In some Psalms David just dumps his opinions and feelings on God like a woman upending her purse on the table and scattering the contents higgledy-piggledy while trying to find a key.
Sometimes he rants on and on about his enemies and, in great passion, asks God to do horrible things to them. In others, he is in a calm mood and paints lovely word picture prayers of enjoying God’s care like a sheep in the care of a shepherd. These are examples of emotion driven prayers.
We can all identify with David and the other psalmists. We all pray emotional prayers when we, or the people we love, are in trouble, or sick or in pain. Or when everything is going well and we feel well cared for. But David also prayed much more thoughtful, more cerebral prayers. Sometimes he was like a businessman, carefully arranging items on an agenda for an important board meeting.
When I pray, I tend to pray the business-like way he describes in Psalm 5:3. “In the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation” (NIV). The phrase “lay my requests” is not simply an emotional outburst dumping a hodgepodge of needs before God. Several other versions translate the term as, “set in array” (YLT), and, “lay out the pieces of my life on your altar” (MSG).
The picture is that of a Jewish priest approaching the altar to make a sacrifice, and carefully placing the kindling, then laying the right amount of wood in precisely the correct way to make a fast, hot fire, then laying the pieces of the sacrificial animal on it exactly as prescribed. The Amplified Bible states this clearly, “I prepare [a prayer], [a sacrifice] for you.”
I’m a writer, and I find that I think best with my fingers on a keyboard. About 25 years ago, using my first laptop computer, I started experimentally writing out my prayers as letters to God. Sometimes I just rattled off whatever popped into my mind, but more often I found that the act of writing pushed me to array and arrange my “agenda items” neatly and thoughtfully though not without passion. I wrote my prayers neither often, nor regularly until about twelve years ago when I committed to write several times a week. For the past eight years I’ve written almost daily.
The physical result is thousands of pages of prayers which make fascinating reading months or years later when I see the spiritual results of prayers answered, situations improved, lessons learned, ministry accomplished, and relationships restored.
I believe MartinLuther prayed thoughtful prayers as, pen in hand, he outlined an agenda for his day. At least that is how I understand his famous quote on prayer, “I have so much to do today; I will need to spend the first three hours in prayer.” I imagine him sitting down and prayerfully organizing his day, fervently praying through each appointment on his schedule, and each item on his To-Do list.
The last part of Psalm 5:3 says, “. . . and wait in expectation” (NIV). Another version has, “ . . . and wait for you to speak to my heart” (AMP).
That is the neat part. Frequently two things happen as I write out my requests, carefully listing the items on my agenda for God to check out. One, I get a bright, brand new idea for dealing with a situation which I immediately put into words and thank God for putting it into my mind. Sometimes I can hardly wait to put it into action. Yes, prayer can be exciting. Two, I look at an item, and hear myself saying, “You don’t need to do this today.” At such times I delete it and jot it down to consider later in the week. When I do, I enjoy a sense of relief, a release of pressure.
When I sign off my morning letter to God, I know I’ve just had an intense session with my Boss, who has listened to my arguments, helped me think through my day and outline a plan of action. What’s more, He always promises the help and strength I need to accomplish the tasks. What a great way to live!