is doing exactly what it takes to make you into the image of Christ. And that should come as the most comforting news in all the world. God is not on autopilot. He is not distracted by anything.
He is infinite. And this means he takes infinite care in everything. So, your task is to trust him. Paul says this means rejoicing in all things. (Phil. 4:4) Do not grumble. Do not complain. God is taking you to heaven, and he is preparing you for infinite joy. And he is doing exactly what it takes to get you there. Rejoice in him, always—and learn to be content.
99% of my personal library consists of reference books. As a pastor, I’m required to bury my nose in commentaries, theologies, and cultural studies; and that’s just fine. I happen to enjoy that kind of reading. But we become like what we read and pastors who only read non-fiction reference material begin sounding like textbooks. For that reason, I always have a mixture of other types of literature in my reading diet. I listen to novels on audiobooks, and I typically have a book of poetry on my desk or bedside table. In this series of posts I am sharing some of my favorite sacred poems. I hope they inspire you to search for more.
This is “Seven Stanzas at Easter” by John Updike
Make no mistake: if he rose at all
It was as His body;
If the cell’s dissolution did not reverse, the molecule reknit,
The amino acids rekindle,
The Church will fall.
It was not as the flowers,
Each soft spring recurrent;
It was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the
It was as His flesh; ours.
The same hinged thumbs and toes
The same valved heart
That—pierced—died, withered, paused, and then regathered
Out of enduring Might
New strength to enclose.
Let us not mock God with metaphor,
Analogy, sidestepping, transcendence,
Making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded
Credulity of earlier ages:
Let us walk through the door.
The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
Not a stone in a story,
But the vast rock of materiality that in the slow grinding of
Time will eclipse for each of us
The wide light of day.
And if we have an angel at the tomb,
Make it a real angel,
Weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair, opaque in
The dawn light, robed in real linen
Spun on a definite loom.
Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
For our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
Lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are embarrassed
Outside of Scripture, no other resource has grown and blessed my prayer life like Matthew Henry’s Method for Prayer. And, if you could only own one resource to help you compose corporate prayers, buy this one. Yes, I realize Ligon Duncan has a “prettier” edition, but the editors have placed all the Scriptural references as endnotes (major fail). The edition I am recommending prints the references inline with the text, and this is helpful precisely because Henry’s book is all about praying the Bible.
The book breaks down into all the major components of Biblical prayer: praise, confession, petitions, thanksgivings, intercessions, etc. Every line is dripping with God’s Word, and Henry helps us to pray from all of the Bible: Ezra as well as Psalms.
If you are just beginning to compose prayers of confession, you could easily take one line from each of Henry’s subsections in his chapter on confession, string them together and you would have a wonderfully logical and God-honoring prayer.