Prayerlessness is the great enemy of true happiness. If we give up on prayer, or refuse to pray, we surrender our seat at the very source of the highest and fullest joy. “You do not have, because you do not ask” (James 4:2).
But even those of us who do pray can find ourselves in danger of forfeiting prayer’s fullness as we fall into stale ruts of familiar words and repeated requests. We wake up each day, say the same prayers, and wonder why it doesn’t feel more real and life-changing.
As we walk through the valley of the shadow of rut, many of us just put our heads down and hope for better days. But the Bible speaks too often and too highly of prayer for us to stay here long. Yes, we may know the Lord’s Prayer by heart, but those five verses are not the only guide we have to help us pray. God has given us all kinds of routes out of daily ruts in prayer. Take Psalm 86, for example. Here are seven simple daily prayers drawn from David’s prayer.
1. Listen to my prayer.
Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer; listen to my plea for grace. (Psalm 86:6)
David wrote an entire book of divinely inspired song-prayers to God, so you would think he might know that God hears all our prayers. But over and over again, he still pleads with God to listen (Psalm 4:1, 17:6, 27:7, 28:2, 30:10, and more). Do you ever ask God to hear your prayer — or do you just assume he will?
The ever-present help of God can make us prone to take him for granted. We hear, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you,” and quietly, even subconsciously, we begin to presume that God exists to meet our needs. That kind of entitlement, though, robs God’s promise of its power and empties our prayer-life of its wonder.
God Almighty, the sovereign and infinite Maker of heaven and earth, hears your prayers. Don’t ever, ever take God’s ear for granted. Know his holiness, and your sin, well enough not to presume he will listen, but for Jesus’s sake. Ask him to hear one more prayer.
2. Save me, and keep me.
Preserve my life, for I am godly; save your servant, who trusts in you — you are my God. Be gracious to me, O Lord, for to you do I cry all the day. (Psalm 86:2–3)
In the face of all his enemies, David looked to our God for protection and deliverance. He was often surrounded on every side, threatened in every way imaginable. But he found hope and confidence in his sovereign, unchanging Father in heaven (Psalm 18:2).
We have an enemy far greater and more fearful than all of David’s enemies combined (1 Peter 5:8). He has planted his mercenaries at every turn (Ephesians 6:12). And we are helpless against his schemes without a warrior fighting for us (Ephesians 6:11).
You were saved, and you are being saved every day (1 Corinthians 15:2). You are being kept (1 Peter 1:5). But not without prayer (Ephesians 6:18). Each day is another new confident plea for protection and keeping:
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 1:24–25)
3. Make my heart happy in you.
Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul. (Psalm 86:4)
Humans were not created just to be rescued from sin, but to be flooded with joy in the Rescuer. Sin disrupted God’s ultimate plan for you; it didn’t create it. Jesus is not only a get-out-of-jail card, but a get-into-eternal-joy Savior and Treasure. God made you to demonstrate his worth by making you happy in him — not just by placing you in heaven, but by giving you himself.
God commands us to have that kind of joy in him (Psalm 32:11; Luke 10:20; Philippians 4:4). But any of us who have tried know we cannot put on joy like we put on a pair of pants. Something supernatural has to happen in our hearts, and the supernatural only happens one way: with God’s help.
No matter what you’re going through or how far away happiness feels, never settle for anything less than joy in the Christian life, and never assume you’ll find it without asking God for it.
4. Teach me your ways.
Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth. (Psalm 86:11)
Knowing the truth is not the end of God’s plans for everything you learn about him. He wants to see the truth come alive in you — in your priorities, in your relationships, and in your heart. A Christian is saved apart from our doing (Ephesians 2:8), but we are delivered into a life filled with doing, good works prepared specifically for us before we were even born (Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:10).
But the dots between what we know and what it means for our daily lives are not always clear. The dots between the One we love and the way we should live can often be foggy at best.
As un-American as it may seem, God doesn’t expect us to just figure it out on our own. He wants us to ask him for wisdom and guidance — “God, teach me your way” — and he wants to do the work himself, by his Spirit, through our working. Paul says, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12–13).
5. Give me your strength.
Turn to me and be gracious to me; give your strength to your servant. (Psalm 86:16)
Some of us do not need to be convinced to work. We wake up ready to tackle our to-do list and take on the world. We just forget to ask for help, or to serve in anyone’s strength but our own. That kind of effort may work for a while, but eventually we are out of gas and left with small, short-lived returns. “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil” (Psalm 127:2).
Along with our prayers for guidance and direction, we need the physical and spiritual resources to walk and work well. Nothing of any real, spiritual, lasting value happens in our strength. “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain” (Psalm 127:1).
Work hard, but never in your own strength. Work in the strength that he supplies (1 Peter 4:11), and let him have all the glory he deserves. God will not lend his own strength to selfish or materialistic dreams, but he will supernaturally empower you to serve. He will give you the courage and resolve to lay down your life for others in the name of Jesus.
6. Unite my heart to fear you.
Unite my heart to fear your name. (Psalm 86:11)
Our sinful hearts trend toward division, not unity. More and more of our inner selves resonate with God’s heart, but rebel desires and impulses still linger as long as we live. To be a Christian is to be killing sin (Romans 8:13), which means sin must still remain to be killed (1 John 1:8).
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it.
Prone to leave the God I love.
Here’s my heart, oh, take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.
If we set our souls on cruise control, they do not move toward Christ, but in a thousand other directions. Remaining sin divides our attention and affection. Our frequent prayer should be that God rid us of that kind of spiritual divisiveness and unite our hearts in him.
7. Reveal yourself through me.
Show me a sign of your favor, that those who hate me may see and be put to shame because you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me. (Psalm 86:17)
The goal of all of God’s favor to us — to every answered prayer — is not only our own hope, joy, and strength, but also a statement to the whole world. What happens in our prayer closets begins with us, and may focus on many of our situations and circumstances, but we should always be asking God to show the world what we have seen and enjoyed of him.
Jesus, says, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Peter echoes the same, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12).
We want our faith and our whole life to mean something to the watching world. We want unbelievers to know that our God is the one and only God. Even more than that, we want them to know him and be saved.
With our prayers, we ask God to take what he is doing for us, and in us, and do something dramatic through us in the hearts and minds of others.