Prayer requires that we expect something. Unless we expect that God both hears and acts on our prayers, prayer is impossible. To speak of “expectant prayer” is redundant.
The Psalms teach us to pray in many ways, but perhaps one of the most important lessons from the Psalms is the way they demonstrate how to pray expectantly through various events, circumstances, moods, and spiritual conditions.
Expectant Prayer in the Psalms of Praise
From Psalm 145:
1I will extol you, my God and King,
and bless your name forever and ever.
2Every day I will bless you
and praise your name forever and ever.
3Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised,
and his greatness is unsearchable.
In Psalm 145:1-2, David declares his lifelong intentions to extol, bless, and praise YHWH, his God and King. In v. 3, however, we catch a glimpse into the motivation behind David’s praise: the sheer greatness of YHWH. The expectancy of this psalm does not necessarily seek anything from God, but instead it takes the form of a compulsion to praise God because he is worthy of our praise–so much so that our souls demand to cry out to the Lord in praise.
Do we feel dissatisfied at the core of our being until we give vent to the Lord’s praise?
Expectant Prayer in the Psalms of the Messiah
All psalms point in some way to the coming of the Lord’s Messiah, but some psalms do so more clearly than others. Consider Psalm 2:
7I will tell of the decree:
The LORD said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
8Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
9You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
10Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
11Serve the LORD with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
12Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
In Messianic psalms, we see hopeful prayer that anticipates the reign and rule of the Messiah. We are not wishing for a victory like sports fans might for their team. We are expectantly anticipating the reign and rule of the Jesus Christ the Lord. We know that at the resurrection the Father vindicated his Son, demonstrating in the sight of all the nations that this Jesus is indeed his Son, his Anointed, his King to reign on Mount Zion. Messianic prayer looks believingly, hopefully to the coming of Jesus, and such prayer pleads the Lord to haste that day forward.
Is our prayer tremblingly, longingly preoccupied with the expectation of Christ’s imminent return?
Expectant Prayer in the Psalms of Confession
From Psalm 130:
1Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD!
2O Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my pleas for mercy!
3If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
4But with you there is forgiveness,
that you may be feared
5I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
6my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.
The psalms of confession reveal a deep, desperate need for God’s forgiveness. Here, the psalmist repeats the phrase “more than watchmen for the morning” to illustrate poetically his faith as he waits for God to confirm forgiveness to him. Prayer of confession recognizes the need for God to forgive us, but it also expects God to do so: “I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope” (130:5). God has promised forgiveness, and we wait and hope for him to fulfill his word.
Do our prayers of confession expect God to forgive because of presumption or because of our firm faith in God’s word that he will forgive those who ask him?
Expectant Prayer in the Psalms of Lament
From Psalm 44:
17All this has come upon us
though we have not forgotten you,
and we have not been false to your covenant.
18Our heart has not turned back,
nor have our steps departed from your way;
19yet you have broken us in the place of jackals
and covered us with the shadow of death.
Psalms of lament–particular a psalm like this, where the Sons of Korah maintain their innocence before God–expectantly believe that the Judge of all the earth will surely do what is right. The people of God do not believe that their problems come only in proportion to their sinfulness, and that faithfulness keeps us from ever undergoing suffering. At the same time, however, Christians believe that God is working all things together for their good, and that he will bring his people through death itself in the end.
In the face of suffering, do our prayers of lament outnumber our complaints?
Expectant Prayer in the Psalms of Supplication
From Psalm 3:
1O LORD, how many are my foes!
Many are rising against me;
2many are saying of my soul,
there is no salvation for him in God.
3But you, O LORD, are a shield about me,
my glory, and the lifter of my head.
The expectant prayer of supplication makes a request known to God because of faith that God can and will answer. Supplication looks to YHWH as my shield, my glory, and the lifter of my head. I ask God for him to intervene and act because I know his power and his grace that he pours out upon those he loves.
Do we relate to YHWH as a last recourse, or as our shield, our glory, and the lifter of our heads?
Expectant Prayer in the Psalms of Imprecation
From Psalm 137:
8O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed,
blessed shall he be who repays you
with what you have done to us!
9Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones
and dashes them against the rock!
The Psalms contain a fair amount of angry, raw, bitter outbursts from the people of God, and we cannot ignore them. The imprecatory psalms (e.g., the curse psalms) are perhaps the most expectant of all the psalms. In the midst of some of the most horrible situations human beings have ever had to undergo, these psalmists retained a faith real enough to seek God for justice, yet angry enough to demand the most thorough retribution against those who had wronged them. To those who have ears to hear, there is much to learn from these psalms.
Are even our curses uttered with a sense that we are in the presence of a just and holy God who will ultimately make all things right?
How do we offer up the range of our prayers to God in genuinely expectant faith? How do we cultivate this prayerful attitude of expectancy?
The Psalms–prayers inspired by God himself–have the power not only to shape our words as we pray, but to shape our hearts.