The Priority of Prayer
Words by Glenn Jago // Image by Marisa Albrecht
The best way to learn about the priority of prayer is to actually engage in prayer and discover the excitement of seeing God at work. If any person in the Scriptures understood the excitement of seeing God at work and the importance of prayer, it would have to be King David. David’s life can be divided into three segments: shepherd, fugitive, and king. Each segment is filled with difficulty, threats, struggles, failures and even victories. Yet, in the midst of this, David was able to pen 74 of the 150 Psalms revealed in the Scriptures.
There is one psalm in particular that best demonstrates the testimony of David regarding the priority of prayer, Psalm 34. In this Psalm, David is in the midst of fleeing from Saul, and after fleeing away from Nob, to protect the priest Ahimelech, he enters into the city of Gath where Achish, also known as Abimelech, is king. Upon his entrance into Gath, the servants recall the song of Israel, “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands” (1 Sam. 21:11). David, out of fear, resorts to behaving like a madman rather than praying and trusting the Lord.
Sometime after this incident, David learned the priority of prayer and shares his insight in Psalm 34. The psalm can be divided into five main sections. The first section is David’s worship (his response to the circumstance), 34:1–3; the second is David’s reflection (the cause for worship), 34:4–7; the third is David’s perspective (the result of prayer), 34:8–10; the fourth is David’s encouragement (sharing what God has done), 34:11–14; and the final section is David’s rehearsing the attributes and action of God, 34:15–22.
Interestingly, in his recounting of this incident, David first focuses on worship in Ps. 34:1–3. Here David expresses worship in three ways: by blessing and praising the Lord (1); by boasting inwardly in the Lord (2); and by inviting others to also magnify the Lord corporately (3). Since worship is the response to God’s word, lessons learned in the midst of difficult circumstances are best expressed by responding in praise and worship of God’s character.
In Psalm 34:4–7, David reflects on what he learned and helps us to understand that the cause for worship was his praying in total dependence on the Lord. His prayer is expressed by the words, “sought,” “looked,” and “cried out.” In the pain and fear of the moment, David learned the priority of prayer by praying. What happened when he prayed? “The Lord answered and delivered” (4), “The Lord heard him and saved him” (6), and “the Lord encamps around and delivers them” (7). What is perplexing in this section is how David proclaimed deliverance, while still fleeing from Saul. One simple solution is that often, prayer is seen as changing the heart of the person more than the problem.
What happened when David prayed and the Lord answered his prayer? The whole perspective of David changed (34:8–10). Now he teaches others the value of trusting the Lord as he advised, “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good” (34:8). Yes, what a complete transformation; from acting like a madman, to calling others to taste (perceive experientially) and see (regard favorably) the Lord. One of the greatest lessons from this Psalm is actually found verse 20, “He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken.” This Psalm is fulfilled in John 19:36 and teaches that out of the greatest and deepest pain, God does his greatest work and all of it was according to his determined will.
David’s struggle, prayer, and then worship came not by virtue of David, but by virtue of God being known and trusted. David’s life can now be an encouragement and example for anyone facing struggles in life, to take the struggle to the Lord in prayer, rehearse who God is, perceive experientially, regard favorable on the Lord and observe the magnificence and splendor of God (34:11–14). Truly, this is the only way to love many days and see good (34:12).
Learning the Lesson
Too often, when difficulty strikes, there is so much pain from the past that our first reaction is fear, then isolation, and then performance. That thinking and believing needs to change. But how? How is it possible to move forward in the midst of wrong thinking, reacting, and failure?
First, step aside and make the center of your prayer God’s glory, power, and grace. This means you must spend more time meditating on God’s word than on your problem. The best practice is to read through the Psalms, with a notebook, and write down all the attributes and actions of God revealed in each of the chapters.
Second, practice the priority of prayer knowing that God is at work, take refuge in him, and trust what he is accomplishing, even when you cannot see it.
Third, practice responding in worship and praise to God even prior to the resolution, because “the Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18). This is, after all, the walk of faith.
Finally, begin to teach others to redirect their focus away from the circumstance and toward the magnificence of God, who alone is able to strengthen and deliver them.
The priority of prayer is the priority of God through Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit working in the life of the believer.