Often I find that scripture gets right to the heart of a matter and provides wonderful guidance for our prayers and reflection. Sometimes the scriptures cause us simply to ask the right questions! Psalm 139:23-24 is a perfect example: "Search me, God and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." These are powerful petitions which invite us to ask four key questions:
First, Is there something about myself that I need to know? Let's face it, we all have our "blind spots." These are things about ourself that may be obvious to others but are often hidden from us. In some cases even our family and friends are unable to discern our blind spots, but God is One who can search us and fully know our heart. By asking this question of God we are inviting Him to reveal to us things about ourselves that may otherwise never be known. Having this awareness, through God's revealing grace, gives us new insight about ourself and enables us to make changes where needed. By asking this question in a sprit of prayer we offer ourselves to God's continued work in our life.
Second, Am I worrying about anything? The anxious thoughts of our heart are not always obvious to us. Sometimes we develop such a habit of fretting and worrying that we become almost oblivious to the destructive power at work within us. The Scriptures implore us to "cast all of our cares on Him" but before we can do this we must first become aware of the thoughts and concerns that trouble our spirit and mind. This question helps us to identify and deal with anxiety that may be residing with our heart.
Third, Is there a sin I need to confess? The human heart is not designed to carry the burden of sin. We have this promise, "If we confess our sin He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 Jn 1:8) But before forgiveness and cleansing come, confession must be real. Through confession we can be released from both the power of sin and from the terrible burden of sin. Like a Christmas shopper trying to carry more packages than he can realistically hold, sometimes we hold on to our sin and bear the consequences of guilt and shame. What we need to do is to lay these burdens down. Through confession we lay these burdens at the cross of Christ, and allow Him to free us from the folly of making sin our companion.
Finally, Where do I need guidance in my life? What decisions are upcoming? What wisdom do I need? What direction should my steps take? These are all questions that we can ask in confidence, for we have the assurance that He will lead us in the way everlasting. What a relief to know that our steps can be ordered by Him, not simply hoping that somehow we will move in the right direction.
There are many scriptures that provide us with a template for prayer. But one of the most helpful is Psalm 139. We will do well to meditate on it; rejoice in the promises it contains, and allow this Psalm to guide us in the questions we bring to God.
Dr. Allen Schneider is a United Methodist pastor and a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist presently serving the Sapulpa and greater Tulsa communities.