Sunday, July 30, 2017

Sermon: Psalm 5 Why pray?

There’s a little three letter word that can strike terror into the hearts of parents , grandparents, aunts & uncles. It seems that whenever a wee one learns this three letter word, it then becomes their favourite word, indeed, their favourite question. A simple conversation can become an endless cycle of answering that question. Daily routines become another opportunity to ask the same question. And what is the three letter word? It’s WHY?

A routine that is done unthinkingly is suddenly challenged. Reasons for ‘why’ they need to put their socks on, or why they have to hold your hand when walking up the street. Why? Why? Why? While it’s good for the wee one to learn why we do things, that there’s normally a good reason why something happens or has to happen; it can be helpful for us to have to think about why we do the things we do.

Think back over the past week. There are things that you’ve done (or not done), that if you were to sit down and think - why did I do that - you might struggle to come up with an answer. Why do we do the things that we do?

If I were to ask you, why do you pray, what would you say? How would you answer the ‘why’ question? Why pray?

Maybe it’s something that you’ve always done, you were taught in Sunday School to say your prayers, and so you always say them - but you’ve never really thought why you pray. Perhaps you’ve seen how God has answered your prayers in the past - that’s why you pray, so long as God keeps answering them just the way you want them. Or maybe you’ve another reason why you pray.

Or what if you don’t pray - why not? Is it that you think you can get on fine without needing any help - you don’t want to need anybody else? Is it that you’re too busy? Is it that you don’t know how to pray?

Well, if that three letter question has got you thinking about why you pray or don’t pray, our Psalm this morning will help us see why we should pray. In Psalm 5, David is praying to God. But he doesn’t just show us how to pray, he also shows us why we should pray. David gives us five good reasons why we should pray.

Now, as we begin, do you see how intense David’s prayer is? ‘Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my sighing. Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray.’ (1-2) He’s sighing, he needs help. And so he cries out to God.

He’s regular in his praying. Twice he says in verse 3 ‘In the morning...’ Every morning, David prays - ‘you hear my voice’ and ‘I lay my requests before you.’ In the morning, every morning. Now I don’t know about you, but that might be a challenge for us. Maybe your mornings are jampacked as you try to get up and out for work and you think - when would I get time to pray? It can be so tempting to think - I’m so busy that I haven’t got time to pray. Yet there might be time to check Facebook or Instagram...

Does God hear our voice in the morning? David prayed, because he expected God to listen and answer. Do you see how verse 3 ends? ‘In the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.’ Why pray? We’ll pray if we expect God to act.

But more than that, David prays because of God’s holiness. In verses 4-6, David reminds God of what God is like. ‘You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil; with you the wicked cannot dwell.’ You see, it’s because God answers prayer, that David says these things. David is troubled by some wicked people, people who are arrogant, telling lies, bloodthirsty and deceitful. And so David reminds God that he should act according to his revealed holiness. Because God is holy, we can pray to him.

But you might be thinking to yourself - how does that work? If God doesn’t take pleasure in evil, and the wicked can’t dwell with him, then how come David thinks he can pray to God? Who does David think he is? Is he setting himself up as some sort of holy Joe? Does he reckon that he’s good enough to come to God?

Well, no. This brings us to our third reason to pray - David prays because of God’s mercy. If verse 7 just said ‘But I will come into your house...’ then David would also find himself on the wrong side of God’s holiness. It’s only by God’s mercy that David can come. Mercy is when God does not give us what we deserve. And David is recognising that he is wicked, just like everybody else. But he can pray because of God’s mercy. It’s the only way we can pray as well.

God is not our personal assistant; our slave to order about whatever way we want. No, God rules over all, yet he listens to us by his mercy. He removes our wickedness. He receives us in. We bow in reverence (worship). We pray because of God’s mercy.

David then prays because of his enemies. His request is found in verse 8. That request would work just as well without the middle bit in it - if he were to say, ‘Lead me, O LORD, in your righteousness... make straight your way before me.’ Asking God to lead and guide, to help us to walk in righteousness. We talk about a criminal going straight - you might remember the prison comedy show starring Ronnie Barker - Porridge. There was a sequel to it called ‘Going Straight.’ That’s what David asks - to go straight, and all the more so because of his enemies.

You see, they’re described in verse 9. They’re entirely crooked - not a word from their mouth can be trusted; their heart filled with destruction; throat an open grave; tongue only used to speak deceit. David prays because of his enemies, because he wants to be different, distinct from them.

You see, these sins declare them guilty (in the face of a holy God). These intrigues will be their downfall. (Other Psalms and Proverbs talk about how they spread a net and get caught in it themselves; they dig a pit, cover it up, and fall into themselves - a bit like Wile E Coyote getting caught in all the traps he sets for the Roadrunner!). These sins are a rebellion against God, and will lead to banishment, being sent away, being excluded, missing out on God’s eternal blessing.

David prays because of his enemies - and maybe as we hear of what they were like, you’re thinking of your own enemies. Don’t be too quick to point the finger at anyone else - as you might have heard before, when you point a finger at someone else there’s three pointing back at yourself.

These words from verse 9 are picked up by Paul and quoted in his letter to the Romans. You maybe recognised them earlier on. They come in a series of quotations from the Old Testament, showing that everyone, no matter who they are, Gentile or Jew, all are under sin. Our words, our hearts, our throats and tongues are plagued by sin.

By nature and choice, we are God’s enemies. We deserve to be banished, because we are rebels against God’s reign. But thankfully, Romans 3 doesn’t end at verse 23. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, but God has made a way. We can be freely justified by his grace through the redemption that comes through Christ Jesus. We don’t deserve it - it’s grace and mercy, to be turned from rebels to redeemed.

And that leads us to the final reason David prays. David prays because of God’s blessing. Verse 11: ‘But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you. For surely, O LORD, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favour as with a shield.’

There is a blessing for all who take refuge in God - gladness, singing for joy, protection, rejoicing, favour.

Why do you pray? Here are five good reasons to pray - expecting God to listen; because of God’s holiness; because of God’s mercy; because of your enemies; because of God’s blessing.

Tomorrow when you wake, remember even one of these reasons, and use that as your ‘why’ to pray, before you get out of bed, or when you’re in the shower, or as you wait for the kettle to boil. Let God hear your voice. It doesn’t have to be complicated. It doesn’t have to be long. You could even use some of David’s words here. Speak up, and pray to God. Why? He’s listening for you.

This sermon was preached in St Matthew's Church, Richhill on Sunday morning 30th July 2017.

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