It had been my original plan to preach one sermon on Psalm 5, but the message would have been well over an hour. So, this is part 1.
As usual, I have reproduced the notes that have been sent out to those without internet.
Here, first, is the video.
The psalms contain prayers that cover all of life. Although this is the third consecutive prayer that David brings to the Lord in times of trouble, they cover different kinds of trouble. The first one is about physical danger (Psalm 3), the second (Psalm 4) is about the danger and the pain caused by words, this one (Psalm 5) is about the danger of living in a sinful world. It is a prayer that the Lord would protect David and keep him on the right path (verse 8).
This particular psalm, although it is a prayer that the Lord would preserve us from being like the world around, also instructs us in how to pray. We looked at this psalm last year when I taught a series on prayer. For this reason, I almost skipped covering Psalm 5, but that would leave this series incomplete and we would miss out on the rich teaching of Psalm 5. In fact, there is so much here that I have had to divide this message into two.
This week, we will look at how we pray. Next week, we will look at why we pray and what we pray for.
If we look through this psalm, even briefly, we see that it describes our world, because the human condition has not changed. So what do we do? Do we join the world? Do we consider ourselves superior to the world? Do we isolate ourselves and have no contact with the world? Do we bury our heads in the sand and hope the problems in the world around will go away?
David does none of these. He prays. Prayer starts, as we have seen already, with knowing who God is, but we are also helped to pray in the right way by knowing ourselves. That is, knowing yourself as you are now, if you are a believer, but also knowing where God has brought you from. We will see these things in the first seven verses of psalm 5, and they will help us to pray.
I) The priority of prayer (v1-3)
Everyone needs to pray. Because of who God is and who we are. Notice how David addresses God.
- V1: “the Lord.” This is God’s covenant name. I am who I am. He is the covenant keeping God, who is always, and who is committed to His people.
- V2: “My King and my God.” It is interesting that David the king addresses his prayers to God the King. So, although David is king of His people, he is just as needy as everyone else. If David the king prayed, so must we.
- V2: “My King and my God.” We pray to a sovereign Lord and God. This is why prayer has to be a priority. Who else is able to change anything at all? Only Him. At the same time, the prayers are prayers of submission. We are not coming to boss Him around, but to seek His help and to trust Him to help us according to His will.
- V2: My King and my God. This is personal. We belong to Him and He to us. We are not approaching a stranger but approaching our God, the One who knows us and loves us and who hears the cry of His own people.
- V2: “To You do I pray.” This is where we need to go in trouble. Not to our own wisdom or strength or to other gods, but to Him. Yes, God uses doctors, counsellors, friends to help and advise us, but we must ultimately go to Him. Prayer is the priority.
Notice also: three types of prayer:
- Words (v1). These are a speech/statement, which may even have been prepared. In the ESV, v3b states “I prepare a sacrifice”, but the word “sacrifice” is not in the Hebrew. Although the word is used in relation to the preparation of the sacrifice (so we are reminded of the basis of our entry into God’s presence), the fact that it doesn’t use the word “sacrifice” explicitly suggests to us that David has prepared his praying in a similar, orderly way like the priests preparing the sacrifice.
- Groaning (v1). This is sighing, reflecting brokenness and need, those times when we haven’t got the words. It is the sound of the heart, the emotional burden causing us to sigh or groan. David is saying here, “Understand my sighing.” While prayer is usually words (as we saw from Psalm 4 last week), God hears the cry of our hearts when we cannot form words, and He knows what we mean; He knows what we need even when we cannot fully express it. This is the great assurance you have when your prayers seem to be so feeble.
- Cry (v2) : a cry for help. While it has words (like v1), it is spontaneous and is an overflow of urgent need.
All these types of prayer are valid and are healthy parts of a Christian’s prayer life. As evangelicals, we tend towards spontaneous praying and, occasionally, those wordless groans and cries. While spontaneous praying is good, expressing the fact that we have a real relationship with the living God, we must not reject the idea of planned praying, because planned praying is biblical. The Lord’s Prayer is one example of this, as are the psalms. Yes, prepared prayers can become formal, but they don’t have to. In fact, it can be helpful to reflect before we pray rather than just blabbing out random thoughts to God. We can use the psalms to help direct our praying, we can think through what we really need from the Lord, or we can use books that have been written to help believers pray. Starting in this way can help us to then flow into those spontaneous cries to the Lord.
The priority is also seen in the timing of David’s prayer – at the start of the day. The suggestion of the language (and the repetition of “morning”) is that this is David’s habit. So it needs to be for us. Of course, for our main daily time with the Lord, we need to find the best part of the day to seek Him and to read and meditate on His word. But, even if we have that time at the end or middle of the day, it is vital to start the day with prayer – in doing that, we are showing our dependence on the Lord and we are committing the day into His hands.
This is also the continual attitude in the day: “I… watch” (v3b). We are looking and are expectant for Him to answer. Prayer is not just a thing that we do; rather we pray because we believe He answers. We miss out on the joy of prayer if we don’t look for the answers and we don’t return praise back to Him.
II) The confidence for prayer (v4-6)
David is praying in troubled times, when it looks like sin and sinners are triumphant. So these next verses express the confidence that David has in God’s holiness and justice. As we look out on this world of trouble, dishonesty and injustice, we can be encouraged both to trust Him and to pray with boldness because of the kind of God He is.
The language in these verses is very strong. David is reflecting on just how serious sin is. Why?
- In the context (verse 7), David wants to be in God’s presence and so not included among the “wicked”. So, in these verses, he reminds himself of the holiness and justice of God because he doesn’t want to be like the world around.
- Also (compare the end of v10 – “they have rebelled against you.”), he is reflecting on God’s holiness and justice because he is passionate for the glory of God.
- Thirdly, in a world of rebellion and sin, he is taking refuge in the God who hates sin. He is building his foundations in God who, in His righteousness, protects and leads His people.
Notice the flow from verse 3 to verse 4: “For you are not a God who delights in wickedness.” David is praying and watching with confidence because he knows who God is. He is confessing in the sense of agreeing with the revelation of who God is and he is praising Him for His holiness and justice. So, when we pray about the troubles in this world, we come to a God who is not indifferent to sin and injustice; so we can pray with confidence to a God who is on the throne, who acts in history and will deal with every injustice either in this time or in eternity.
In these modern days we can be guilty of dividing God up into parts and praising Him for His love and grace, but scripture doesn’t do that. He cannot be divided into parts. He is love and He is justice and light and power.
V4: He does not take pleasure in wickedness; He is a good God. Evil cannot live in His presence. V5a: The boastful (those who glory in themselves) cannot stand in His presence. This takes us back to 2v2 – “the kings set themselves [same word] against the Lord” – and they will not succeed.
Here is an outline of the different aspects of sin: wickedness (which is the quality of being evil), evil (which means evil thoughts, actions and words), boastful (those who are proud of evil), and evildoers (those who are committed to evil and corruption). Nothing has changed in this world, which is why we need to be a people separated unto Him.
The towering justice of God presented in these verses is a comfort in a world of injustice, but it is also a great warning and reminder. V5b: He hates evildoers. When we are confronted with the reality of His justice, it shines a light on the greatness of His mercy. Sin cannot be in His presence – and yet He saves sinners. He hates sinners and yet He comes in the person of His Son to reconcile sinners to Himself. The Holy One knew no sin and yet became sin for us. The boastful shall not stand, and yet He humbled Himself and became a servant to bring the proud and unworthy to humble themselves under His mighty hand in repentance and receive life.
These verses are not there to make us think that Christians are better than the world around. No: every single person is in v4-6, unless they find amazing grace. These verses should bring us to worship the Lord for what He has done to save us, and lead us to grieve over the condition of the world.
III) The way of prayer (v7)
Prayer is coming into the presence of the Lord (v7- I will enter your house). But how? Grace – covenant love. Grace is the only way that we can enter. We don’t get heard because of our superiority but because of His grace. There is something seriously wrong if our Christianity leads us to think that we are better than the world around.
As there is no sin so small, but it deserves damnation; so there is no sin so great, that it can bring damnation upon those who truly repent.Westminster Confession of Faith, 15.4
We must remember this. No sin so small. We are sinners in need of salvation, even those who think themselves respectable. But no sin so great that it cannot be forgiven.
Verse 7 shows us the need we have for the covenant love and how much this covenant love is. It says “abundant” (v7). We’ve seen from verses 4-6 that sin is not mildly inconvenient to the Lord; it is abhorrent in His sight. The fact that we can enter into His presence to pray is only because of abundant mercy.
No wonder the next part of verse 7 says, “I bow down.” This is a recognition of God’s value and superiority, that compared to Him we are nothing and He is everything. He is awesome – “in the fear of You” – and yet, “I… will enter.” This is the wonder of prayer – the totally holy God of verses 4-6 welcomes right into His holy presence the sinner who He has saved through the multitude of His steadfast love.
Why would we not pray! What a waste of privilege not to pray!
Is this how we pray?
- With yearning and passion, coming just as we are even if we do not have words, but also, when we are able, we think through what we need and present our requests to God thoughtfully and not simply rambling. We use the scriptures to help us to form our prayers.
- With confidence because of who He is? With confidence in His justice and His mercy.
- With humility because of His amazing grace? We are aware of our own sin and that we enter only because of Jesus.
- With great awe and wonder because He is so very great and holy and just.
- With longing for the lost. We see what we have been saved from and how merciful He has been to us, and so we pray for those who do not know Him.
Why not take these first seven verses? Use them to worship and seek His face. Thank Him that He is your King and God. Ask Him to help you to pray like this.