Theme: The Need to Pray Always
In this week’s lessons the psalmist teaches us to pray in desperate circumstances.
Scripture: Psalm 70:1-5
What do you do in such desperate times? The answer for those who know God is to pray, turning to God. For however desperate the situation seems to us, we can know that it is never desperate for God, but rather is under his control. This is why Paul told the Philippians, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6, 7).
So here is another important thing to notice. Psalm 70 is a prayer throughout. In it David prays for three things.
For himself: For quick deliverance. Some years ago someone taught me a little acrostic for prayer. It is the word ACTS, where “A” stands for adoration, “C” for confession, “T” for thanksgiving, and “S” for supplication. I have always found this little acrostic helpful, since it begins with who God is, confesses sin, and expresses thanks to God before asking for anything. I always appreciate it when a pastoral prayer follows these main lines.
But this is not what David does here, is it? There are psalms in which he spends a great deal of time praising God for who he is, confessing sin, and thanking him for his many blessings. But not here! Here David gets right to his point and calls on God to help him, praying first not even for others but for himself: “Hasten, O God, to save me; O LORD, come quickly to help me” (v. 1). Why doesn’t David follow a more acceptable or selfless pattern in this prayer? The answer is obvious. It is because he needs help now because tomorrow will be too late. It may even be too late if he is overly lengthy in his prayer. So there is no beating around the bush, no nice formalities. “Help me quickly” is where his prayer both begins and ends.
We are not always in situations like this, of course. So our prayers usually should be less hurried and cover far more ground, especially for the needs of other people. However, when we are in desperate need there is nothing wrong with getting to the point and praying for exactly what we do need urgently, as David does.
I suppose it was this direction that made this psalm appeal to Martin Luther. Because the psalm is short and because it is a virtual repetition of verses 13-17 of Psalm 40, most commentators have tended to skip it or pass over it with brief comments. Not Luther. In the massive collection of the reformer’s works, ten pages are given to Psalm 70’s exposition, Luther saying at one point, “This prayer is the shield, spear, thunderbolt and defense against every attack of fear, presumption [and] lukewarmness…which are especially dominant today.”1 I am sure this was because of the danger Luther himself faced. He identified with David’s urgent petition.
For his enemies: For their shame and confusion. The second subject of David’s prayer is his enemies (vv. 2, 3). But it is not the way Jesus taught us to pray for our enemies, is it? Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:43, 44). In this psalm David prays that: 1) those who seek his life “may …be put to shame and confusion”; 2) those who desire his ruin “may…be turned back in disgrace”; and 3) those who mock him, saying “Aha! Aha!’’ may “turn back because of their shame.”
I want to suggest that there is no conflict between these two types of prayers for enemies and that both are proper in their place. It is true that we may have trouble with the kind of imprecatory prayer we saw in Psalm 69, in which David asks that his enemies might “be blotted out of the book of life and not be listed with the righteous” (v. 28), in other words, that they might be sent to hell. But that is not the case here. Here David is merely asking that his enemies’ evil plans against him might be frustrated and that they might be turned back in shame and confusion. That is what we should pray in regard to those who do evil, namely, that evil might be turned back and that they might be ashamed. We certainly wouldn’t pray that their evil plans would prosper.
Moreover, our desire for our enemies’ well-being demands the same thing. For success in evil encourages even more evil and establishes the evil doer in his or her ways. The kindest thing we can pray for people who do wrong is that their plans will fail, for it may be that in their frustration they will see the folly and true end of evil and be reached for God.
Before we leave this record of how David prayed for his enemies we need to remind ourselves that what David describes these people as doing is what the enemies of Jesus did at the time of his crucifixion. They were seeking his life, of course. They were also desiring his ruin. But what I am most interested in here is the way they mocked him, saying “Aha! Aha!” Matthew describes it in the fullest manner:
Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the son of God.”
In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God’” (Matt. 27:39-43).
Jesus bore these taunts in order to achieve our salvation by obeying God the Father. We should be willing to bear similar insults too, if we are as serious about following in our Lord’s steps as we profess to be.
What three things does David pray for in Psalm 70?
What does each letter in the ACTS acrostic stand for? Why doesn’t David follow this formula for this prayer?
What does David pray for when he prays for his enemies? Explain this type of prayer for one’s enemies and what Jesus says in Matthew 5. Why is there no conflict between these two types of prayers?
Application: Use the acrostic ACTS to pray each day this week. Write out a prayer of your own if you are going through a hard time right now.