What Psalm 141 Teaches Us About Prayer

“O Lord, I call upon you; hasten to me!  Give ear to my voice when I call to you!  Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!”

Psalm 141:1-2

In the context of talking about Israel’s hardships while wandering in the wilderness during the days of Moses, the apostle Paul wrote of the value of studying the Old Testament:  “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Corinthians 10:11).  As those on whom the end of the ages has come, it would benefit us who live under the laws of the New Testament of Christ to study the Old Testament.

For example, there’s a lot about prayer we can learn from studying the book of Psalms.  Most of them are, in effect, prayers put to music.  Psalm 141 is no exception.  This is a psalm on which I try to model my prayers when trouble comes my way because it teaches me so much about how God wants us to depend upon Him during the difficult times.

Verses 1, cited above, teaches us that we must not hesitate to call upon God to come quickly to our aid and listen to us.  It’s similar to the example found in another psalm of David:  “Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me!  O Lord, make haste to help me!” (Psalm 40:13)  Verse 2, also cited above, instructs us to pray with reverence so that our prayer smells sweetly acceptable to Him and thus fit the signification of the “golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” found in Revelation 5:8.

Note what David then says in verses 3 and 4:  “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!  Do not let my heart incline to any evil, to busy myself with wicked deeds in company of men who work iniquity, and let me not eat of their delicacies!”  From this we can learn that God wants us to pray that He help us watch what we say and how we say it as we stay away from evil and evildoers.  Similar instruction is found elsewhere in Scripture (James 1:19; Proverbs 1:10-19).

The first part of verse 5 is also noteworthy:  “Let a righteous man strike me – it is a kindness; let him rebuke me – it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it.”  David was praying that he have the strength to humbly accept and heed any rebuke from a righteous person.  His son, Solomon, would later write, “…reprove a wise man, and he will love you” (Proverbs 9:8).  Do we have the wisdom and humility to listen to wise counsel, even when it steps on our toes…or does our stubborn pride keep us from heeding wise advice?

The second part of verse 5 through verse 7 is ambiguous in meaning:  “…Yet my prayer is continually against their evil deeds.  When their judges are thrown over the cliff, then they shall hear my words, for they are pleasant.  As when one plows and breaks up the earth, so shall our bones be scattered at the mouth of Sheol.”  Perhaps he wrote this psalm during the time in his life when he was unfairly pursued by Saul or Absalom (1 Samuel 18-31; 2 Samuel 14-18), and thus is in fear of his own life while lamenting the deaths of judges who ruled in his favor.

Regardless of what prompted this writing, note his final words in verses 8 through 10:  “But my eyes are toward you, O God, my Lord; in you I seek refuge; leave me not defenseless!  Keep me from the trap that they have laid for me and from the snares of evildoers!  Let the wicked fall into their own nets, while I pass by safely.”  During this time of fear and hardship, David still kept his eyes on his God for refuge, pleading with God to defend him and keep him safe from wicked men.  May we do the same!

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