Prayer is essential to the Christian life.
In fact, He delights in it (Proverbs 15:8.)
But, unlike the 19th century days of Andrew Murray, not much is being said today on the subject of prayer. A primary reason, I believe, is because Christians view prayer (as orthodoxy) and praying (as orthopraxy) as boring.
And to the extent that prayer is talked about within the evangelical church, it is largely limited to the offering of worldly, self-centered appeals that God would bring to fruition what we have predetermined to be His will for our life. Namely, the fulfillment of our preconceived notions of what is our “destiny” and “purpose.”
Such beneficent prayers come easily to us.
Solicitations of God’s divine blessing, favor, and consent to our desires and plans tend to flow effortlessly from our lips. We confidently offer such earthly entreaties because those types of prayers are “safe”, and don’t really require much of us spiritually in return.
So we go through our rote motions…
…and we ask God to heal this person…
…to bless that endeavor…
…to let us win the lottery…
All “in Jesus’ name” of course.
There is, however, one prayer that all believers should pray but probably don’t (at least not often enough.)
It is the prayer of Psalm 26:2, “Examine me, O Lord, and try me; test my mind and my heart.”
This prayer is comprised of only 13 words.
But they are 13 dangerous words.
The reason this prayer is so dangerous is that it is the one prayer many of us don’t really want God to answer.
Because we know, before a single syllable proceeds from our mouth, what a holy and righteous God will find when He probes the depths of our innermost being (Psalm 139:23-24.) Offering to God in prayer the words of Psalm 26:2, is tantamount to taking an exam we know ahead of time we are going to fail, regardless how diligent our preparation.
We see this reality play out in the life of Simon Peter in Luke chapter 5:
But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” – Luke 5:8 (NASB)
Being a fisherman, Peter directly benefited from the miracle of the fish which Jesus performed (Luke 5:1-7.) But rather than celebrate the abundance of his newfound prosperity, the heart-piercing realization of his own unworthiness in the presence of the holiness of Christ (1 John 1:5) immediately drove Peter to his knees in shame and humiliation.
“A God whose presence and scrutiny I could evade would be a small and trivial deity. But the true God is great and terrible, just because He is always with me and His eye is always upon me. Living becomes an awesome business when you realize that you spend every moment of your life in the sight and company of an omniscient, omnipresent Creator.” – J.I. Packer, Knowing God
It is our innate sinfulness contrasted with God’s innate holiness that makes it a dangerous thing to ask God to examine our mind and heart.
In doing so we invite God to hold up the mirror of His perfection against our imperfection, His righteousness against our unrighteousness, and to show us our true selves – who we are on the inside – the person we don’t anyone else to know, let alone God (Mark 7:17-23; Luke 6:43-45; Romans 3:23.)
In Psalm 26:2, the Hebrew verb examine is a legal term meaning to scrutinize, to test, to try, to prove.
The context is that of an attorney presenting evidence for consideration by a judge and jury in a court of law.
“…the righteousness that God expects from us is essentially to image His own ethical character – His love, His holiness, His righteousness.” – John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God: A Theology of Lordship
To ask God to examine us is serious business.
And yet, this truth is not something that should engender fear in us.
In fact, quite the contrary (Hebrews 4:16.)
The same Jesus who sees our depravity also delivers us from it.
“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.” – Ephesians 1:7 (NASB)
In a world where the gospel is becoming less about Jesus and more about ourselves, we need to be reminded that perfect people don’t need God’s grace – and there are no perfect people.
The 13 words of Psalm 26:2 are dangerous words to pray.
It is even more dangerous, however, not to pray them.
To invite a loving and merciful God to identify and remove from within us anything and everything that separates us from Him, is to embrace the sanctification He desires for all who believe in Him (Romans 8:29-30; 2 Corinthians 1:21-22.) As the French theologian, John Calvin, wrote, “The life of all Christians should be a meditation on and exercise in godliness, for they are called to sanctification.”
It is with that end and desire in mind that believers should invite God to do whatever it takes to bring that transformation to pass in our life.
Whatever it takes.