God's grace displayed in prayer

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About a month ago I was reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book Life Together and was challenged to begin praying through the Psalms. The words found in the Psalms are not magic incantations, but they are the God inspired prayers of men like David (Bonhoeffer goes so far as to say the Psalms are the prayers of God). As such, there is much we can learn about prayer, God, and grace from the Psalms. One thing that I quickly learned, however, is that it can be incredibly hard to pray the words of a Psalm.

Take Psalm 5 for example. David begins by saying, “Give ear to my words, O Lord; Consider my groaning. Give attention to the sound of my cry, for to you do I pray.” I found it incredibly difficult to pray those words this morning. Why? Because I know I need some credibility to ask someone to pay attention to what I say. We have to have some reason to demand or even ask people to pay attention to our words. That’s even more true when we want to talk to someone of high standing. Think about it this way. What if you were a part of a large crowd trying to see the president of the United States, and suddenly you yelled out, ‘Give ear to my words, Mr. President; consider my complaint.’ Do you think you would have the president’s ear? Probably not; the reason being your lack of credibility with the president.

I was thinking along those lines this morning. Here I am, coming into the presence of one infinitely more worthy, powerful, and holy than the president, and I was saying, ‘Listen to me God!’ What made those words particularly difficult was that I had just finished confessing my sin to God. It was a crazy moment! Here I am in one breath confessing how wretched of a sinner I am, and with the next breath I am saying, ‘Listen to me God,’ as if I have some credibility. To be honest, it felt completely wrong to say those words.

But we can say ‘listen to me’ to God. And the reason is not our credibility, but his grace. A few verses later–after David talks about how God relates to the wicked–we read, “But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house.” The phrase steadfast love is the one word ḥesed in Hebrew. The Hebrew word literally means ‘abundant kindness,’ and is the outworking of God’s grace. When the prophet Joel describes God he writes, “Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love (ḥesed); and he relents over disaster” (Joel 2:13).

Here’s the point of all of this. You can say to the God of the universe, “Give ear to my words, listen to my pray, pay attention to me.” But not because of your own credibility, obedience, or work. You can say those words because you approach God and speak to God on the basis of grace. If you feel like you can’t ask God to listen to you it’s probably a sign that you rely on your own work or goodness to gain credibility with God. But when we understand the riches and depth of God’s grace we will approach God with boldness–even though we are miserable sinners. We are, after all, approaching the “throne of grace” (Heb. 4:16).

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