Prayer as a Multi-Dimensional Experience
Often prayer is only seen and done in one dimension – that is, words spoken to God. And truly, this is a dimension of prayer otherwise why would Jesus teach us the prayer to pray (Lu11). But as you examine the Scriptures as a whole, especially the Psalms, you become aware that even back all those years before the revelation of the Father that Jesus showed us, the people of God knew prayer as a multi-dimensional experience. Psalm 16 helps us to understand this:
The Psalmist begins the prayer speaking to God:
Preserve me, O God, for in You I put my trust.
Here is the broad petition that is desired of the Lord. David believes that his life is sustained only because God has willed it to be so. You will recall from his story that he was, for many years, under threat of death. So, we must understand this was no theoretical exercise in theology for David. His trust throughout these years had been that God will preserve and sustain him in the face of many threats – so, since that is what he believes, he is bold to petition for the thing which he believes is his – in other words, I have put my trust in you so, preserve me. Only someone who knows God well and over time, would ever be so bold.
Then the Psalmists speaks to himself:
O my soul, you have said to the Lord, “You are my Lord,
My goodness is nothing apart from You.”
Here we gain an insight into what David has experienced of God in his life, whatever goodness resides in him; whatever right to petition the Lord; whatever trust that he has in God, still all this is really what is God – at work in him. So, David (and we) find that, right alongside our bold claims and petitions, is a reality-check!
David’s reality-check does not demean him (or us); it does not lessen him (or us) or even oblige him (or us) – it places him (and us) in the place of rest and true confidence. David knows any effort of self-justification is useless (it simply does not work) and so he does not even attempt it. In seeking for the Lord’s preservation, he has put his whole dependence on the One who can preserve him and for no other reason than that One, is trustworthy.
Then, listening to this inner conversation in His servant, the Lord speaks to David:
“As for the saints who are on the earth, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight.”
It is reassuring to consider that human failings do not cancel out the value that the Creator God has placed upon us all; the saints are the excellent ones. To David who is trusting God, there is a reassurance – you are among those who seek Me and so you are Mine. The Lord does not say “you have all your ducks in a row so I will be good to you” He speaks of those who seek after Him – the saints – as the excellent one in whom He delights. What a wonderful message for David and us.
But then God speaks of those who insist on seeking after other gods, other loves and other desires. And God’s message is devastating:
“Their sorrows shall be multiplied who hasten after another god; their drink offerings of blood I will not offer, nor take up their names on my lips.
Human beings make choices about what they love and who they love and what god they will submit themselves to; and each choice they make carries implications – the most devastating of all is that the One true God will not hear them nor know them as His.
Look at this prayer meeting so far. There was a petition; then a reflection and then a reassurance directly from the Lord. Here is prayer as a revelatory encounter between someone and their Creator.
Then David speaks to God again, and he is able to put into words now what is the basis for his confidence to ask God to preserve him. Notwithstanding that he has faced many enemies and that his journey has been difficult to the point where he was not sure if he could endure; now, something has dawned in him from his prayer time with the Lord and now he seems to understand things very differently. Listen as he prays:
O Lord, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup;
You maintain my lot.
The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places;
Yes, I have a good inheritance.
I will bless the Lord who has given me counsel;
My heart also instructs me in the night seasons.
I have set the Lord always before me;
Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved.
Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices;
My flesh also will rest in hope.
For You will not leave my soul in Sheol,
Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.
You will show me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
In a sense, the petition at the start now appears uncertain rather than bold, as though David is hopeful that God will preserve his life but not confident of it. Now it seems something has happened and there is in David a new confidence and he muses that:
God Himself is the guarantee of my future
God is teaching me what I need to know and be and do
God’s presence with me is the promise of my preservation
Then, amazingly, David can see life beyond death
Now He can see endless joy and even…eternity!
And, these latter words are deemed by the apostles to be prophetic anticipations of the experience of the Messiah Himself and pertinent particularly in respect of His blessed resurrection.
As we pray therefore we may also experience this kind of transformation. So, let us look for those moments when prayer becomes more than endless petitions; let’s make space for understanding the true state of our own hearts before the Lord and let’s wait on Him that He may speak and bring those insights that provide what we need for life and godliness.
Sometimes I think, the boldness I bring to prayer is an invention of my own simply because I am encouraged in Scripture to be bold. But, I have found in the multi-dimensional prayer experience captured in Psalm 16, that it is better when I come to that place, when, having heard the Lord, a boldness and confidence tumbles out of me from a well which will not run dry because it’s giver and sustainer is the Lord God of Heaven and Earth.
May the Lord draw us all into long conversations with Him that we may emerge renewed, encouraged and emboldened.
Director of QB Church Planting Services