Psalm 5: Lessons from David’s Example for Effective Prayer

Introduction: Here, David cried out to God after his enemies slandered him, most likely by questioning God’s appointed role for him as King of Israel. Through David’s example, the Bible reveals seven elements that should be included in your prayers as well. These include: (1) faith, (2) consistency, (3) reverence, (4) humility, (5) submission, (6) petition, and (7) praise / thanks.

First, when attacked, David cried out with confidence for God to hear his prayers and to respond. Effective prayer also requires that you pray with faith and without doubt. Second, David further prayed throughout the day for God’s help. Effective prayer also requires that you pray without ceasing. Third, David further warned his enemies not to approach God with a wicked heart. Effective prayer also requires that you pray with reverence through a contrite heart. Fourth, David professed that he would bow before God when he entered the Temple to pray. Effective prayer also requires that you pray with humility. Fifth, instead of asking for God to do what he wanted, David asked for God to guide him. Effective prayer also seeks to submit to God’s will and direction. Sixth, instead of looking for his own strength or abilities to meet his needs, David also petitioned God for his needs. Effective prayer also includes petitioning God to fulfill your needs. Finally, David praised God and thanked Him for His faithfulness for putting a hedge of protection around him. Effective prayer should also include praise and thanksgiving for God.

1. Faith: Effective Prayer Requires That You Pray With Faith and Without Doubt. Ps. 5:1-2.

  • David cried out in faith to his King and God in heaven. After suffering an attack, David poured out his heart to God with the confidence that God would hear his prayers: “Prayer for Protection from the Wicked. For the music director; for flute accompaniment. A Psalm of David. 1 Listen to my words, Lord, consider my sighing. Listen to the sound of my cry for help, my King and my God, for to You I pray.” (Ps. 5:1-2). The confidence in David’s prayers showed both his faith and his lack of doubt.

David cried out to God whenever he was attacked1

  • David had the faith to know that His King and God welcomed his cries for help. David cried out to “my King and my God,” (Ps. 5:2). Throughout the psalms, David had the faith to acknowledge that God in heaven was both sovereign in his life and would use His power to respond to David’s prayers: “A Psalm of Praise, of David. I will exalt You, my God, the King, and I will bless Your name forever and ever.” (Ps. 145:1). “The LORD has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all.” (Ps. 103:19). “Who is like the LORD our God, who is enthroned on high.” (Ps. 113:5). Many profess Jesus as Lord. But few believe that He uses His power to respond to us.

  • David regularly cried out in faith for God’s help. David’s prayer for God’s help was not a one-time event. As a man of faith, he regularly cried out in his prayers for God’s help: “Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; enlighten my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,” (Ps. 13:3). “Hear, LORD, when I cry with my voice, and be gracious to me and answer me.” (Ps. 27:7). “For the music director; on stringed instruments. A Maskil of David. Listen to my prayer, God; and do not hide Yourself from my pleading.” (Ps. 55:1). “Hear my prayer, God; Listen to the words of my mouth.” (Ps. 54:2). “For the music director; on a stringed instrument. A Psalm of David. Hear my cry, God; Give Your attention to my prayer.” (Ps. 61:1). “Listen, LORD, to my prayer; and give Your attention to the sound of my pleading!” (Ps. 86:6). “I said to the LORD, ‘You are my God; listen, LORD, to the sound of my pleadings.” (Ps. 140:6).

  • Acknowledge God as sovereign over your life when you pray to Him. As an example to believers, Jesus included the element of faith in the sovereign God in the Lord’s Prayer when He prayed to the unseen Father “which is in heaven.” (Matt. 6:9). Faith is the proof of that which is unseen (Heb. 11:1). Does your faith require proof?

  • Pray without doubt. Jesus also reveals that faithful prayers can move mountains if you pray without doubt. “Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted to him.” (Matt. 11:23; 21:21). If you pray with doubt, you should also not expect your prayers to be answered: “But he 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.” (Jam. 1:6). Do you have faith in God to actually answer your prayers?

2. Consistency: Effective Prayer Requires That You Pray Without Ceasing. Ps. 5:3.

  • David made God his first priority of the day through morning prayers. David cared so much about his relationship with God that he prayed immediately after walking up: “In the morning, Lord, You will hear my voice; in the morning I will present my prayer to You and be on the watch.” (Ps. 5:3). But David also prayed throughout the day.

Make it a habit to regularly pray to God2

  • Pray at least two times a day. As a symbol of prayer, the priests created a soothing aroma in the Temple both in the morning and again at twilight (E.g., Ex. 30:7-8; Lev. 6:20; Nu. 28:4, 8). David followed these instructions by praying in the morning (Ps. 5:3). “But I, LORD, have cried out to You for help, and in the morning my prayer comes before You. (Ps. 88:13; 59:16; 92:2; 119:147). He also prayed at twilight (E.g., Ps. 63:6; 141:2). Twilight happened in the mid afternoon at the ninth hour. Peter and John also followed these instructions when they went “to the temple at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer.” (Acts 3:1). Christ also fulfilled these rules by being crucified at the time of the morning sacrifice and dying at the appointed time of the mid-afternoon sacrifice (Mk. 15:25, 34). This suggests that Jesus wants us to create a soothing prayer aroma to Him at least twice a day (1 Chron. 23:30; 1 Thess. 5:17; Rom. 12:12; Col. 4:2; Jam. 5:16). Praying twice a day is just the minimum expectation of a believer. But God desires even more from you.

  • Your prayer life should remain constant. God further commanded that His people offer a “perpetual incense” throughout the generations (Ex. 30:8). This suggests that we should be in constant prayer before God (Rom. 12:12; Col. 4:2; Jam. 5:16). David also went beyond the minimum expected morning and evening prayers by also praying at noon as well: “Evening and morning and at noon, I will complain and moan, and He will hear my voice.” (Ps. 55:17). In the New Testament, believers are also encouraged to “pray without ceasing,” (1 Thess. 5:17). “With every prayer and request, pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be alert with all perseverance and every request for all the saints,” (Eph. 6:18). Are you praying on a regular basis throughout the day?

  • Constant prayer does not include mindless repetition. Although God wants you to frequently approach Him in prayer, Jesus warns that God is not looking for mindless chants or prayers: “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.” (Matt. 6:7). This includes mindlessly chanting the Lord’s prayer. Before giving the Lord’s prayer, Jesus said: “Pray, then, in this way.” (Matt. 6:9). Jesus wants you to offer prayers that include the essential components of prayer. But He really wants you to offer heartfelt prayers that are led by the Spirit. If your prayers are missing some of the essential ingredients, ask the Spirit to guide you in your prayers (Jam. 1:5).

3. Reverence: Effective Prayer Also Requires That You Pray With Reverence. Ps. 5:4-6.

  • David warned his enemies that they were challenging God. Because David’s enemies were questioning what God had ordained, he warned them that their actions were wicked: “For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness; no evil can dwell with You. The boastful will not stand before Your eyes; You hate all who do injustice. You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord loathes the person of bloodshed and deceit.” (Ps. 5:4-6). Evil cannot be in God’s presence. Jesus also warned that what comes out of your mouth is evidence of what is inside you: “You offspring of vipers, how can you, being evil, express any good things? For the mouth speaks from that which fills the heart.” (Matt. 12:34). Believers should also never approach God in open rebellion.

  • God detests those who approach Him with wicked hearts. The psalms repeatedly warn people to fear God and to never approach Him with a wicked heart: “The LORD . . . hates one who loves violence.” (Ps. 11:5). “The face of the LORD is against evildoers, to eliminate the memory of them from the earth.” (Ps. 34:16). “You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; . . .” (Ps. 45:7). Thus, David warns everyone to “Serve the LORD with reverence and rejoice with trembling.” (Ps. 2:11).

  • Approaching God with unrepentant sin can “hinder” your prayers. In the Old Testament, God warned that He will not hear the prayers of a sinner: “So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood.” (Is. 1:15). “But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear. For your hands are defiled with blood and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken falsehood, your tongue mutters wickedness.” (Is. 59:2-3; Prov. 15:29; 8:9 Ps. 66:18). Jesus later repeated these warnings: “We know that God doesn't listen to sinners, but He does listen to anyone who worships Him and does His will.” (Jo. 9:31). Although some claim that Jesus was only speaking about non-believers, the New Testament still makes clear that sin can “hinder” your prayers (1 Pet. 3:7). Thus, approaching God in prayer without first repenting of your sins will hinder God’s ability to hear you. This might be analogous to making a call with poor reception. “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” (2 Cor. 7:1).

  • Confess your sins to be reverent and holy before God. Jesus calls upon believers to be holy (1 Pet. 1:15-16; 2 Pet. 3:11; Lev. 11:44; 20:7; 20:6). As an example to believers, Jesus included the confession of sin in the Lord’s Prayer for believers to be holy when He prayed for God to show mercy: “And forgive us our debts.” (Matt. 6:12).

  • Approach God in reverence. Also an example for our prayers, Jesus began the Lord’s prayer with the reverent proclamation: “hollowed be Your name” (Matt. 6:9). God gives access to His people to approach Him with reverence so that His people could offer intercessory prayers for all His peoples: “Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar; for My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.” (Is. 56:7(b)). Yet, in three Gospels, Jesus warned that the people had perverted God’s house by stealing from others: “And He said to them, ‘It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a robbers’ den.’” (Matt. 21:13; Mk. 11:17; Lk. 19:46). Thus, you must never misuse the access that God has given you. You should only approach Him with a holy, contrite, and reverent heart.

  • Pray with a clean and upright heart. Praying with a purified and upright heart is a central element of proper prayer: “Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, you righteous ones; and shout for joy, all you who are upright in heart.” (Ps. 32:11). “The righteous person will be glad in the LORD and take refuge in Him; and all the upright in heart will boast.” (Ps. 64:10). “My shield is with God, who saves the upright in heart.” (Ps. 7:10). “Light is sown like seed for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart.” (Ps. 97:11). If you are distracted or focused on yourself, you are not praying with an upright heart.

4. Humility: Effective Prayer Also Requires That You Pray With Humility. Ps. 5:7.

  • David professed that he would only approach God in humility. Unlike his enemies, David also approached God in humility. This included bowing before God’s presence: “But as for me, by Your abundant graciousness I will enter Your house, at Your holy temple I will bow in reverence for You.” (Ps. 5:7). Because of his sins, David knew that he had no right to demand that God hear his prayers: “It was by God’s mercy that David lived, that he was maintained in health and strength, that he had a desire to go to God’s house, and was permitted to worship there. Of all these mercies he is deeply sensible. And in thy fear will I worship. David’s worship is never without fear - a reverent sense of God’s greatness, power, and perfect holiness.” (Pulpit Commentary on Ps. 5:7).3

  • David approached God with humility. The psalms are filled with similar examples of humility: “I will bow down toward Your holy temple and give thanks to Your name for Your mercy and Your truth; for You have made Your word great according to all Your name.” (Ps. 138:2). Are you humbling yourself when you pray to God for help?

  • To receive God’s mercy and grace, show mercy and grace to others. As an example to believers, Jesus also included the element of humility in the Lord’s Prayer when He prayed: “as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matt. 6:12). Jesus warns that God will not forgive your debts if you fail to submit your will to others by forgiving the debts that others owe to you: “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” (Matt. 6:14). He also warned that if you do not forgive others, your Heavenly Father will not forgive you: “But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” (Matt. 6:15; 18:34-5). “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.” (Mk. 11:25). “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned.” (Lk. 6:36). If you are looking for God’s mercy and grace, are you showing mercy and grace to those who offend you?

  • Be humble in how you pray. To avoid pride, Jesus urges believers to pray in secret so that you do not appear boastful to others about faith: “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” (Matt. 6:5-6). This, however, does not mean that you should keep secrets when God answers your prayers. Anything you say should be focused on giving God the glory.

5. Submission: Effective Prayer Also Seeks to Submit to God’s Will and Direction. Ps. 5:8.

  • David requested that God guide him in response to his prayers. Instead of asking God to do what he wanted, David pleaded with God to guide his path to follow God’s will: “Lord, lead me in Your righteousness because of my enemies; make Your way straight before me.” (Ps. 5:8). David sought to submit to God’s will and direction in his life.

  • David regularly prayed for God’s guidance. David repeatedly praised God for guiding him in response to his prayers: “He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness for the sake of His name.” (Ps. 23:3). “He leads the humble in justice, and He teaches the humble His way.” (Ps. 25:9). “Teach me Your way, LORD, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.” (Ps. 27:11). “For You are my rock and my fortress; for the sake of Your name You will lead me and guide me.” (Ps. 31:3). “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Ps. 119:105). “And see if there is any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.” (Ps. 139:24). Your prayers should also seek to do God’s will instead of demanding what you desire.

  • Let the Holy Spirit guide you in prayer. As our example, Jesus included the element of submission to God the Father’s will when He prayed: “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt. 6:10). Submission also helps to protect you. This was also part of the Lord’s prayer when Jesus prayed: And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (Matt. 6:13). How do we properly identify God’s will in order to submit to it? It comes through reading the Word and prayer. Jesus promised that the Spirit of truth will abide in you (Jo. 14:16-18). The Holy Spirit will cause you to remember Jesus’ Word to guide you in your prayers: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” (Jo. 14:26). Yet, if you don’t memorize God’s Word, you are not leaving the Spirit with much to help you “remember” during prayer. God wants you to boost your faith by praying out His prior promises. Your faith comes by “hearing” the Word (Ro. 10:17). This includes hearing the Word in your own prayers. Are you praying out God’s Word as you pray for your needs or the needs of others?

6. Petition: Effective Prayer Also Petitions for God to Fulfill Your Needs. Ps. 5:9-10.

  • David petitioned God to right the wrongs committed against him. Instead of seeking vengeance against his enemies, David petitioned God to right the wrongs against him: “For there is nothing trustworthy in their mouth; their inward part is destruction itself. Their throat is an open grave; they flatter with their tongue. 10 Make them pay, God; have them fall by their own schemes! Scatter them in the multitude of their wrongdoings, for they are rebellious against You.” (Ps. 5:9-10). When you are attacked, God also wants you to turn to Him. He does not want you to seek revenge or show hatred.

  • Petition God for your needs and trust in Him to provide. As an example to believers, Jesus included the element of petition in the Lord’s Prayer when He prayed: “Give us this day our daily bread.” (Matt. 6:11). God wants you to petition Him for the things you need and trust Him to provide: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Phil. 4:6). Don’t rely on your own strength. If you have any needs, are you petitioning God?

  • Leave vengeance to God. It is for God alone to judge others: “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.” (Ro. 12:19). If someone has wronged you, forgive them, and pray for God to right every wrong to ensure that justice prevails.

  • Petition God for your every need. In addition to protection, God wants you to petition Him for your every need. While in the wilderness, God provided the Jews with both manna and quail to meet their every need (Ex. 16:1-8; Nu. 11:4-6, 32-33). He also transformed the waters of Marah to provide drinking water (Ex. 15:22-27). Near the end of their journey, He also caused the waters to gush out of a rock at Meribah (Nu. 20:10-11; Ps. 81:16; 106:41; Isa. 48:21). Jesus also tells believers not to worry about their provision (Matt. 6:34). To have your physical needs met, Jesus advises that you must first “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt. 6:33). If you are lacking in anything, petition God in prayer.

7. Praise: Effective Prayer Also Includes Praise and Thanksgiving. Ps. 5:11-12.

  • David praised God and gave thanks for shielding him from his enemies. David also gave thanks and praised God for placing a powerful hedge of protection around him: “11 But rejoice, all who take refuge in You, sing for joy forever! And may You shelter them, that those who love Your name may rejoice in You. 12 For You bless the righteous person, Lord, You surround him with favor as with a shield.” (Ps. 5:11-12). David knew that God had no obligation to intervene. God instead desires to intervene when His people cry out because He loves us: “This is the greatest blessing of all – the favor of God. Knowing that God looks on us with favor and pleasure is the greatest knowledge in the world. This is our standing in grace.” (David Guzik of Psalm 5) (italics in original).4

Take refuge in God, and He will be your shield5

  • When you take refuge in God, He can be your shield. David praised God for shielding him from his enemies (Ps. 5:12). David always gave God the credit when his enemies failed in their attacks against him: “But You, LORD, are a shield around me, My glory, and the One who lifts my head.” (Ps. 3:3). “The LORD is my strength and my shield; My heart trusts in Him, and I am helped; therefore my heart triumphs, and with my song I shall thank Him.” (Ps. 28:7). God can also protect you if you take refuge in Him.

  • David repeatedly praised God for His faithfulness. As our example, David’s prayers always included praises for God: “Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; for His faithfulness is everlasting.” (1 Chr. 16:34). “I will rejoice and be jubilant in You; I will sing praise to Your name, O Most High.” (Ps. 9:2). “How great is Your goodness, which You have stored up for those who fear You, Which You have performed for those who take refuge in You, before the sons of mankind!” (Ps. 31:19). “The righteous person will be glad in the LORD and take refuge in Him; and all the upright in heart will boast.” (Ps. 64:10). “It is good to give thanks to the LORD and to sing praises to Your name, Most High; to declare Your goodness in the morning and Your faithfulness by night, with the ten-stringed lute and with the harp, with resounding music on the lyre. For You, LORD, have made me joyful by what You have done, I will sing for joy over the works of Your hands.” (Ps. 92:104). “Praise Him with trumpet sound; praise Him with harp and lyre. Praise Him with tambourine and dancing; praise Him with stringed instruments and flute. Praise Him with loud cymbals; praise Him with resounding cymbals. Everything that has breath shall praise the LORD. Praise the LORD!” (Ps. 150:3-6). Don’t ever take God’s blessings for granted. In your prayers, are you praising God for His faithfulness?

  • Praise God in every context. Also as our example, David praised God in both good and bad times. For example, when Saul was trying to kill David, David wrote in one of his many psalms that he would always praise God: “A Psalm of David, when he pretended to be insane before Abimelech, who drove him away, and he departed. I will bless the LORD at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.” (Ps. 34:1). Likewise, when Daniel learned that the king had signed an order that would result in him being thrown in the lion’s den, he continued in his regular praises for God: “Now when Daniel learned that the document was signed, he entered his house (and in his roof chamber he had windows open toward Jerusalem); and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and offering praise before his God, just as he had been doing previously.” (Dan. 6:10). As another example, Paul worshiped even when he was jailed for his faith: “always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to our God and Father;” (Eph. 5:20). Do you worship God in both good and bad times?

  • Praising God is also part of Jesus’ model prayer. As an example to believers, Jesus also included the element of praise for God in the Lord’s Prayer when He prayed: “For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” (Matt. 6:13). Are your prayers limited to your requests? Or, do you also include genuine praises for God?

  • In heaven, the praise and thankful worship for Jesus will be ongoing. In heaven, your worship praises of thanksgiving will never end. “And I heard every created thing which is in heaven, or on the earth, or under the earth, or on the sea, and all the things in them, saying, ‘To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be the blessing, the honor, the glory, and the dominion forever and ever.”’ (Rev. 5:13; 13:8). Matthew Henry once observed: “If we hope to spend our eternity in praising God, it is fit that we should spend as much as may be of our time in this work.”6 Is your praise life alive and ongoing?

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