Have you ever thought of King David as a good teacher for prayer? Reading his Psalms the other day, I became very aware of how much we can learn from the way he prayed. The way he viewed and treated God and the way he saw himself through God’s eyes—these gems show themselves brightly through David’s prayers.
If we prayed more like him, I bet we could have the same kind of closeness he had with God.
Here are six features to David’s prayers that we would be blessed to follow:
1. Heartfelt Honesty
When David speaks to God in the Psalms, he does it out of the depth of his heart. His words come out of a place of intense emotion—whether it be fear, sadness or frustration.
It didn’t matter what he felt, David embraced it and lifted it to God. And rather than carefully choosing or censoring his words, David shared with unabashed honesty. He felt close enough–comfortable enough—with his best friend to share his heart. He knew simply, that God could handle all that it felt in any given moment.
“I say to God my Rock, why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning oppressed by the enemy? My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, Where is your God’?” (Psalm 42:9-11)
2. Petitioning with Boldness
David asked God for things often—all sorts of things. Whether it be strength or comfort, favor or cleansing of sin, it was a long list of anything David felt he needed. And there was no hesitance to this petitioning. Only full confidence that what he needed, God also wanted to give. “Give hear to my prayer—it does not come from deceitful lips. May my vindication come from you … I call on you, O God, for you will answer me … show the wonder of your great love” (Psalm 17:1-7).
David prayed boldly because he knew how special he was to God. He knew God loved him deeply, would listen closely to every word, and graciously give him what he needed. He says in verse 4:3 “Know that God has set apart the godly for himself; the Lord will hear when I call to him.” Talk about serious confidence in his standing with God.
3. Affirming God’s Nature
Along with asking God to act, David would often couch those requests with an affirmation of God’s ability to do it. He shows a faith in God’s character that brings hope to his supplications. This shifts petitions from a sort of weary hopelessness or begging, to a stance of confident and ready reception.
David starts by saying” “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul…Do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me.” And he concludes with this: “No one whose hope in you will ever be put to shame.” (25:1-3)
4. Praising God
Situated around David’s sharing and requests are displays of his love for God through words of praise. There is a reverence—an awe—that David had for his great God, and one he clearly yearned to express back toward Him: “I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations … For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies” (Psalm 57:9-10).
We also see David worshipping God for His character: “The Lord is compassionate and gracious. He is slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. He doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve. For as far as the East is from the West, so far has He removed our sins from us” (Psalm 145:8).
Notice that David skips the part of asking God to be gracious, and just praises Him for already being it. He simply believes he receives forgiveness, and goes so far as to confidently praise him for it.
5. Reminding Himself
While David had his moments of weariness and frustration, he wouldn’t let those emotions remain. Rather, he spoke to himself. He repeatedly encouraged his heart and mind to keep trusting as well as thanking God.
Remember that verse earlier? When David poured out his heart to God, asking why He had forgotten him? Well, he didn’t end there. In the very next set of verses he attempts to counsel himself: “Why are you downcast, O my soul? … Put your hope in God for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 42:11).
He also instructs his soul in verse 123 to remember the goodness of God: “Praise the Lord, O my soul…and forget not all his benefits. Who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases.”
6. Keeping Hope
Not all of David’s prayers were answered immediately, and we can see that in the many statements he makes about waiting on God. But rather than giving up when nothing seemed to change, David continued to believe—and again, tell himself—that there was always hope.
“I am still confident of this; I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Be strong, take heart, and wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:13).
This is true maturity of faith—expecting that God will work despite what we’ve seen yet. David displayed this character, and he encouraged it to grow each time he reaffirmed God’s faithfulness.
What it Boils Down to
Keep this in mind: David was not relaxing in some palace when he wrote all this. On the contrary, he was not yet king. Instead, he was being chased down by King Saul and his army. He was hiding in the desert to keep from being killed. David could have easily blamed God. He could have been wrought with confusion and questioned if God really loved him or if he was being punished. Interestingly, it doesn’t look like he ever truly doubted his standing with God or his value to Him (never for long, anyway).
David knew he was treasured and forgiven. He didn’t believe that accepting—or even assuming—that God’s mercy was upon him meant he was “taking advantage” of it. He didn’t feel the need to punish himself, or feel embarrassed by his discouraged feelings. He also didn’t feel that knowing he was precious to God was being prideful. Rather, he knew it was God’s desire for him to know how loved he was.
When speaking to God he even called himself the “Apple of His eye.” This is the foundation on which he stood: He knew who God was and he knew who he was to God. That’s what made all the difference in how he prayed.
Many of us need to grasp those things too. We need this realization of God’s heart and faithfulness toward us. We also need an unshakeable knowing of our worth to Him. When we have that, our deepest prayers will follow. Then we can have the same level of intimacy that even David shared with God. And that is, after all, the greatest reason we have prayer to begin with.