Summer Psalms: Psalm 20 – “How Can I Pray for You” (John MacDiarmid)

Talk given by John MacDiarmid at Poole High School for PCF on Sunday morning 20 August 2017

Listen to this talk (or download – right-click here and ‘Save as’):

 

As we work through the Psalms all the great themes of the Bible are raised. In the context of life, the Psalmists show how the issues which are often raised doctrinally elsewhere, are woven into the fabric of their lives. Here David writes a song about the subject of prayer, giving us a beautiful example of prayer in practice.

There are a number of levels at which the Psalm can be understood:

1. This is a prayer for the congregation to pray and sing in support of their King. David is responding to a request from his court: how can we pray for you? There is nothing that a leader needs more than to know that his people are praying for him, for his protection, deliverance and victory. Here we hear David’s people praying for their King.

2. This is a model of how we can pray for each other: what more do we need other than to have our friends praying for us. But how do we do it? Here is a live example of the prayer that we can use to support and encourage each other.

3. We know that our King Jesus is interceding for us at the right hand of the Father. Jesus, our brother, our friend and our saviour, the man who is also God pleads for us. Are these the words that He uses in heaven in the presence of the worshipping angels to intercede for his bride?

For the director of music. A psalm of David.
May the LORD answer you when you are in distress;
may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.
May he send you help from the sanctuary
and grant you support from Zion.
May he remember all your sacrifices
and accept your burnt offerings.[b]
May he give you the desire of your heart
and make all your plans succeed.
May we shout for joy over your victory
and lift up our banners in the name of our God.
May the LORD grant all your requests.
Now this I know:
The LORD gives victory to his anointed.
He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary
with the victorious power of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.
They are brought to their knees and fall,
but we rise up and stand firm.
LORD, give victory to the king!
Answer us when we call!

1. A Plea for Help

May the LORD answer you when you are in distress;
may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.

The prayer starts with a twofold assumption: firstly that we will sometimes be in distress, helpless, confused, not knowing what is going on. Secondly, that is such times we will call on the Lord. The prayer for us is that those prayers will be heard and answered. So the question for us is: when we are in distress, do we take it to God?
May he send you help from the sanctuary
and grant you support from Zion.
Then the prayer is that we will experience God responding to our cry by means of help direct from the throne room of heaven.

May he remember all your sacrifices
and accept your burnt offerings.

There is a prayer here that God will remember the sacrifices we have made for him – but I think the more effective appeal to God is to ask Him to remember, not so much the things I have done for Him, but the things he has done for me. The offerings referred to were the burnt offerings that prefigured the death of Jesus, but today we can appeal to God by saying: “Look at what Jesus has done for this person – remember the fact that all his sins have been taken away and dealt with, and treat him as one who is as righteous as Jesus”

May he give you the desire of your heart
and make all your plans succeed.

We pray for ourselves and others that God will give us what we want. Here, inspired by the Holy Spirit the prayer is the same. But there is a catch – there is some small print! What does it mean for God to give us the desires of our heart? I doubt very much that it means that God will give us “all our heart desires” in the sense of whatever we want…God would not be so unkind as to give us what we want, as we rarely know what is best for us! But what he will do, as we spend time with Him, is to shape our desires to confirm to his perfect will, and then as we pray, grant us those desires. Haven’t we all noticed, as we get to know God better, that the things that once seemed vital to us are now less important? The way to get you want in prayer is to allow the Holy Spirit to shape our desires so that we are praying for the things that God wants and not our own selfish desires. Then God will indeed give us the desires of our hearts!

May we shout for joy over your victory
and lift up our banners in the name of our God.

How we need others in our Christian walk! How we need those who will pray for us and genuinely rejoice when God blesses us. There is maturity needed to rejoice with those who rejoice.
May the LORD grant all your requests.

2. An Assurance of Victory

Now this I know:
The LORD gives victory to his anointed.
He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary
with the victorious power of his right hand.

As we pray we need to constantly cast our minds onto the reality of God’s sure and certain victory. The “anointed” clearly refers to the King, but as John points out in his first letter we all have an anointing, so the assurance that God will save His anointed is true for every believer. The resources of heaven are at the disposal of every person who trusts God.

3. A Stark Contrast

Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.
They are brought to their knees and fall,
but we rise up and stand firm.

So David moves towards his application with a stark contrast between two people. Those who trust in their own resources, and those who trust in God. Which are we?

4. A Clear Application

LORD, give victory to the king!
Answer us when we call!

The answer to the previous question is found in whether or not we pray. Those who pray are those who trust in God’s resources and who will experience the blessings of this Psalm. Those who do not pray, individually and corporately, are those who can expect to miss out. As Paul encourages us in Ephesians 6:18: “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints”

John MacDiarmid
August 2017