I suggest, for the sake of our prayer lives, we stop saying this: “Well, I guess all we can do now is pray.” I know what people mean when they do say this. They mean they need a miracle and God’s the only one who delivers in that department. They mean they’ve stopped looking to a human, a doctor perhaps, to fix their loved one. They mean they’ve lost any hope in whatever issue they’re dealing with being resolved by anything other than God’s sovereign intervention. Those are good declarations to make. On the other hand, this kind of language may expose us for the mixed priorities we have.
I’ve probably said this myself. Even if I haven’t said it in so many words, I’ve lived it, thought it. Here’s a silly example, but it makes my point. I recently told someone, half-jokingly, that I was praying that God would potty train my 3 year old. When I said it “half-jokingly” actually I was dead serious. I had started praying that God would potty train him, so to speak. I had told God I was done trying. I had no more ingenious ideas; I was tired of begging, bribing, cajoling a toddler. I was tired of worrying about it and hearing everyone’s advice. I was tired of apologizing to all the people who still had to change his diaper. I was tired of something so stupid making me so angry. I was done. I told God I had run out of my own solutions and I needed help.
I suppose that’s a good place to end up with anything you’re dealing with in life. Whether it’s something small like this or something large like waiting on an obvious miracle, God sovereignly brings us to places where we rely on him. When David is completely surrounded by enemies—without any way of escape, no back door option—he cries out to God: “Hear a just cause, O LORD; attend to my cry! . . . Wondrously show your steadfast love, O Savior” (Ps. 17:1; 7). The place God brings us to is the place where we realize we have to rely on him, because we don’t have any other options. God lovingly removes options to bring us to our knees, to make us stop and face Him, and say, “He sent from on high, he took me; he drew me out of many waters. He rescued me from my strong enemy and from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me” (Psalm 18:16-17). It is a good thing to cry out to God in our distress and frustration and confusion.
But David is not a great example for prayer just because he cried out to God in his distress; he is a great example because his first impulse is to seek God’s direction in stressful situations. David prays, “O LORD, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch” (Psalm 5:3). In this Psalm, David is asking for God’s direction in dealing with a big problem: “lead me . . . because of my enemies” (v. 8). So, David awakes and seeks God’s favor and direction first thing. David lays his request before the Lord and watches and waits for the Lord to “make [His] way straight” before David (v. 8). David takes refuge in the Lord first, not after he drew up all his own battle plans and tried them out, only to realize all his great plans weren’t really all that great after all.
I don’t think David developed such a habit by only seeking God when he was in distress, though. Such a habit developed because David sought God all the time in every circumstance. Even in good times when his people were secure in the land, David praises God for the counsel He provides (Ps. 16:3,7). David has access to this counsel because he sets the Lord always before him. The Lord sits at David’s right hand, the preeminent advisor, whispering in David’s ear continually.
Some times in life we live “as basically independent,” though, thinking we’re “on the right track, but occasionally in need of a little input from the Deity, a little blessing called down by an appropriately formulated prayer” (Carson). Waiting to pray and seek God’s direction until we are out of alternatives can reveal just such an independent attitude. David did not think of himself this way. Instead, David’s life revolved around dependence on God and seeking God’s direction and divine intervention through prayer. David knew that his plans were nothing if God did not cover David with favor; that favor was David’s shield (v. 12).
Do you daily lay your plans before the Lord? Whether that’s simply the mundane errands you have to run or some large decision you have to make that day? Does your life revolve around dependence on God and seeking His direction? Only then can we develop the habit of seeking God first when distress comes. What if instead of having to come to that place where we say, “We’ve tried everything we can think of to try. All we can do now is pray,” we started at a place like David that said, “Let’s pray, laying our requests before the Lord. And then we’ll see what we can do. We’ll wait to see what paths He makes straight.” Ok, maybe that’s not as catchy, but perhaps foregoing the cliché would benefit our prayer lives.
“I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.” Psalm 16:8
Carson, D.A. Call to Spiritual Reformation. Kindle Ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1992. 650-54.