Have you ever argued with God? Maybe you’ve been mad at God before, but that’s not the kind of arguing I’m talking about. I mean presenting your arguments, making your case in prayer. Why should God listen to you? Why should he act? Why should he come to your aid? That kind of language might make you nervous. After all, shouldn’t God just listen to all my prayers? Actually, no. Several times, the Bible says that sin can interrupt our prayers lives before God (e.g., Ps 66:18; 1 Pet 4:7). He may still answer us because he’s gracious, but he’s not obligated to. More than that, we actually see people making arguments in prayer in the Scriptures. In fact, this is most often how we see biblical people pray—they make arguments before God. Spurgeon says the Bible’s pray-ers were like those who know they are about to make an appeal before a great king. They do not give off-the-cuff remarks, but come prepared to make their case.[i]
Why did they pray this way? Many reasons, I think. But most important is that it showed how seriously they took their pleas before the living God. Prayer shouldn’t be our last resort, but our first priority. Therefore, though there are times of immediate crisis that require little more than yelling ‘Help!’, our regular life of prayer ought to be thoughtful and intentional. Moreover, we should consider that making an argument before God in prayer will likely shape and change our own hearts. If we just throw up any and every thought and want, it will do little but affirm what we already think. But what if our thinking is muddled? What if we are asking wrongly? If we stop and think, and form an argument in our minds, it will force us to consider our own needs, the needs of others, and the motivation we have in asking. 1It forces us to slow down and evaluate the entirety of our prayer life. It will challenge our assumptions and change our prayers.
So, what does this look like practically? We could point to many places, but consider David’s example in Psalm 6. In verses 4-7, he presents God with three reasons, three arguments, for why he should hear and act on David’s behalf.
1. Remember your promise
David has asked for help. And he does so again in verse 4. He prays, Turn, O Lord, deliver my life. But why should God answer him? Why should God give him what he asks for? David prays save me for the sake of your steadfast love. As we’ve seen many times in the Psalms, the steadfast love of the Lord is his covenant faithfulness to his people. It is the grace and mercy he has promised to them. He will not turn away from them and reject. He will be their God and do good to them.
David knows this doubly so. For he was not only a son of the covenant made with all Israel, but the recipient of God’s special covenant between him and his offspring. So, what is David saying? Lord, remember your promise. Remember your commit to Israel. Remember your commit to me. This is who God has pledged to be. It flows from his character, so David uses that as the basis for his prayer. This is who the Lord has promised to be and revealed himself to be. He is a God of covenant faithfulness; a God of steadfast love. Surely, God will keep his promise and answer him.
2. Remember my purpose
David goes on to offer another reason why the Lord should deliver his life. He says, For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise? From a theological standpoint, I think we should understand that the men at the Westminster Assembly got it right when they said that the chief purpose of man was to glorify and enjoy God forever. You exist for God’s glory. Your purpose in breathing, living, speaking, thinking, working, loving, parenting, relaxing, witnessing, laughing, and everything else is to bring praise to God. Do you live with that mind? David did. That is why he prays the way he does. O Lord, deliver my life. . . For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise? Does this mean that David had no expectation of an afterlife? Not at all. Elsewhere he will speak of an infant son who died and long to see him in the world to come (2 Sam 12:23). At the same time, he argues that if his enemies triumph and he loses his life, then there is one less person to worship the Lord in the here and now. There is one less person pointing to the light of the glory of God before the nations.
3. Remember my pain
David says, I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. Such is the misery of his experience, that David is crying out and weeping until his throat is hoarse and his upholstery is soaked. Like an old man whose eyesight is failing and weak, such is the misery of David’s heart that his eye wastes away because of grief; it grows weak because of all his foes. In the end, we might say in the language of today: David’s done. Physically and emotions, he’s shot. He’s got nothing left. And he’s holding all of this up before God saying, ‘See what I’m going through? See the pain I’m enduring?’ It’s an argument for the Lord to hear and respond. We might well wonder: doesn’t God already know this? Why would David recount all of it to God, especially as an argument in prayer? Yes, of course God knows what he is going through just as he knows what we are going through. But David believes that God will be moved by the suffering of his people.[iii] Just like any father worth his salt, when he sees and hears about the pain of his son, he will act. So also, the Lord will be moved to compassion and mercy, and will act to relieve that pain.
How Much More
Is this how we pray? If not, why? Is it because we know too little of God and his promises? Is it because we doubt his goodness and kindness to his people? Knowing the great love with which God loved in sending Christ, and the fulfillment of all his promises in Christ, how much more ought we to come confidently, making our case before our heavenly Father (Eph 2:4-7; 2 Cor 1:20)? How much more ought we to be assured of his willingness to hear, knowing that if ask according to Jesus’ name, he will surely give us all things (Rom 8:26-32; John 15:1-11)?
[i] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “Order and Argument in Prayer” (sermon delivered on July 15th, 1866), accessed online at http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/0700.htm.