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Exploring the Psalms
Psalm 20
Praying For Others

Exploring the Psalms

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Psalm 20
Praying For Others 

Psalm 20 (The Voice)
May the Eternal God's answer find you, come to rescue you, when you desperately cling to the end of your rope. May the name of the True God of Jacob be your shelter. May He extend hope and help to you from His holy sanctuary, and support you from His sacred city of Zion. May He remember all that you have offered Him; may your burnt sacrifices serve as a prelude to His mercy. May He grant the dreams of your heart and see your plans through to the end.

When you win, we will not be silent! We will shout and raise high our banners in the great name of our God! May the Eternal God say yes to all your requests.

I don't fear; I'm confident that help will come to the one anointed by the Eternal: heaven will respond to his plea; His mighty right hand will win the battle . . . we place our trust in the name of the Eternal One, our True God. Eternal God . . . answer our plea for help.

On this our last month of exploring the psalms, we are looking at Psalm 20, a psalm that you may not be familiar with, and yet, it comes in a small block of what may be some the most familiar of all the psalms -  

Psalm 19 - a reflection on creation - 'The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands'.  

Psalm 22 - contains the words Jesus' spoke from the cross - 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

And Psalm 23 - probably the best known psalm - 'The Lord is my shepherd'.  

And yet, although Psalm 20 is actually quite unusual, we seem to skip over it. It's unusual because it doesn't focus on the psalmist or his problems, it's not about his nation or creation, it doesn't rant at God or recount his great deeds. It's unusual, because it's a prayer, or series of prayers, for another person.  

Have you ever been asked to pray for someone, or seen someone and wanted to pray for them, but struggled to know what or how to pray ? Well, this short psalm contains prayers and ideas, that perhaps, we too can use.  

I suspect most of us think we are not very good at prayer. We feel we don't use the right words, or know what to pray for. We think we don't have the right skill-set, gifts or talents, and we worry that if we don't get it right, God won't hear or answer our prayers. 

If that's so, let's consider Paul's lists of the 'Gifts of the Spirit' - he names them as : wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, speaking tongues, interpretation of tongues (1 Corinthians 12: 8-10). Did you notice prayer isn't included ? Or when Paul lists specific types of ministry, he names : apostles, prophets, teachers, miracle workers, healers, helpers, guides (1 Corinthians 12: 28), but not pray-ers. And if the 'Fruits of the Spirit' are : 'love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control' (Galatians 5:22-23), then guess what - prayer isn't on this list either !  

So why isn't prayer on any of these 'specialist' lists ? Probably because prayer isn't supposed to be a specialist skill which only a few gifted people can do ! On the contrary, God expects all of us to pray. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, 'prayer is not a free-will offering to God, it is an obligatory service, something which God requires'. He was saying that prayer is not an 'optional extra'.  

Have you ever noticed in the gospel accounts of Jesus life, how much time he spent in prayer, particularly praying for his disciples ? If Jesus needed to spend time in prayer, spend time praying for others, how much more must we need to ?  

So if prayer is not an optional extra, not a specialist skill, but something God expects us all to do, then we must all be capable of it ! There is no magic formula, no secret language for prayer - it's simply talking to God. Prayer should be a conversation with God, when we share with him everything that is in our heart, much as we might talk to any close friend. Except that, when we talk to God, he can help. He can help us, and he can help those for whom we pray.  

So what should we pray for others ?  

Psalm 20 begins - 'May the Eternal God's answer find you, come to rescue you, when you desperately cling to the end of your rope.' Does that sound like something you could pray for someone who is struggling or desperate, someone at the end of their tether ? 

Or the next sentence - 'May the True God of Jacob be your shelter. May He extend hope and help to you'. Perhaps when we don't know quite what to pray for someone, somply asking God to help them, or give them hope, or be their shelter, might be a good prayer.  

Or what about 'May God grant the dreams of your heart and see your plans through to the end'. Could you pray that for someone ?  

psalm 20

Are you concerned that these prayers are very short, very simple ? Well, maybe they are, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't pray them ! Remember when Jesus was teaching his disciples to pray, he warned them 'not to keep on babbling like pagans, [who] think they will be heard because of their many words.' (Matthew 6:7) Using more words doesn't make God pay more attention to us - God is ok with short and simple prayers ! 

What about when our prayers for someone are answered ? Psalm 20 says 'When you win, we will not be silent! We will shout and raise high our banners in the great name of our God!' Is this a reminder perhaps, not only to weep with others when they weep, but also to rejoice when they do ? We ought to celebrate answered prayer, and always remember to thank God ! 

God hears and answers all prayers, but because God isn't a genie in a bottle, whose purpose is to grant our every wish, and because God's perspective is greater than ours, the answers to our prayers will not always be 'yes'. Sometimes the answer will be 'no', and sometimes it will be 'not yet'. But sometimes, God's answers to our prayers, exceed anything we asked or could have ever imagined. So can we pray with the psalmist 'I don't fear; I'm confident that help will come . . . heaven will respond . . . we place our trust in the name of the Eternal One, our True God' ? 

Although the psalmist clearly has great confidence in God, perhaps the end of the psalm more closely reflects our own prayers ? It seems to finish with a slightly desperate cry into the darkness 'Eternal God . . . answer our plea for help' ? 

But it's ok to pray like that too - because what is important, is that we are always honest with God in our prayers. Remember the cry of the man with the demonised son ? 'Lord I believe, help my unbelief' (Mark 9: 24). Jesus didn't despise his struggling faith or his desperate prayer. Jesus answered his prayer, and healed his son.  

The Benedictine Abbot Dom John Chapman, wrote 'pray as you can, not as you can't'. Meaning that we can only pray from where we are, with the faith and words that we have now.  

The danger is always, that if we think we must get better at prayer, or grow in faith before we can pray properly, then we may never pray at all. Fortunately for us, God understands not just our stuttering inadequate words, but the impulses and motivations behind our prayers - even better than we do ourselves.  

Sometimes though, when we pray for others, we really don't have a clue where to even start. We don't know what we should ask, don't know how God could help someone, or change a situation, we may be unable to imagine any good outcome. Sometimes, although we want to do something, we feel completely helpless. Then, all we can do, is hold them up to God in our prayers, and entrust them to his care.  

. . .but we must never think that praying for someone is a small thing. It may be the single most important thing we can do for them. Sometimes our prayer, which we thought small or simple or inadequate, may be what God uses to turns a situation around.  

One last quote for you - from Peter Kreeft who was Professor of Philosophy at Boston College. He wrote 'I strongly suspect, that if we saw all the difference even the tiniest of our prayers make, and all the people those little prayers were destined to affect, and all the consequences of those prayers down through the centuries, we would be so paralysed with awe at the power of prayer, that we would be unable to get off our knees for the rest of our lives.' [You may want to read that again. Slowly !]  

Prayer should never be a last resort, especially prayer for other people. Prayer is our greatest strength, because it invites God in, and so it ought to always be what we do first, even if it's only the tiniest of prayers.  

Since we cannot know what difference our prayers may make, my question to you is - how can we risk not praying ? 


Note - The video based on this soul space can be found here : https://youtu.be/i60XvfEQJk0

Ruth Gillett, 2016


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