West London Alliance Church

Prayer as Argument

 “Oh, that I knew where I might find [God], that I might come even to his seat! I would lay my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments.” – Job 23:3, 4

Filling my mouth with arguments is not the way I would approach God if I were to think of that situation hypothetically. I’d fill my mouth with praises, thanksgiving, pleas for mercy and the like. But not arguments.

However, if you heard my sermon on Psalm 13 yesterday you will know that I suggested the very thing that Job declares; pray to God with arguments. The suggestion rises out of the third and fourth verses of the psalm:

Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

 The request is there, “Consider and answer me…light up my eyes.” That should be sufficient, shouldn’t it? The request is raised, the petition is presented, and the supplication is served. But, David doesn’t stop there. He proceeds to make an argument in regards to his request – lest, lest, lest. David reasons. It is with logical arguments­–not praise or thanksgiving–that he supports his request. Concerning these verses commentator Dale Ralph Davis writes, “here in this psalm I am not so much concerned with the particular arguments David uses as with the fact that he uses arguments, reasons, in his petitions. For this implies, doesn't it, that prayer is a thinking exercise? There is a sense in which prayer should be so terribly logical and rational. Do you pray that way? Do you press reasons upon Yahweh as to why He should answer your plea? Can you make an argument for the petition you bring?” (italics mine)

It was the last line of this quotation that motivated me to write this post. For, I had time in my sermon to raise the issue of bringing logical, reasoned requests to God, but I did not have time to elaborate on what that might look like. That is, I didn’t answer the question “How does one bring petition God with arguments?” So this post is a brief attempt to do just that.

The first thing I would like to address in regards to praying in this manner is the actual content of the arguments. What sort of arguments can we make in regards to our petitions to God? C. H. Spurgeon’s sermon that I referenced is helpful in regards to this (read it yourself here). Spurgeon lists several grounds from which we might argue:

God’s attributes – “So you and I may take hold at any time upon the justice, the mercy, the faithfulness, the wisdom, the long-suffering, the tenderness of God, and we shall find every attribute of the Most High to be, as it were, a great battering ram with which we may open the gates of heaven.”

God’s promises – “God does not give His word merely to quiet our noise, and to keep us hopeful for a while, with the intention of putting us off at last; but when He speaks, He speaks because He means to act.”

God’s glorious name – “This is a legitimate mode of pleading with God, for His great name’s sake.” (I believe this is the essence of the argument David uses in Psalm 13)

God’s people’s sorrow – “Nothing is as eloquent with the father as his child’s cry, but one thing is mightier still, and that is a moan. When the child is so sick that it is past crying and lies moaning with that kind of moan which indicates extreme suffering, and intense weakness, who can resist that moan?”

God’s past – “Brothers and sisters, we have to deal with an unchanging God, who will do in the future what He has done in the past because He never turns from His purpose, and cannot be thwarted in His design. The past thus becomes a very mighty means of winning blessings from Him.”

God’s existence – “We sometimes may … say unto Him, “Oh, by Your Deity, by Your existence, if indeed you are God, now show Yourself for the help of Your people!””

Christ’s work – “Lastly, the grand Christian argument is the sufferings, the death, the merit, the intercession of Christ Jesus. Beloved, I am afraid we do not understand what it is that we have at our command when we are allowed to plead with God for Christ’s sake.”

The list, as Spurgeon admits, is not exhaustive but it certainly gives us somewhere to start. But, if you’re like me, you still may be a bit apprehensive about formulating prayers with arguments. What if you argue incorrectly? What if you argue improperly due to your own selfish desires? How can you be certain you’re arguing in a biblical way? Ding, ding, ding. The last question points us in a safe direction. We want to pray biblically. Therefore, let me encourage you as you bring your arguments to God to pray the Scriptures.

Let me give you a personal example. Most Sunday mornings I wake up with a strong sense of my own inadequacy as I prepare to preach God’s Word. I don’t have a whole lot of faith in myself when it comes to the daunting task of feeding God’s flock, of exhorting God’s children, of edifying Christ’s bride. And yet, I remind myself, if I preach His Word than it is His word that will do the work. My faith rises because I have a whole bunch of confidence in God’s Word. And so I pray something along the lines of this: “God help me to preach your Word this morning. Help me to help your people see and taste your Word. Change us by your Word because your Word “shall not return to [you] empty, but sit shall accomplish that which [you] purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which [you] sent it.”” That is my prayer and my argument. I ask God to impact our church through his word and argue that he should do it because he has promised as much in the Bible.

If you need any more encouragement to pray the Scriptures, in general or in your prayerful argumentation, may I suggest you read 12 Reasons You Should Pray Scripture, an article by Andrew Naselli. To whet your appetitie, here are the 12 reasons:

  1. You should pray Scripture because God’s people in the OT and NT did.
  2. You should pray Scripture because Jesus did.
  3. You should pray Scripture because it glorifies God the Father.
  4. You should pray Scripture because it helps you focus on what is most important.
  5. You should pray Scripture because it helps you focus on praying.
  6. You should pray Scripture because it is entirely truthful.
  7. You should pray Scripture because it helps you pray confidently.
  8. You should pray Scripture because it kindles your affections.
  9. You should pray Scripture because it helps you express yourself appropriately.
  10. You should pray Scripture because it keeps your prayers fresh and specific.
  11. You should pray Scripture because it keeps your prayers in scriptural proportion.
  12. You should pray Scripture because it helps you understand Scripture better.

Wow. This is a pretty long post. But might I suggest just one more thing? One resource, which I have mentioned before, is the book by my friend Tim Kerr called Take Words with You. It is a compilation of many, many Scripture verses in regards to specific prayer requests. It also contains a help explanation of how you can use these passages in prayer. We will be giving away free digital copies of this book, courtesy of the author, at our LIQUID Prayer event on Sunday, January 29, 2017 at 7:00pm.

My prayer for you is that God, because he is good and gracious, will help you as you endeavour to pray with a mouth full of arguments.

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