A Correct Prayer Attitude

A song of ascents.

1To you we lift up our eyes,
You who live in heaven.
2As the eyes of slaves turn to the hand of their master,
As the eyes of a maid looks to the hand of her mistress,
So our eyes look to our God until he shows us favor.
3Show us favor, YHWH,
For we have had more than enough contempt.
4Our souls are satiated
— on the mocking of those at ease.
— on the contempt of the arrogant.  — Psalm 123

Is there a correct attitude for prayer?

Many people have rigid standards for how to pray, the type of language, the attitude one must have toward God, things that one must ask for–or not.  Who must be addressed (Jesus, Father, Holy Spirit), and how much praise and thankfulness is needed as opposed to requests.

In teaching about prayer, the vast majority of questions center around things one should or should not do.  It’s a great deal like learning how to approach a powerful figure, a king, or even just your boss.  What does he like to hear?  What does he hate hearing?  What is likely to open his ears to your request?

But I have found that Biblical prayers tend to confound our best ideas of how to pray.  There are, of course, instructions on how to approach prayer.  There’s the Lord’s prayer, for example, which focuses us on the success of God’s kingdom and just on our basic needs, with the emphasis there on spiritual needs.  Paul talks a great deal about thanksgiving.

But almost any idea that I may have about how to approach God is certain to be confounded somewhere in scripture.  Somebody, somewhere is going to pray in a way that I find theologically questionable.

Psalm 123 is a theologically questionable prayer, but it’s one that comes from the heart.  Many Christians will tell you that if you are being mocked and reviled you should “suck it in” and take it.  It’s not important what people think of you.  After all, Jesus told us that the persecuted were blessed (Matthew 5:10).  Get with the program!  Take in your blessing!

But then you have Psalm 123.  There’s no thankfulness.  There’s just a cry for help because the people are reviled and mocked.  You can imagine what might be behind it.  Perhaps this comes from the time of the exile or after.  There may be plenty of physical deprivation and injury behind it.  But the cry is because they are despised.  They are quite satiated on being despised.  The word used is the same as one would use for being full and satisfied after a meal.

And God saw fit to have this prayer recorded for us in the Bible.  I think that’s because he wants us to know that whatever is bothering us is important enough to take to him.  We may be whining, but that’s OK.  God isn’t going to get angry at us because of that.  We can cry out for mercy regarding anything at all that is bothering us.

God can even fix the way you present your prayers.  He hears better than we can possibly pray!

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