Pray According to God’s Character

Prayer is often born of need. We hunger, we are lost, we are confused, and we cry out to God. He has the power and authority we lack.

As we grow in Christ, we get to know God better. And as we read the Bible, we see mature saints praying in mature ways.

Moses Pleads With God

As the nation of Israel was making and worshipping a golden calf, Moses was on Mount Sinai. God was furious, and he let Moses in on his thinking.

And the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.” (Exodus 32:9–10)

Israel’s idolatry was so offensive that God was ready to start over. Ponder that for a moment; it is staggering.

But Moses wasn’t ready for God to destroy his people. In Exodus 32:11–13 Moses pleads with God to relent. This is a powerful prayer, and it’s instructive to examine Moses’s logic.

As Moses prays, he draws on God’s words, actions, and revealed character. Moses knows God and speaks with him as a friend (Ex 33:11).

Petition 1

O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? (Exodus 32:11)

Moses reminds God he has rescued his people from Egypt. The key argument, however, is just beneath the surface. What’s the reason God has brought them out of Egypt? Yes, he saw their suffering and felt compassion—he wanted to deliver them from a bad situation. But there’s more.

God redeemed his people because he wanted to be with them! By his rescue God was taking Israel to be his people and pledging himself to be their God (Ex 6:7). Moses sang about God’s loving redemption bringing the people to his house (Ex 15:13,17). God himself said how he bore Israel “on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself” (Ex 19:4). Most notably, we see God’s purpose for the tabernacle.

And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. (Exodus 25:8)

God can’t dwell with his people if he exterminates them.

Petition 2

Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. (Exodus 32:12)

Now Moses is concerned with God’s reputation. He doesn’t want the Egyptians to have any ammunition for accusing God of “evil intent.”

Don’t brush this aside, because God is quite concerned with his reputation! He wanted the exodus to confirm his identity (YHWH) to the Egyptians (Ex 7:5; 14:4). His actions will bring him glory and proclaim his name in all the earth (Ex 9:16). God is particularly concerned that Pharoah and his army recognize his glory (Ex 14:17–18).

For any lesser being, a devotion to one’s own glory would be idolatry. But for God, there is no one greater! To avoid idolatry, God must promote his own name above all others. Moses knows this, so he appeals to God’s holy desire to glorify himself. His glory is at stake if he kills the Israelites.

Petition 3

Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’ (Exodus 32:13)

Moses knows that God is a promise keeper. And Moses knows that this promise to the patriarchs must be fulfilled.

We’ve read this promise earlier in Exodus (Ex 2:24). Moses tells us that God “remembered his covenant” with the fathers, and this moved him to act when Israel cried out from their slavery.

God has also told Moses to remind Israel of this promise. Moses tells the people that God will take them out of Egypt to the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Ex 6:8).

To Moses, the idea of God starting over is outlandish. Despite the horrific sin the people have committed, God has promised. And because God cannot break his promise, he must relent.

God Responds

And he does relent. We read this immediately after Moses’s prayer.

And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people. (Exodus 32:14)

Moses served as the mediator, crying out to God for mercy on his people. Moses appealed to God’s character and his promises, and God responded. What a loving God!

In Moses, we have both a picture of Jesus and a model for ourselves. God’s righteous wrath “burned hot” against Jesus instead of us. We should have been wiped out, but Jesus stepped in.

Jesus is still our mediator (Heb 7:25, Rom 8:34). Based on God’s character, his promises, and what Jesus has accomplished, Jesus prays for God’s ongoing favor toward his people.

We pray as well. As we pray for ourselves, our friends, our enemies, and those on the other side of the planet, Moses’s prayer provides instruction.

Let’s get to know God better through his word. Let’s rejoice in his purposes and his character. And let’s pray to him based on who we know him to be.

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King David and Intimacy with God

Most Christians know that King David was a man after God’s heart (1 Sam 13:14). What did that look like?

Part of the answer lies in Psalm 139. David’s cry in last two verses is remarkable.

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23–24)

This is a powerful, intimate prayer. Christians would do well to pray this way.

But there’s an approach to this prayer that’s all wrong. Too many treat this prayer as self-improvement, asking God for a home inspection so you can do the patching and remodeling.

As with everything in the Bible, we need to read and pray this prayer in context.

David Knows God

David knows God, and this is evident throughout Psalm 139. What David knows about God gives him comfort, strength, and zeal. Consider what David says about God.

God has already searched and known him (v.1). David is asking God in verse 23 to do something familiar.

God knows his actions, thoughts, and words (vv.2–4). God knows David’s thoughts and his words before they’re spoken. God’s knowledge is overwhelming (v.5).

God is everywhere (v.7). David cannot escape God’s Spirit or his presence. Day or night—the darkness makes no difference to God (vv.11–12). And God is not coolly studying David; he is leading and holding David with his hand (v.10). David enjoys God’s love in addition to his knowledge and presence.

God made him (vv.13–15). God knit and intricately wove David together inside his mother. Think of the detail and care in those words!

God knows all his days (v.16). Before David’s birth, God knew not just the number of his days but the days themselves.

God shares his thoughts with David (vv.17–18). David knows that God’s thoughts are numerous, and precious.

God provides his presence (v.18). After awaking from pondering God’s thoughts, David is cheered and comforted by God’s faithful, ongoing presence.

God can slay the wicked (vv.19–22). David appeals to God’s power, authority, and justice.

The Gospel in Psalm 139

The thought of God searching us can be terrifying. Maybe you imagine a blinding, prison-yard spotlight, sweeping across the grounds, leaving nothing hidden.

But, for God’s children, this isn’t the right image. David has already been searched and known by God. Because God is merciful, God’s hand on David is “wonderful” (v.6). If a sinner calls the hand of a holy God upon him wonderful, there’s only one explanation: this hand belongs to a father, not a jailer.

David knows the evil in his heart that rises against God.

For my iniquities have gone over my head;
like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me. (Psalm 38:4)

But, by faith, David also knows that his sin has been forgiven.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. (Psalm 51:7)

Because David is God’s child, the searching of God is for the purpose of discipline and holiness, not judgment and punishment.

Let’s Pray

So, let’s pray Psalm 139:23–24. But let’s pray it in context.

We’re not praying for self-improvement. Christians have given up on the idea that we can improve ourselves.

We’re not praying for purity so we can get closer to God. In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and by the gift of faith, God has already brought us near to him! No work or repentance of our own could accomplish any more.

Let’s pray this psalm because we are beloved children of God, and his faithful love compels us to repent of all that offends him. Let’s pray because we need the knowledge of God and the work of the Holy Spirit; our self-knowledge is inadequate and incomplete and so often inaccurate.

Let’s pray this psalm because we trust God not only to show us our sin, but to “lead [us] in the way everlasting.” God won’t simply point the way down the proper path, but he’ll take our hand and walk with us.

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23–24)

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Links for the Weekend (10/30/2020)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

Loving Difficult Neighbors Isn’t Optional

We can all provide a bushel of reasons why we can’t love our neighbors. Will Anderson reminds us this isn’t an option.

Though many justify neighbor-avoidance based on differences, the real issue isn’t some impassable chasm of incompatibility; it’s our own discomfort, pride, and fear. As we huddle within the bounds of familiarity, we’re robbed of serving those who don’t look or think like we do.

God Wants You to Call Him “My Father”

Ed Welch reflects on what it means for us to pray to God as our father.

My Father—the Spirit of Christ teaches us to address our prayers—to my Father. So like the disciples, we, too, will gradually learn this most remarkable feature of New Testament prayer. Jesus is the Son and we, joined with him, share in this relationship. The same easy confidence with which Jesus prayed to his Father can now be our own (Heb 4:16). And given how this closeness and familiarity are the most unexpected features of how we pray, “My Father” can always leave us amazed. Go ahead and insert it into the beginning of any psalms you read and place it next to the other names of God. Scripture will immediately be more intimate, as your Father intended it to be.

What Was Reformed in the Reformation

Here’s a nice, short summary of the central doctrines recovered during the Protestant Reformation.


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Links for the Weekend (9/25/2020)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

Be Careful What You Put Your Hope in, Including Politics

Randy Alcorn writes about hope and politics, and he shares an extended quote from Paul Tripp. Good food for thought, especially over the next six weeks.

God is the sovereign King, and He alone is the hope of this nation and every other one. Even if America crumbles (which could happen under any presidential candidate, or be delayed to sometime in the future), God is the only hope of each person and each family. He has been that all along, but perhaps this time it will be just a little more obvious.

The Siblinghood of the Saints

Being part of God’s family means not only that we can call God “Father” but also that we call each other “brother” and “sister.” Allyson Todd has some wise words about how opposite-sex relationships should look different in the church than in the world.

Surely we all must act with wisdom according to conscience in our relationships with the opposite sex. We ought to have nuance and balance. If we avoid one another, we give in to fear and distrust. If we exploit one another, we give in to selfishness and abuse. If we love one another as Jesus loved us, we demonstrate the magnificent gift of the family of God, and by this, we declare the reason for our love: it is by God alone. 

When God Says No to Your Earnest Prayers

I don’t know about you, but I need good, solid reminders about unanswered prayer on a regular basis. Here is a helpful article from Garrett Kell.

Jesus wants us to know that our heavenly Father only gives us good things (Ps. 84:11). He never gives us snakes when we ask for fish, or stones when we ask for bread. He may not give us bread or fish, but he will never withhold good from us. As John Piper once said, “[God] gives us what we ask for, or something better (not necessarily easier), if we trust him.”

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published an article I wrote called What Do We Want for Our Friends? If you haven’t already seen it, check it out!


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Links for the Weekend (7/17/2020)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

Sipping Poison Won’t Make You Wise (Take My Word for It!)

“Does experience with sin make you more wise or more foolish?” Because of the gripping power of turnaround testimonies, we might end up thinking wrongly here. Benjamin Merkle relates a story from his days in the Marine Corps to the temptations of our culture and reminds us where wisdom originates.

This type of temptation still pulls at each of us with an incredible power. We feel that tasting a forbidden thing will bring us greater wisdom and make us more impressive. In fact, think of how easily we can feel embarrassed by all the sins we haven’t committed! We can actually become ashamed of our own innocence. Who wants to be naïve and inexperienced? How many Christian kids are embarrassed by their virginity, even though they’re convinced they’re right in preserving it until marriage?

Respectable Sins of the Reformed World

Tim Challies writes about “respectable sins,” those which might be accepted by Christians even though the Bible forbids them. He writes about those sins to which we are particularly tempted online.

Impugning. To impugn is to dispute the truth, validity, or honesty of another person’s motives. And closely connected to disputing another person’s motives is suggesting that you know the truth behind them. There is so much of this in the Christian world today, and it generates so little disapproval, that it must be classified as respectable. Yet a little biblically-guided introspection should tell us that we often don’t even know our own motives, and if we do not know our own, how could we possibly know anyone else’s?

Prayer Will Win the Nations

If you’ve ever wondered how to pray for missionaries around the world, here is an article giving some concrete suggestions.

In fact, we must. Prayer isn’t just a passing gesture or a frivolous holiday present. Prayer is supplying missionaries with essentials for their survival. Prayer is partnership in their work, vital to its Spirit-filled efficacy and the rescue of sinners. At the risk of sounding clichéd, prayer is a matter of life and death. Our intercession protects them from harm (2 Corinthians 1:11) and provides for the gospel’s advance (Romans 15:30–32).

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published an article I wrote called Learning from the Humiliation of Jesus. If you haven’t already seen it, check it out!


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Links for the Weekend (5/1/2020)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

The Subversive Habit of Boastful Prayer

Trevin Wax has written before about subversive habits, by which he means habits which help keep the story of the Bible as the central story governing our lives. In this article he talks about the sort of prayer that boasts in the Lord and not in ourselves.

Boasting takes it up a notch, and in prayer it becomes subversive precisely because our natural inclination is to turn our praise toward ourselves, to speak highly of our treasures, our strengths, and our accomplishments. When we turn our focus away from ourselves and we look for reasons to boast in God, we push aside what is lesser and we grow in our love for the God we now adore specifically.

Zoomed Out: Freedom from Consuming All the Resources During Quarantine

R.D. McClenagan is exhausted by all of the content available for him to consume during the Coronavirus lockdown. He writes to remind us that the measure of how you’re doing as a Christian is not how much you are consuming or producing, but the quality of the life of your soul.

I want to give you the freedom to seek Christ and his kingdom first in this time—the freedom to be Mary in an online Martha world (Luke 10:38-42). There are many tasks to accomplish and there are many resources out there to accomplish them, but the most important task is to set your heart unto the Lord in this time. You don’t have to make your life group the most dynamic it has ever been, or figure out how to live generously like never before by the time stay-at-home orders are fully lifted, or feel the pressure to continue to project a greater spirituality to online masses than you actually have in your soul.

The Case for Donating Your Stimulus Check

Many people have seen or will soon see some money from the federal government make its way into their bank account. How should we use this money as faithful citizens of the kingdom of God? David Ingold suggests that for some people, a faithful response might be to give some or all of the money away. Whether or not you agree with his conclusion, the questions he asks (as well as the resources he provides) in this article are valuable.

The Kingdom of God is like the Shepherd who goes out into the wilderness to find the one lost sheep. It’s when prisoners go free, and the lame walk. It’s the age of Jesus, our crucified King who left his glory and riches behind to be born of a poor, virgin girl, a girl who sang out: “He has brought down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.” It’s the widow who gives her last dollar into the offering.

Was Moses Really the Author of the Pentateuch?

There is both internal and external evidence in the Bible for Moses writing the first five books of the Old Testament. Here is a short video (just 3.5 minutes) from William Wood of Reformed Theological Seminary laying out the arguments.


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Prayer in the Newborn Days

Guys, I’m tired. We’re way past “watch a movie or read for a bit to recharge.” This is systemic, sleep deprived, newborn tired. 

The adult body needs 6–8 hours of sleep a night, but no one told babies that. For a few weeks we were fortunate to snatch one or two hours at a time overnight, or maybe less on a rough night. It’s getting marginally better, but wow could I do with one good night’s sleep. 

We all have something that we want, that our prayers return to again and again. Maybe for you it’s physical healing, a new job, greater patience, or a better relationship with your spouse, sibling, or child. I can’t speak for you, but when I pray I want to ask boldly—but also recognize “not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). 

I’ve been using Psalm 63:5–8 to guide my prayers.

My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
when I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.

I do a lot of “remembering [God] upon my bed … in the watches of night” these days. I would really like to be “satisfied as with fat and rich food” with a good several hours of sleep! 

The satisfaction mentioned in this Psalm, however, comes not from receiving what I want, like good food or sleep, but from remembering and meditating on God: “for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy” (Psalm 63:7). 

It’s not wrong to ask God for sleep. My body works better with adequate sleep. When I’m rested, it’s easier to be patient with my daughter, husband, and very needy son and to maintain a positive outlook on the thankless parts of the newborn days.

Psalm 63 reminds me that my truest desire, what my soul clings to and what upholds me, must be God himself. If he upholds me by providing sleep, then wonderful! But if it’s another sleepless night, then I can cling to God and trust him to uphold me another way. 

Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). We’re taught elsewhere that the God who clothes the lilies will surely meet our needs (Luke 12:27–31). God met our deepest need in redeeming us from our sin through Jesus. He also sent the Holy Spirit to live in us, to guide us and sustain us while we are on earth. The Spirit hears my sleepy and sometimes wobbly prayers and intercedes for me before the Father (Romans 8:26–27). 

There’s tremendous comfort in this truth, but also a call to obedience. It’s tempting to use my lack of sleep to excuse sin, such as being short-tempered. My thinking sounds like Adam in the garden (Gen. 3:12): “The night’s sleep you gave me was too short, so I snapped at my husband.” I must rely on the Holy Spirit to change me and equip me to do right and avoid sin, just as much as I lean on him to supply the energy to change the next diaper. And when I fail, I cling to God’s reliable forgiveness and love: “your right hand upholds me” (Psalm 63:8).

I’ve tried to shape my prayers more along these lines: “God, please give me sleep tonight! Or, please give me the divine strength and stamina for the next day.” 

This makes it sound like I’m a content, spiritually satisfied person every day. Nope—I still really want sleep, and if I’m honest, in my flesh I want sleep more than I want to cling to God. So I re-read the note card by my bed where I wrote these verses, and pray for God to reorient my heart toward him.

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Links for the Weekend (4/3/2020)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

It Takes Theology to Lament

A lament is a biblical prayer that is sadly out of favor these days. But it is just the type of prayer we need when things are not right with us or in the world. Mark Vroegop writes about the theology that is needed in order to lament.

Most laments contain four elements: turn, complain, ask, and trust. Each is designed to move the weary-hearted saint toward a renewal of hope in God’s character, even when dark clouds linger. Turning to God in prayer is the first step. It refuses to allow a deadly prayerlessness to develop. Complaining lays out our hurts in blunt but humble terms. We tell God what is wrong and the depth of our struggles. Asking reclaims the promises of God’s word that seem distant, and it calls upon him to intervene. Finally, all laments end in trust. This is where biblical lament is designed to lead – a faith-filled renewal of what we know to be true.

COVID-19: Living by Probabilities or Providence?

If you’ve been paying a lot of attention to the coronavirus-related statistics in the news recently, this article might be for you. Mike Emlet encourages us to turn our gaze (and our trust) to the Lord.

Sit with these glorious realities for a minute. Read through them slowly. Let them soak into your soul. We don’t live by probabilities and chance. We live under the loving, wise, and sovereign rule of our Creator and Redeemer God. The result of that is true hope, which steers clear of both a naïve optimism or a resigned pessimism.

A Prayer for Working from Home

This is exactly what the title says. You may not think you need such a prayer, but if you’re not used to working from home, I suggest you take a look.


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Links for the Weekend (2/21/2020)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

Why Do We Read Scripture?

It seems like a pretty basic question, right? What are we hoping will happen when we read the Bible? Andrew Wilson gives one wrong answer and five right ones.

We do not read it to earn. It is so easy to be tricked into thinking like this, but the purpose of reading the Bible is never to present God with a good work that entitles you to a reward. You are no more justified after reading a Bible for an hour than you are after playing Playstation or having breakfast or going for a walk.

To Those Who Send ‘Good Thoughts’

I never know how to respond when someone tells me they’re sending me “good thoughts” or “positive energy.” Nancy Guthrie writes a winsome response to this situation; it is a model of charity and grace. And she brings in the life and work of Jesus in a beautiful way.

I want you to know that whenever I read that you are sending me or someone else “good thoughts,” I’m not going to roll my eyes. Instead, I’m going to close my eyes and meditate for a moment on all of the goodness that has flowed into my life from my heavenly Father, all of the goodness being worked into my life by the Holy Spirit, and all of the goodness I stand to inherit by being joined to Jesus Christ. And I’m going to pray that you will know and experience that goodness too.

A Prayer for Battling a Destructive Desire

We all face desires that could destroy us. How will we respond when that lands on our shoulders? Tim Challies shares a prayer that has helped him.

Faced with this temptation,
I would rather choose you, Jesus—
but I am weak. So be my strength.
I am shadowed. Be my light.
I am selfish. Unmake me now,
and refashion my desires
according to the better designs of your love.


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Links for the Weekend (2/7/2020)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

6 Tips for Reading Your Bible Amidst Your Busy Life

At LifeWay, Jamie Ivey writes about the value of reading the Bible in the midst of a busy life. She shares some practices that have helped her read the Word when she can.

On the long list of things that were far different than I expected in motherhood was my morning quiet time. I learned that “morning” is defined differently by children, and so is “quiet time”! I quickly discovered that I was going to have to make some changes in order to spend quality time with the Lord. Here are some things that worked for me and some that worked for other mama friends of mine.

Plants and Pillars, Sun and Moon, Sons and Daughters, One Glory and Another

Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and all older church members know we should be praying for our children. And while there are many way we should pray the same things for boys and girls, Abigail Dodds urges us to consider the specific ways to pray for each of them.

Is it wrong to ask God to make my daughters full-grown plants? Of course not. Metaphors are useful in a hundred ways. I often pray God would make each of our children oaks of righteousness. But, I do believe that anyone who wants to turn Christian discipleship into a system by which all disciples are interchangeable, invariably makes the church invariable––that is to say, exactly what she is not and mustn’t ever be, for in so doing she would cease to be what she is. Christ’s body cannot be one million opposable thumbs. It must not be ten thousand eyes. It cannot function as all left feet.

Let Not Food Destroy the Body

Food can (and often does) bring the body of Christ together. But, sadly, food can also divide. In this article, Stacy Reaoch writes about what it means to glorify God with your approach to food.

Food is a good gift from God, as long as we are not consumed with our diets and menu plans. Sharing a meal with our neighbors or meeting a friend for coffee provides an atmosphere where hearts are shared over a table. When babies are born, or a friend is sick, food is delivered to help ease the burdens of the one in need. Food provides opportunities for outreach as we host ice-cream socials in our backyard or hand out apple cider on Halloween.


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here.