Anatomy of a Prayer – Part 1

Have you ever wondered how to pray? What to pray? Or even if your prayers matter? Returning to Psalm 119, we will examine the anatomy of prayer from David’s perspective. We will align what David taught to how we—as God’s people—understand prayer.

My hope is that you will come away with a deeper understanding of what it means to run to our Heavenly Father in prayer, and what our heart’s condition should be when we do.

Teach me to Pray

Pastors have expounded on the Lord’s Prayer for years, dissecting it different ways. But rather than start with this well-known passage, we will approach the subject from a different perspective—David’s. Returning to Psalm 119, let’s examine David’s thoughts on prayer, verse-by-verse.

I cried with all my heart; answer me, O Lord!

I will observe Your statutes. (Psalm 119:145)

What do we learn about the anatomy of prayer from this verse? We learn about the quality of prayer. David’s spirit is wholehearted as he cries out to God. We must ask ourselves, “What does it mean to cry out with all of our heart?”

In just about everything, there can be a wholehearted or halfhearted approach. Prayer is no different. In Deuteronomy 6:5 we read the famous Shema:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

Turning to the New Testament (Luke 10:26-28), we read about a confrontation Jesus had with a lawyer. A confrontation that resulted from the lawyer testing Jesus, asking how a man or woman could attain eternal life.

And He [Jesus] said to him [lawyer], “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And He said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.”

The lawyer’s answer mirrored the Shema except for one addition. He added mind to the list—heart, soul, strength, and mind. We are witnessing the newer worldview of the New Testament time period, but does Jesus correct the addition? No. He approved and responded with, “You have answered correctly.”

Why did Jesus approve? Because even though the lawyer is reciting the Shema from his pseudo-modern mindset, he still communicated the intended meaning. And he did it with the same heart that David taught in Psalm 119.

Why didn't Jesus correct the lawyer's reworded recitation of the Shema in Luke 10:26-28? #biblestudy Click To Tweet

A Totality of Focus

When we interact with God, we are to bring everything we are, everything we have. Revisiting David’s words, “I cried with all my heart. Answer me, Oh Lord,” we see that he was crying out with everything he had.

Too often we approach God with a halfhearted manner and then wonder why God isn’t pleased. We wonder why he sits silent. I believe a large part of God’s training us in righteousness is training us to have “all-in” hearts. As the Church, we often quote Jeremiah 29:11 but ignore Jeremiah 29:12-13.

Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.

We can see these verses communicate the same concept that David communicates, an “all-in” heart. Even though the context of these verses would see the nation of Israel going into captivity, God was reassuring them that he would hear them—and be found by them—when they brought everything they were to their interaction with him.

God desires everything that we are. Our response to this desire, be it halfhearted or whole-hearted, affects the quality of our prayers. In James 1:6-8, the brother of Christ wrote, “But he [the person approaching God in prayer] must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”

We read this passage through modern lenses and miss the point. James was not at all propounding our modern understanding that our faith meter must hit a certain level before God will listen. Not at all.

James was referring to the halfhearted seeker. The one who approaches God without an “all-in” heart. One who isn’t fully walking with, or trusting in, the Lord. This double-minded seeker would do well to learn David’s lesson. The quality of prayer matters. It must be an “all-in” prayer from an “all-in” heart.

Is James propounding the idea that our faith meter must hit a certain level before God will listen to us? James 1:6-8 Click To Tweet

If This, then That

As we examine David’s declaration in Psalm 119:145, it’s important to note that this is not a bartering situation. We aren’t seeing David say, “If you answer my prayer then I will observe your statutes.”

We are witnessing David’s “all-in” heart. This declaration is a demonstration of David coming to God with an “all-in” heart. The mark of an “all-in” heart is a true delight in the word of God. It is impossible to have an “all-in” heart and not delight in God’s word. An “all-in” heart is a heart of obedience and devotion to the God of the universe. David’s next thought (Psalm 119:146) confirms the status of his heart.

I cried to You; save me

And I shall keep Your testimonies.

Again, this isn’t an “if this, then that” situation. It’s a declaration to the God of the universe from the “all-in” heart of his servant, which brings us back to the quality of our prayer and the attitude of our heart.

Besides the quality of our prayer, Psalm 119 can teach us about the content of prayer. In 119:146, we pinpoint a key aspect that forms most Old and New Testament prayer, and should form our prayer—desire for the justice of God. What does this mean?

An “all-in” heart is a heart of obedience and devotion to the God of the universe. #prayer Click To Tweet

The Justice of God

Does this mean we should only pray for justice? What about praying for daily needs, etc.? To understand this idea, let’s revisit the Psalm 119:160 principle: the sum of God’s word is truth. We see from Matthew and Luke that God cares for us more than he cares for the lilies of the field or the sparrow in the sky. He will provide for us.

Jesus also taught us to pray, saying, “Give us this day our daily bread.” But what I want you to understand here is that while yes, our Father invites us to commune with him about our needs, he also wants us to know that he’s already got us covered. We need never worry over needs because our Father knew what they were before we were even aware of them.

What does the whole of Scripture communicate on the content of prayer? Exactly what David prayed for, justice. Why is justice so important? Because justice covers all of life.

David sought justice from his enemies. David wanted justice for the righteous. The New Testament called for justice when it said, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Justice is the essence of the Lord’s prayer. When we pray it, we call out for the kingship of Jesus.

David sought justice from his enemies. The New Testament called for justice when it said, “Your kingdom come.” Justice is the essence of the Lord's prayer, the cry for our King's rule. Click To Tweet

Gospel of the Kingdom

This is the origin of the phrase, “Gospel of the Kingdom.” Our king has come. What does a king do? A king performs the same type of office as governments (Romans 13). Governments rule as a sword that brings justice.

With Jesus’s justice and kingship in mind, what did David know that we’ve lost sight of? David understood that men don’t make good Kings. Men can’t form good governments. Men and their institutions fall short. This was something that David knew intimately and why he cried out to the perfect King for justice.

“Save me.” David’s cry brings a new perspective on the term save. Salvation is so much more than our go-to-Heaven card. Salvation is the reality that our King has come to rule and to reign in our lives. He has come to direct every aspect of our lives when we submit and surrender to him.

He wants to govern our families, our workplace relationships, our dealings within the world. He wants to bring justice in the world, and it starts within us as we surrender our lives through the quality and content of our prayers.

Salvation is the reality that our King has come to rule and to reign in our lives. Click To Tweet

Let’s Talk

Are you hungry for the justice of God? How does it color your prayer life? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Comment below or email me at nathan@nathanfranckhauser.com.

1 thought on “Anatomy of a Prayer – Part 1”

  1. Pingback: Anatomy of a Prayer - Part 2 | Rebuilding

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