I’m excited today about beginning a new message series called “Praying the Psalms.” The Psalms is the longest book in the Bible with 150 chapters. The Psalms are Spirit-inspired prayers and praises to God. They express the deep feelings of the human heart in relation to God. Almost every circumstance you could encounter in life is addressed in the Psalms. Being inspired by God, the Psalms also teach us much about God and build our faith in Him. Studying the Psalms will help us to expand and grow in our prayer lives. The Psalms will guide us in prayers for help to God, as well as expressing praise and thanksgiving. The Psalms begins in chapter one with these verses …
Psalm 1:1-2 (ESV) Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.
As people, these verses tell us the two basic options we have in every day of our lives. We can choose to focus on wicked counsel and the opinions of sinners, which are all around us in the media. Or we can focus on God’s Word and think and meditate on it continually, day and night. If we take delight in God’s Word, our lives will be blessed. But the Psalm goes on to say that the way of the wicked will perish. So, in this message series, we’re going to learn to delight in God’s Word in the Psalms. As we do, God’s blessing will come upon our lives in greater degree.
Today, our message is entitled “Prayers for Help.” I choose this title weeks ago, but the Spirit knew that it would be very appropriate after this week of violence and blood-shed in our city and country. In our message, we’re going to look at three psalms in which the psalmist calls on God for help. We need God’s help in our families, our church, our city and our nation. The battle between good and evil continues to escalate in our land.
Today, we’re going to learn how to pray better for God’s help. And then to rest in God’s peace. Having confidence that He hears our prayers and that He will answer our calls for help. I’d encourage you this week to read through these three Psalms in their entirety. Then in our time with God, seek to use them to guide your prayers for our current situation. I am confident that as we study and delight in God’s Word that He has for us in this season, He will bring His blessing and truth into our lives. And our prayers will help bring change to our city and nation through the Spirit of God.
The first Psalm that we’re going to look at this morning is Psalm 4. This psalm was written by David in a time of distress. Most likely a time when the crops of the nation had failed due to drought or some other disaster.
Psalm 4:1-2 (ESV) Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have given me relief when I was in distress. Be gracious to me and hear my prayer! O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame? How long will you love vain words and seek after lies? Selah
The prayer begins with David calling on God to answer His call for help. The reason that he can expect God’s answer is that he is walking in righteousness. Those who are walking in unrepented of sin will not have their prayers answered. David builds his faith by remembering that God has answered previous prayers when he was in distress. He calls on God to be gracious and generously provide for him now. Then verse 2 speaks of the evil men who are the cause of the current distress. They attack the righteous with lies. They look to other gods to provide for them.
Psalm 4:3 (ESV) But know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself; the LORD hears when I call to him.
Yet David prays in faith that the Lord will hear His prayer and give him the provision that he needs. Why? Because the Lord watches over the godly, as opposed to those who speak lies.
Psalm 4:8 (ESV) In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.
The final verse in the psalm reflects the confidence that God will hear and protect. David will be able to sleep in peace, without worry or fear. The Lord is the one who will give him help in this time of distress. The Lord will keep him in safety.
This prayer in Psalm 4 seems to have been written in a time of national distress. Our nation this Sunday continues to be in distress on many levels and needs our prayers. Along with the coronavirus pandemic and economic disruption, we now have the aftermath of the death of George Floyd. Peaceful protests have been mixed with violence, rioting, property destruction and the shooting and killing of a number of people, including officers right here in St. Louis.
According to this psalm, we must pray for peace, unity and an end to violence and crime. We seek God for racial reconciliation and an end to racism of all kinds. We grieve over the death of George Floyd and mourn with those who mourn. We pray for a fair trial and justice as the case goes forward in the future.
God has established the rule of law and order in our country and the laws must be enforced equally and justly for all people. We pray that those instigating and taking part in the violent protests would also be arrested and face charges for their crimes.
Behind all evil and violence are demonic forces that seek to sow chaos, division and hatred between groups of people. We must pray for them to be bound and there be an end to all the violence. May God help us to pray and show His love to everyone, as each person has been created in the image of God. May God give us His grace in this time of distress in America.
Next we turn to Psalm 17, another Psalm of David when he was under attack.
Psalm 17:1-2 (ESV) Hear a just cause, O LORD; attend to my cry! Give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit! From your presence let my vindication come! Let your eyes behold the right!
At the beginning, we see some similarities to Psalm 4. Not only is David calling out for help to the Lord, but he is also drawing attention to why God should hear his prayer. He implores God to hear his prayer because it is a just cause. Another reason for God to hear is that David’s speech is honest and true, not deceitful. One of the main reasons for unanswered prayer is that of unrepented sin in the life of the one praying. Now, certainly, one does not have to be perfect to have your prayers answered. But you do need to have confessed and been forgiven of all known sin, as David acknowledges here. Because of David’s righteous plea, he asks for God to vindicate his cause. In the next verses, he continues to speak of how he has been following the Lord in his life.
Psalm 17:8-9 (ESV) Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings, from the wicked who do me violence, my deadly enemies who surround me.
In verse 7, David begins to pray concerning adversaries. Now in verse 8, he asks God to protect him using poetic language. My favorite, used a number of times in the Psalms, is to be hidden in the shadow of the Lord’s wings. A picture of a mother eagle hiding and protecting her eaglets under her wings. Then we see the attack that David is facing There are wicked people who are bent on doing violence to him. There are deadly enemies who are surrounding him, intending to kill him.
Psalm 17:13 (ESV) Arise, O LORD! Confront him, subdue him! Deliver my soul from the wicked by your sword,
Then David calls on the Lord to confront and defeat his enemies. He speaks of the Lord as a warrior who can fight to deliver with a sword. The psalm ends in
Psalm 17:15 (ESV) As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.
The wicked seek their reward in this life. But the righteous will one day see God in eternity and enjoy eternal life with Him.
We see in this psalm the importance of praying for God’s protection when under attack of any kind. The presence of sin in our lives leaves a chink in our armor by removing God’s protection. But as we repent and seek forgiveness of our sins, we can call on the Lord for protection. The New Testament makes clear that our main adversaries in life are not other people, but demonic principalities and powers. We can and should pray for protection from them and from the people who follow their evil temptations. Satan is a murderer and he continually incites violence and murder between people.
Attacks in our lives can come in many forms. There can be attacks of violence from other people. There can be attacks of illness and sickness. There can be attacks in relationships, there can be attacks in finances, there can be attacks on your faith. As we seek God’s forgiveness and protection, He can deliver us from them all. Not only should we pray for protection for ourselves, but also for our city and our nation. Pray for protection.
Next we turn to Psalm 80. This psalm was not written by David, but was written by Asaph when Israel was in exile for their sin.
Psalm 80:1, 3 (ESV) Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock. You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth. … Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved!
This psalm begins with worship to God, calling Him the shepherd of Israel who leads His people like a flock of sheep. Not only is the Lord a shepherd, He is also enthroned upon mighty angels, the cherubim. In verse 3, the psalmist calls on God to restore his people. Restoration is described as letting God’s face to shine upon them again so that they may be saved. The nation had been captured and led into exile for their sins. Now, the prayer of the psalmist was for restoration of the people. Restoration in their relationship with God and restoration from exile back into the promised land. The refrain in verse 3 is repeated twice more through the psalm, dividing the major sections.
Psalm 80:4 (ESV) O LORD God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?
The phrase Lord God of hosts refers to God as the Lord of heaven’s armies. Because of their sins, the Lord had stopped protecting them and let judgement fall on His people. Because of their sins, He was angry with and did not hear their prayers. In verse 7, Asaph again calls on the Lord to restore them and cause His face to shine on them once again. Verse 8 begins to speak of Israel as a vine that God brought out of Egypt and planted in the promised land.
Psalm 80:12 (ESV) Why then have you broken down its walls, so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?
Invaders had unleashed God’s judgement on Israel by breaking down the walls of their cities and allowing their fruit to be stolen.
Psalm 80:16 (ESV) They have burned it with fire; they have cut it down; may they perish at the rebuke of your face!
The invaders had burned their cities with fire. The psalmist calls on the Lord to bring judgement on them. The psalm ends in verses 18 and 19 with a call to the Lord to give life back to His people and restore them. And God did answer the prayers of the people in exile. They came back to the promised land and rebuilt Jerusalem and the temple. As they prayed for restoration.
We need restoration in our country as well. We need to humble ourselves, pray and seek God, turn from our sin so that God will bring healing to our land. True unity and peace will only come as more and more people submit their lives to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Our pledge of allegiance says that we are to be one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. That’s what God wants for America and He can help us to show His love to others, one person at a time. Just as evil and hatred is contagious, so the power of righteousness and love is even greater. We are in a sensitive time in our country. May God help us to bring about restoration. May God help our words to be encouraging and drawing people towards God. Pray for restoration.
Today, we’ve looked at three kinds of prayers for help. We all agree that our nation needs God’s help in a special way. We’re still battling the COVID pandemic and now violence is breaking out between people groups of different kinds. God wants us to learn to pray for His grace in our current situation to do what we can’t do in our own power. We need to pray for protection, from the virus, from violent people and from temptation of all kinds. Finally, and most importantly, we need to pray for restoration. Restoration of our nation to being one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. God has a different plan and path for each of us to be part of spreading His love to those around us.
May God empower us as we seek His wisdom and strength in the coming days.