Psalm 141:1-2 “O Lord, I call upon you; hasten to me! Give ear to my voice when I call to you! Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice! Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!”
As Jesus walked with and taught His disciples, they had many questions. As they watched His life and heard Him speak, they were witnessing the one and only perfect human life. They wanted to know what He thought. They wanted insight into His mind, for He, alone, was omniscient. They wanted to know why He did what He did, so they asked Him about it. One of the requests they made of Him was this one: “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). It was on this occasion that Jesus taught them what has come to be known as “The Lord’s Prayer.” But it wasn’t to just be quoted from rote memory and left at that, for in Matthew’s account of this same account Jesus preceded His teaching with this: “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:7-8). No, this was meant as a pattern for them (and us) to follow.
However, we shouldn’t think that “The Lord’s Prayer” was the one and only pattern of prayer that Jesus gave us. Throughout His Word God has given us one example after another of prayers that honor Him. They are patterns we can use to guide us and teach us to pray. One such place we find many of these prayers is in the Psalms. Over the years I’ve made it a practice to study the Psalms and use them as a pattern for prayer. One such example is Psalm 141. In the words above from this Psalm, David begins with these words: “O Lord, I call upon you; hasten to me! Give ear to my voice when I call to you!” Obviously, David’s prayer demonstrated a sense of great urgency. He needed help and he needed it now! On its face it would seem to demonstrate David’s impatience. But didn’t the Lord teach us to be patient in prayer? Didn’t He tell us to not give up; that we were to keep on knocking, keep on asking, keep on pleading even if nothing seemed to change? In Luke 18 didn’t He give us a parable to the effect that we “ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1)? So why David’s urgency? What did He need help with right now? What was it that was so pressing?
Well, it wasn’t that He needed physical healing, or money, or protection from harm – things that so many of us are so prone to pray about with urgency. No, what David said was so urgent was that God would help him with how he used his tongue. He knew that he was about to say something (isn’t that true of every one of us) and he knew that it was in his words that he was so very prone to sin. He knew that “when words are many, transgression is not lacking” (Proverbs 10:19). Because of this David prays, “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” He knew that he needed God’s supernatural help in this area. He needed the Lord to help him to keep his mouth shut when he should be silent, and that when he did speak, he needed the Lord’s help to speak words that were kind, beneficial, uplifting – the kinds of words that glorified the Lord. David needed help (and so do we) in the words he spoke either directly to the Lord in prayer, under his breath in reaction to things that annoyed or troubled him, or to anyone else in response to their words or actions toward him. David knew that whatever he said, no matter if he shouted at the top of his lungs or whispered where no one else could hear, it was all in the LORD’S hearing, for God is the God Who knows our words before we speak them (Psalm 139:4).
It’s such an urgent need, something we should seek from God with haste, that He would set a guard over our mouth and a watch over the door of our lips. And something we should keep on praying with much perseverance for, as long as we live, we will have this need. May God help us to pray in this way, for it’s one of the ways, in His great wisdom, that He has taught us.