Nobody likes a quitter. That’s an attitude that most of us probably share. Nothing like stopping when a job is only half-way done, or only playing half of a season. We love to cheer for those who persevere especially through difficult circumstances, or against overwhelming opponents. The Bible has plenty to say about perseverance, and it speaks against laziness with some pretty strong words. In God’s Word we are witness to many great acts of endurance. Great heroes of faith who were graced by God to withstand the flames, remain faithful in times of apostasy, and preach a hard message to a hardened people. These men and women are held up by the Scriptures as models for our instruction. But there is no greater model for discipleship in the Old Testament than King David. David was serious about following God, and when he sinned, he was serious about repentance. Many of the Psalms are attributed to David, and in them we learn the heart of true worship.
Our text for this post is from Psalm 17. The seventeenth Psalm is a prayer of David. In this Psalm, David sets us a model for true prayer. It is arranged by three petitions and three concerns. David defends his faithfulness, describes his enemies, and expresses his confidence. Over and over again, David’s concerns drive him back to petition. We call this tenacity. David is blameless and righteous before God. He knows this and holds fast to what is right. He persists in his plea.
Prayer that is excellent and pleasing to God is a prayer that just won’t quit. Or, as one friend put it, Prevailing prayer perseveres and pleases God. It’s an important truth from the life and worship of David, and it is an important ingredient to the worship of God’s people through all the ages. There are three uses that follow from this truth of God’s pleasure in persevering prayer. Three points of application,
- We must persistently pray in view of our integrity.
- We must persistently pray in view of our need.
- We must persistently pray in view of God’s glory.
We must persistently pray in view of our integrity. (Ps. 17:1-5)
Persistent prayer is the prayer of the blameless. David frequently refers to himself as blameless. He challenges God to search his heart, and he expresses confidence that God will find no secret sin. David is in a righteous position before the LORD, and David walks in righteousness before the LORD. This causes a challenge for many Christians today. How can a man, sinful in Adam, be blameless before God? We know that we are sinners. We know that a day does not go by where we do not break God’s law, either by failing to perform a duty that God has required of us, or intentionally breaking God’s law. And if we cannot recall anything in particular, we know that there are none righteous. We know that we need mercy.
What does it mean to be blameless? When David uses this kind of language, he is not referring to himself as sinless. Being blameless before the LORD does not mean achieving some kind of sinless perfection. David is claiming that he has no hidden sins, no hidden hypocrisy, and no public sins. David is a wise ruler and is careful to control his speech and to watch his words.
If blamelessness is not sinless perfection, then what does it mean to be blameless? Blamelessness is steadfastness and loyalty to your LORD. David is faithful and walks faithfully. He is in a righteous position, and he walks in the way of the righteous. In other words, David is consistent in the faith. But he is not consistent in his faith on account of his sheer will-power and self-determination. V. 4 tells us that it was by the “word of your lips.” David is blameless because the Word of God is in his heart and at work in his life. David is blameless because of the grace and power of God.
Those who stand and walk in righteousness are able to pray the prayers that God is pleased to hear. This might seem a little controversial, but what we make muddy Scripture speaks clearly:
Ps. 66:18, “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.”
Prov. 28:9, “If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.”
Isaiah 59:2, “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.”
John 9:31, “We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him.”
James 4:3, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”
1 Peter 3:7, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”
All of this is to say that character matters. We are declared righteous in God’s holy Law-court on account of Christ’s righteousness alone, counted to us on the principle of faith alone. Scripture teaches these two great truths. That justification, being counted as righteous in Christ before a holy judge, is by faith alone… and that Saints only finally arrive at the Celestial city by walking along the narrow path.
Exodus by Grace and Law because of Life
These two truths are set in a tension that can be hard to live with from day to day. We are not ultimately saved by our good works but by Christ alone. But it also remains true that there are none saved who do not submit to Christ’s Lordship. Or, as David puts it in Ps. 2, we must all serve the Lord in fear, rejoice with trembling, and kiss the Son.
Israel gives us a picture of how these two truths work out in the lives of believers. Her salvation was by grace alone. It was by God’s mighty acts that Israel was brought out of her slavery in Egypt. Israel did not earn the exodus. God did not look into the future and see all the wonderful things that Israel would do for him, no, it was by grace alone that God brought Israel out of Egypt with his mighty right hand.
But what happened after God redeemed Israel out of bondage? He gave commandments and statutes. Israel was already God’s people. The giving of the Law was not for redemption but for life. The Law was to be the air that Israel breathed as she enjoyed the presence of her LORD. That’s why the Psalmist can say that it is a light to his path. That it is as sweet as honey. And that he meditates on it day and night.
When the Old Testament Saints walked along the righteous path they could pray with confidence. God loves a just cause, and he loves his people. But when God’s people act like pagans, their cause is not just. God has already told them what they need to do. Repent and believe.
There is another scene from the life of David, where he has an adulterous affair, has a man killed, and attempts to conceal his wicked deed. David is confronted by the prophet Nathan and he responds in deep repentance. He is broken and humbled before the LORD and confesses his wickedness. We see the response of David’s heart in Ps. 51. David cries out for mercy, and he receives mercy. That’s another kind of prayer that is pleasing to God. It is another prayer that is worthy of imitation.
The unrighteous prayer is the one that knows what it needs to do but goes to God in prayer as if God has never spoken. That prayer is not biblical prayer. It is not prayer in any meaningful sense.
David’s prayers were powerful because David consistently walked in righteousness before the LORD. And when David failed to walk consistently, David repented deeply. He trusted in God’s righteousness when he had a just cause to take to the LORD, and he trusted in God’s grace and mercy when he stumbled.
The Psalmist teaches us that the prayer of the righteous are powerful, and that they are powerful because the righteous are able to pray the prayers that God is pleased to hear. This truth is taught explicitly in James 5:16, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”
Follow the example of David and pray with a view to your integrity, because the LORD is righteous and he has a special hearing for the prayers of the righteous.
We must persistently pray in view of our need. (Ps. 17:6-12)
David’s prayer is urgent. His enemies are out for blood. They long to cast the people of God to the ground and to tear them apart like a lion lurking in ambush.
If you have never seen a lion on the hunt, it is intense. They are stealthy, moving slowly on their prey, invisible to the poor beast. You know that there is something out there sneaking up on you, but all you can do is sense its presence. When it finally gets up on you, it is too late. If you are in a group, maybe you’ll be able to get away, but someone is going to go down. And the ending is an explosive movement of claws and teeth.
This illustrates the character and intentions of David’s enemies. They are eager to destroy David. And they are waiting for that moment when they can devour him. But David is no fool, and he knows that enemies are present. Man after the fall is born for trouble. Eliphaz speaks truthfully when he says in Job 5:7 that man is born for trouble as the sparks fly upward. In John 15:18, Jesus says, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hate me before it hated you.” Man is born for trouble, and so much more are all Christ’s Saints born for trouble.
David’s enemies want to bring him to complete ruin. This is often the situation of God’s people in the world. We remember the Syrian Christians. Thousands of Christians have had to abandon their homes because of so-called freedom fighters. We love the cause of the rebel, perhaps we can relate, but when the rebels are Muslim extremists, know that “freedom” will cost precious Saints their families, homes, and lives. We remember the 147 Christian students in Kenya who were recently murdered in cold blood. And just a few days ago, we remember the twelve Christian refugees who were drowned in the Mediterranean when they were thrown overboard by Muslim migrants.
David prays urgently because his need is urgent. The enemy is near, so David is driven to prayer. He cries for deliverance, because his cause is just. And the need of Christians around the world is also urgent. So we remember the persecuted Saints when we pray privately and as a church.
1 Peter 5:8 refers to our great enemy as prowling around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Like David, we are called on by Peter to realize the danger and to resist the devil by being firm in our faith. Do you recognize sin for what it really is? That enticement is the weapon of the enemy to lure you to your death. Our need is urgent, even if we are not likely to be put to the sword, like the Egyptian martyrs, or shot down, like the Kenyan martyrs. But the need remains urgent. Be firm in the faith, and pray for deliverance from the devices of the devil. Because your situation is more urgent that you may know.
We must persistently pray in view of God’s glory. (Ps. 17:13-15)
David’s enemies are richly blessed in this life. God has filled their wombs with the treasure of children. Their business ventures are profitable and they have an over-abundance to leave to future generations. This is a visible demonstration of God’s grace to creation in general. The rain falls on the most advanced of the Saints and the most wicked of sinners. This is not a sign that we are so very great and deserving, but a sign that God is so good and merciful.
Like the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, David’s enemies have closed their hearts to pity. As with that wealthy man, there will come a day when the gifts that David’s enemies have received from the LORD will be evidence against them in judgment.
David has a different attitude. His heart is set in a different place. He loves God’s good gifts in creation, but he knows that the best thing of all is to behold the face of God in death. The wicked will have no more than what they had on earth, and when they die it will all be gone… and only God’s wrath will remain.
But David knows that when he awakes from the sleep of death he will awake to God’s glorious face, like what Moses saw in the tent, but so much greater. What Moses saw was nothing in comparison to what the Saints will see in the face of Christ. Glory means beauty, splendor, excellency, something that is attractive, something that draws us to it, something that is amazing, profound, and truly awesome. David knows that only this vision of glory will finally satisfy. This is what we were created for, and it is what Christ brings to perfection.
Money is temporary, but glory is eternal. Children are a joy, but there is no greater joy than to be eternally in God’s presence in heaven. It is a good thing to fill your bellies and raise your families, especially if you do so in the LORD, but there is no greater fullness than the fullness that you will enjoy at the resurrection. With David, and the Old Testament Saints, we seek an eternal and enduring city.
This expectation teaches us to pray with confidence that eternal things are of more worth than those things that dust and moth will destroy. God will deliver us when we awaken from this age in death, and he will deliver his church when Christ comes again to finally crush that ancient serpent. The world has enjoyed so much of God’s blessing, but unless it submit to Christ, the LORD will arise to judge.
Living as a Christian in this world means having godly concerns. God’s Word and Spirit teaches us these concerns and drives us to our Father in prayer. He is a good Father and will keep all of his promises. But so often it seems as if his promises are far away. So we are driven again to prayer. Just like David.
There is a great enemy that seeks to devour us, but Christ has conquered and will conquer fully and finally on that last day. The sting of death has been removed, and the lion has been declawed. What a joy it will be to awaken to the glory and beauty of the face of God in Christ. When we will forever enjoy that glory with all the Saints.
Susannah Spurgeon, the wife of that great Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon, beautifully said, “Tears may, and must come; but if they gather in eyes that are constantly looking up to [God] and heaven, they will glisten with the brightness of the coming glory.”
I close with a warning, encouragement, and blessing from 1 Peter 5:8-11
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.