Prayer and the Scourges of God

“Hear my voice when I call, O LORD; be merciful to me and answer me.” Ps 27:7

“It is necessary that we should be subject, from first to last, to the scourges of God, in order that we may from the heart call on him; for our hearts are enfeebled by prosperity, so that we cannot make the effort to pray.” John Calvin

God uses our prayers in the midst of our problems to manifest his glory and make us glad in him.

 In the first six verses of Psalm 27, the psalmist celebrates God’s faithfulness to his embattled servant. It is a reminder that the life of faith is all-out war. All of God’s giants are soldiers. That is what J. I. Packer meant to convey when he wrote of the Puritans: “Spiritual warfare made the Puritans what they were. They accepted conflict as their calling, seeing themselves as their Lord’s soldier-pilgrims…and not expecting to be able to advance a single step without opposition of one sort or another.” And, that is why the psalmist speaks of evil men who are seeking to devour him; of enemies and foes that are attacking him; of a hostile army that is surrounding him; and of war breaking out against him. He also knew that every step he took would be contested by God’s enemies. That is why he rejoiced that God was his stronghold. It made no difference as to the size or strength of the enemy. He was safe and confident within the dwelling place of God.  

In verse 7, we see an interesting change in the structure of this psalm. In all of the previous verses, the psalmist has been talking about God. In verse 7, he talks directly to God.  Meditating on God and his Word will always lead us to prayer and prayer will always lead us back to God and his Word. The Word reveals the promises of God. Prayer releases the promises of God. God is a stronghold but he takes action on our behalf when we pray. I think it is safe to say that God so values a life of prayer in his people that he even designs problems for them so that they will call out to him for deliverance. So, in the midst of trouble the psalmist cries out, “Hear my voice when I call, O Lord; be merciful to me and answer me.”

In Zechariah 13, we see an incident that reveals just how far God will go to press his people to pray. Zechariah has been describing the judgment that would fall on Israel for their rebellion against God. Two thirds of the people would be destroyed, but a third, a remnant would survive. Here is what God says about his purposes for his remnant: “This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, 'They are my people,' and they will say, 'The LORD is our God.'" [Zech 13:9]

God, Himself, will bring this remnant into the fire and use that painful experience to refine his people. Why would he do this? When his people find themselves in the fire of suffering and cry out to God, he manifests his awesome value and worth by showering them with his grace. In delivering us because we pray he is saying, “They are my people.” In being delivered by his gracious answer of our prayer, we say, “The Lord is our God.” How beautiful is that? In other words, God is glorified and we are satisfied through prayer. Does that sound familiar?

Throughout the scriptures we see evidence of God’s purpose to glorify himself by answering the cries of his people. In Jeremiah 33:3, he makes this promise: “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” In Genesis 50:15, he declares: “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me." As we move to the New Testament we find the same kind of promises. In John 14:13-14, Jesus promises, “And I will do whatever you ask in my name so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” And in John 16:23-24, Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.”

Many times we hear the call to prayer and we react. It seems more like a legalistic discipline than a pathway to joy, a duty rather than a delight. To those who would see prayer only as a duty, John Piper writes,

“You can call it that. It’s a duty the way it’s the duty of a scuba diver to put on his air tank before he goes under water. It is a duty the way pilots listen to air traffic controllers. Its duty the way soldiers in combat clean their rifles and load their guns. It is duty the way hungry people eat food. It’s a duty the way thirsty people drink water. It’s a duty the way a deaf man puts in his hearing aid. It’s a duty the way a diabetic takes his insulin. It’s a duty the way Pooh Bear looks for honey. It's a duty the way pirates look for gold.”  [Quoted from his sermon, “Put in the fire for the Sake of Prayer,” December 28, 2008.]

Prayer is not meant to be a pain but a pleasure. It is not something we have to do. It is something we get to do. It is as necessary for life as a loaded gun is necessary for a soldier. It is as much a duty as Pooh Bear looking for honey. God invites, even commands prayer so that he might declare, “They are my people” and so we might cry out, “The Lord is our God!”

So, the enemy will do anything to keep us from lifting our voice to God in prayer. He will use TV, videos, Blackberry’s and Wii to deter and distract us from prayer. He knows that prayer is our means for receiving the power and pleasure of God’s grace. Perhaps his best weapon is prosperity, which keeps us satisfied and off of our knees. That is why we need the “scourges of God” so that we will call upon him and discover again the deliverance and delight that comes from “The Lord our God!” If you are in trouble, call upon him. Don’t give up. Pray until he answers. He will. You have his word on that.    


Please include the following statement on any distributed copy:  By Dr. Gary Rieben.  © Give Me That Book.  Email:  Website:  Postal:  GMTB | P.O. Box 1348 | Nixa, MO 65714 USA | 417.619.9536