June 30, 2002
Lord, Teach Me How to Pray . . . for Myself
This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.
Then the word of the Lord came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.”
A highly decorated Viet Nam veteran, who was being interviewed by Larry King, was asked, “Were you ever really frightened in battle?” The man replied, “Larry, there were times when I was so afraid, and I prayed so long and so often, that I think God got to know me on a first-name basis.”
It is natural for people, who ordinarily do not pray, to turn to God when all else has failed them. Is that wrong? My answer is, no. Didn’t Jesus invite us to come to Him under all conditions and situations? But there is much more to prayer than just using it as a last resort. “When all else fails, try God,” is not what our Lord taught.
While I have prayed all of my life, I still feel like a real amateur when it comes to prayer – and especially praying for myself. Listen to your prayers for yourself and note how immature some of them are. It is not that what we pray is wrong; It is that they lack in depth. They do not get at the real problem and let the depth of our souls speak out. Because this is one of our spiritual needs, I am using for my theme, “Lord, teach me to pray – for myself.”
Once a disciple asked Jesus, “Teach us to pray.” If that is our request today, I believe Jesus could say, “Turn to Psalm 51 and you will see a model prayer that comes from the soul of King David.” What Tiger Woods is to golf, David is to prayer – meaning we can learn a lot from studying the prayers of this man. Let’s draw out three petitions David prays in this Psalm.
God, knock down my defenses and give me an honest picture of myself. Listen to these words, “I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” (vs. 3, 4, 5)
David acknowledges his inherited sinful nature. He was not a good person whom society had spiritually contaminated. By nature it was easier for him to walk away from God than to do the Almighty’s will. David was very much aware that he often tried to justify his sin and blame another person for his wrong.
Give me an honest picture of myself is a prayer that we need for ourselves in 2002. Why? Because we are surrounded with humanism, which teaches we are basically good. We have great spiritual potential. Just a little education and counseling will make us spiritual giants. With such teaching surrounding us, it is natural to believe that this is who I am. Freudian psychology, not Biblical teaching, can easily capture our thinking.
Another question that is difficult to answer is, if we are sinful by nature, why is it that unbelievers do so many nice things for people? The wealthy among these humanists often make large contributions to our communities. We are tempted to say, “Well, Joe wasn’t a Christian, but he had a heart for people. He left 10 millions dollars to the local hospital, which will do a lot of good. He wasn’t all bad. Doesn’t this contradict the Biblical teaching that we are born sinful?”
No, not at all. The fact that we have a sinful nature does not deny that we can still do nice things. Those who are not financially able to give large sums of money also do some wonderful things for people. Their helping hand, that is given by people to make life much more pleasant for those less fortunate, is continually demonstrated. In fact, sometimes it is evident that those who make no Christian confession far outdo some of us who are Christian in reaching out to others in need.
Unless we are aware of who we are on the inside, the humanistic philosophy can lead us astray from the Biblical teaching, “I was born in sin, and in iniquity did my mother conceive me.”
But Lord, when you have shown me who I am – a helpless sinner – please, bathe me in your grace. Bring me to the cross, and, in faith, may I know that Christ has paid the price for my sins and in Him I am completely forgiven. Then I will live in a personal relationship with you forever.
When Christ is my Savior, I can live with the complete assurance that all of my guilt has been taken away. How easy it is for us to voice these words, “Jesus died for me, and I am forgiven,” and not really accept this truth. Why is it that Christian people live with a lot of guilt? Is it possible that we have intellectually accepted the dogma that Jesus atoned for our sins, but we have not quite received it as a living truth with which we can live? It is this forgiveness lived out that brings joy to us. Listen to the Psalmist, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation.” Christ wants to make us happy people, but this happiness is based on our relationship with Him, and not on earthly possessions, which can so quickly be taken away from us.
Though we live with Christ, we also are citizens of this broken world. Its influence is strong and tempting, and it continually draws us away from Him. Therefore, the Psalmist prays – and it should be our prayer – “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.” In other words, David prays, “Lord, continue to make me a new person.”
It is God who not only forgives our sins, but also empowers us to overcome them. In the 18th chapter of Jeremiah, there is a beautiful picture of the potter and the clay. God tells Jeremiah to go to the potter’s shed and watch him work. He works with the rough edges of the clay and forms it just the way He wants it to be. Then God says, “O Israel, can I not do with you as the potter does with the clay?”
Make this personal. Here God says, “O, Joe (use your own name), can I not do with your life what the potter does with the clay? This needs to become the daily prayer for ourselves, “Lord, mold me and make me. Show me how to live. Direct me where I should go and what I should do, whether I am 10 years old or 80 years old. Be a vital part of my daily life, Lord.” Make me concerned about others. If I am oblivious to the needs of people, make me more sensitive to our culture. Do not let me be molded by a society that is contrary to your word, but grant that I might influence the culture of my day. Open my lips and make me a verbal witness for you.”
Do you ever pray that way for yourself? You should!
David knew how to pray for himself. If we want someone to help us with this part of our prayer life, study the psalms.
Rev. Homer Larsen