There are many good reasons to read the Bible–inspiration, comfort, instruction.
But one of the best reasons is for instruction in how to pray. And one of many ways the Bible instructs us in praying is by showing us examples of how the people of God have prayed before us. One such lesson is to give God good reasons to answer your prayers.
Most of us, knowing God knows everything and can see into our hearts, skip this technique. But the prayers of the Bible show us that building a case to God in prayer is definitely a biblical way to pray. The prayers of people like King David and Solomon and others reveal at least four ways to twist God’s arm in prayer, so to speak.
1) Refer to God’s attributes.
The “sons of Korah” (a clan devoted to worship music and pageantry) concluded the long prayer that became Psalm 44 with these words:
Rise up and help us;
rescue us because of your unfailing love (Psalm 44:26, NIV).
They buttressed their requests with an appeal to God’s nature—His unfailing love. Referencing God’s attributes is a great way to pray. It grounds our prayers not in what we want, necessarily, but in who He is.
2) Remind God of His promises.
The prayers of Bible saints include frequent references to God’s promises. At the dedication of the Jerusalem Temple, King Solomon prayed:
“Give attention to your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence. May your eyes be open toward this temple day and night, this place of which you said you would put your Name there. May you hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place” (2 Chronicles 6:19-20, NIV).
God’s memory is not faulty, of course. He does not need to be reminded of anything. But we often do, and praying “You said” prayers can help us remember God’s words and focus our requests on the unfailing promises of God.
3) Mention desirable or undesirable consequences.
What might happen if God doesn’t answer your prayers? How might things be different when He does? These are good questions to ask in prayer, as Heman the Ezrahite did in Psalm 88:
Do you show your wonders to the dead?
Do their spirits rise up and praise you?
Is your love declared in the grave,
your faithfulness in Destruction?
Are your wonders known in the place of darkness,
or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?
But I cry to you for help, Lord;
in the morning my prayer comes before you (Psalm 88:10-13, NIV).
God knows all things, of course. So why did Heman pray like that? Maybe because prayer is a two-way conversation. Maybe because Heman wanted God to know he had thought long and hard about what he was asking. Maybe because, again, praying this way focuses our prayers not on our momentary need but on God’s eternal glory, which is always a good way to pray.
4) Reveal your investment in the answer to your prayer.
In a psalm believed to reflect King David’s repentance after sinning against Uriah, Bathsheba, and God Himself, the king prayed:
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
so that sinners will turn back to you (Psalm 51:10-13, NIV).
It seems a little like David is bribing God, doesn’t it? “If you do this for me, I’ll do that for you.” Maybe there was some of that going on. But his promise to “teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you” shows a willingness to change and to contribute in more or better ways to God’s purposes as a result of God’s answer.
Praying like this may feel a little strange at first, as though you are approaching God like a used car salesman trying to swing a deal. But it is nonetheless a biblical way to pray, and apparently a prayer God welcomes. Try it. After all, it may not be God’s arm that needs twisting but yours.