Session 4: What Does Wisdom Literature Say About Prayer and Fasting?

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Secret Church 19: Prayer, Fasting, and the Pursuit of God

Session 4: What Does Wisdom Literature Say About Prayer and Fasting?

In this session of Secret Church 19, Pastor David Platt teaches Christians what wisdom literature says about prayer and fasting. In this session, David explores the books that are sometimes referred to as the Wisdom Literature of the Bible. Unlike the previous books of the Old Testament, which are largely narrative.

These books reveal God’s truth in a form that is predominantly poetic. Wisdom Literature covers the range of human emotions, experiences, and questions, teaching us what it means to live in the fear of the Lord in every circumstance. We learn what it means to praise and pursue God in the midst of a broken, sinful world. The psalms, in particular, provide us with a rich variety of ways to express our praise, thanksgiving, confession, lament, and confidence in the Lord.

  1. Prayer in the Wisdom Books
  2. Prayer Amidst Circumstances
  3. The Heart of Prayer

Next, we’re looking at wisdom literature, which includes Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon.

47. What Does Wisdom Literature Say About Prayer and Fasting  in Job 1–2: Prayer Amidst Suffering

Job 1 and 2 teaches us about prayer amidst suffering. There’s a whole Secret Church on suffering, so we’ll go quickly through this, but I couldn’t not put this in. “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).

In prayer, we express honest pain from our circumstances. What does Job do as soon as he learns he’s lost all his possessions and that every one of his precious children just died? He prays.

In prayer, we express humble trust in God’s sovereignty. “Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips” (Job 2:9–10).

In prayer, we express true gratitude for God’s generosity. God gave Job praise in prayer. We look beyond the gift to the Giver. In prayer, we realize that even when the gifts are gone, God is still good. There’s so much here.

In prayer, we express unwavering faith in God’s righteousness. In all of Job’s praying, he did not sin with his lips.

48. Job 28: Prayer for Wisdom

Job 28 demonstrates prayer for wisdom. Right in the heart of this book on suffering, we’re reminded about the limited wisdom of man. Think about it. Why do we lack wisdom?

It’s because we lack knowledge. Sometimes we don’t have all the facts. We would make wiser decisions if we knew more.

We lack perspective. We don’t always see how our actions are going to affect this person or that person in that way. If we had seen that, we might have acted differently.

We lack experience. Sometimes we do something foolish because it’s new to us. The next time we’re in that situation, we’ll do it differently. We all have limited wisdom.

But not God. Consider the unlimited wisdom of God.

He has perfect knowledge. He never does not have all the facts.

He has eternal perspective. He always sees all things rightly.

He has infinite experience. He is timeless. So when we pray, particularly amidst suffering, we must always remember we have limited knowledge, perspective and experience, but God does not. As a result, we can trust His wisdom at all times and in all circumstances.

49. Jon 3–7: Praying in Light of Our Inevitable Questions

Job 3 through 7 illustrates praying in light of our inevitable questions. If you look at these questions, in prayer we ask God over and over again, “Why?” (Job 6:11). “What have I done?” (6:28–30). We ask God, “Where is this going?” (7:4). In prayer, we ask God, “How long will this last?” (7:17–19),

This is what we do in prayer. We honestly ask questions. As we pray, amidst all our questions, we eventually realize that our greatest need is not an explanation from God. Our greatest need is ultimately an encounter with God. Listen to these words from my hero in the faith, Joni Eareckson Tada, a quadriplegic who was paralyzed from the shoulders down after an accident when she was 18 years old. She writes with Steve Estes:

God, like a father, doesn’t just give advice. He gives Himself. He becomes the Husband to the grieving widow (Isaiah 54:5). He becomes the Comforter to the barren woman (Isaiah 54:1). He becomes the Father of the orphaned (Psalm 10:14). He becomes the Bridegroom to the single person (Isaiah 62:5). He is the Healer to the sick (Exodus 15:26). He is the wonderful Counselor to the confused and depressed (Isaiah 9:6).

50. Why Christians Pray and Fast Job 36–42: Praying in Light of Our Greatest Need

This is Job’s conclusion. At the end of 40 chapters of asking questions, he says, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted…I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you” (Job 42:1,6). Our greatest need is not an answer for the “why” of suffering. Our greatest need is ultimately a glimpse of the One Who reigns over suffering.

Job receives a glimpse of the God Who is our Creator (38:3–11; 38:34–38), our Sustainer (38:39–41; 39:13–17), our Savior (40:8–14), our Hope (36:15–16) and our Friend (42:6–9).

God is with us through suffering; we know we can trust Him, because He will bring an end to suffering. Job 19:25–27, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My faints within me!”

We won’t read it now, but this is a great quote from George Mueller, the prayer warrior, who said this when he prayed for his wife’s health, yet she died. It’s powerful.

Were we happy? Verily we were. With every year our happiness increased more and more. I never saw my beloved wife at any time, when I met her unexpectedly anywhere in Bristol, without being delighted so to do. I never met her even in the Orphan Houses, without my heart being delighted so to do. Day by day, as we met in our dressing room, at the Orphan Houses, to wash our hands before dinner and tea, I was delighted to meet her, and she was equally pleased to see me. Thousands of times I told her–‘My darling, I never saw you at any time, since you became my wife, without my being delighted to see you…’

When I heard what Mr. Pritchard’s judgment was (viz., that the malady was rheumatic fever), I naturally expected the worst… My heart was nigh to be broken on account of the depth of my affection. The last portion of Scripture which I read to my precious wife was this: ‘The Lord God is a sun and shield, the Lord will give grace and glory, no good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly.’ Now, if we have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, we have received grace, we are partakers of grace, and to all such he will give glory also. I said to myself, with regard to the latter part, ‘no good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly’–I am in myself a poor worthless sinner, but I have been saved by the blood of Christ; and I do not live in sin, I walk uprightly before God.

Therefore, if it is really good for me, my darling wife will be raised up again; sick as she is. God will restore her again. But if she is not restored again, then it would not be a good thing for me. And so my heart was at rest. I was satisfied with God. And all this springs, as I have often said before, from taking God at His Word, believing what He says.

Even when our prayers are not answered in the way we’d prefer, even when we have questions that are not answered in the way we would like, we can trust that our God is good and that even death is not the end, because God restores to life.

God, we praise You for restoring to life. We praise You that suffering is not the end of the story, but that with You, life is the end of the story forever. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

51. Psalms 5–7, 10, 17, 22, 26: Prayers of Grievance over Suffering, False Accusation, or Persecutions

Moving into the Psalms, I’ve grouped the Psalms into different categories, having leaned on Graeme Goldsworthy who wrote a helpful book titled Prayer and the Knowledge of God. Goldsworthy wrote, “For any Christian for whom prayer is becoming formal and stereotyped, the Psalms provide a rich source of inspiration. It is true that to read the Psalms on your knees, as it were, can be a great boost to one’s prayer experience.”

I believe that’s true. Many of these Psalms are actually prayers, in ways that are unique in Scripture. John Perkins writes, “More then one-third of the psalms are laments. They allow the psalmist to cry out to God in anguish, knowing that He alone is the ultimate Healer and Justifier.”

This first category includes prayers of grievance over suffering, false accusations, or persecutions. Prayer wrestles with the goodness, presence, and power of God in a world of evil, sin and suffering. The psalmists are often asking the question, “Why?” (10:1) or “How long?” (6:2–3). Yet even amidst these questions, prayer maintains a confidence in God’s character and God’s compassion amidst suffering (17:6–9; 27:1–14).

Psalm 27 is an excellent example of that. When you read that Psalm, you think about what David saw. He saw devastation, desertion, and danger. How did he pray?

Then we see what David prayed. First, feel the shock of his prayer. Surrounded by devastation, “One thing have I asked of the Lord…that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple” (Psalm 27:4). David doesn’t ask first for deliverance; he asks first for God. He knew the benefits of his request: that God is absolutely sovereign and incomparably beautiful.

This leads to the relevance of David’s example for us. What is our one thing we seek? Is it to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord? Do we find God useful for our circumstances, or do we find Him glorious regardless of our circumstances? That’s a question we all need to ask. Useful, or glorious? What David concluded is clear. Prayerful confidence is found in passionate focus on God amidst our pain and affliction.

God, we pray for passionate focus on You, contentment in You, and a desire for You, even amidst pain and affliction. Amen.

52. What Does Wisdom Literature Say About Prayer and Fasting in  Psalms 6, 13, 22: Prayers Expressing a Sense of Alienation from God

Next, Psalms expressing a sense of alienation from God. Psalm 22 is what Jesus prayed on the cross (Psalm 22:1; Matthew 27:45–46).

Prayer includes cries of spiritual anguish. “O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest” (Psalm 22:2).

Prayer includes cries of relational alienation from God and from others (22:6–8, 22:11–12, 22:17).

Prayer includes cries of physical agony (22:14–16).

And in prayers like this, we learn that expression our sorrow in prayer to God opens the door experiencing God’s love for us. Psalm 13:1–6 is powerful.

Listen to this quote from John Perkins: “The Laments of Scripture do more than just voice our pain. The psalms of lament stand alone as theology. They teach us about our God and how to worship Him. They transform us.” That’s exactly what happens to the psalmist in Psalm 13. He’s transformed as he laments in prayer before God.

51. Why Do Christians Pray and Fast? Psalms 3, 31, 43, 59, 70–71, 120, 129, 137: Prayers for Deliverance from Suffering of Enemies

In these Psalms of prayers for deliverance, we learn that prayer honestly faces fear, frustration, danger, and depression (3:1–2; 31:9–13). These are real experiences for the psalmist. If you’ve ever faced fear, frustration, danger, or depression, you will find familiar ground in the Psalms. Psalm 31 is so powerful.

Prayer hopefully trusts in salvation from all these things and more (3:3–8; 31:14–18).

In the face of fear and danger, we pray with urgency (70:1–3; 71:12–16).

In the face of frustration and depression, we pray with expectancy that God will answer (70:4–5; 71:17–24). Psalm 71 is a powerful picture of that.

52. Psalms 25: 6–10, 36:5–10, 62:5–7, 63: Prayers Exalting God for His Faithfulness, Compassion, and Love

Our relationship with God in prayer should look like a consuming addiction in our lives, not a convenient addition to our lives. Psalm 63:1: “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” Psalm 63:8: “My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.”

Prayer to God is not designed to be our duty, but to be our delight (62:5–7).

Prayer leads us to be satisfied in God over and above His gifts, like we’ve seen over and over again(63:2–4).

Keep going in Psalm 63 and you’ll see how prayer transforms our experiences in the wilderness into experiences in worship (63:9–11).

55. What Does Wisdom Literature Say About Prayer and Fasting in Psalms 2, 18, 21, 45, 72, 89, 110, 140: Prayers of and for the King

A different category is next: prayers of and for the king. This is where we learn about praying for the righteousness of the king’s rule (72:1–7), praying for the spread of the king’s dominion (72:8–11 and praying ultimately for the spread of God’s justice through the king’s leadership (72:12–14). We also pray for blessing in the king’s life (72:15–17) and ultimately praying for the fame of God’s name (72:18–20).

Keep in mind that these are unique prayers for Israel’s king in a unique time in redemptive history. As we read these prayers in the Psalms, we find their final fulfillment in the perfect King Who came to save us from our sin and rule us with His righteousness (2:1–12; Acts 2:36, 4:24–28, 13:32–33; Ephesians 2:6; Revelation 11:15). His name is Jesus.

56. Psalms 6, 7, 16, 23, 28, 54, 56, 71, 109, 140: Prayers Expressing Trust and Confidence in God

Then we move to Psalms that express trust and confidence in God, like 16:1–11. I love Psalm 56:3–4. “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.” Also see 1 Samuel 21:1

In prayer, we put our trust in the character of God. We trust in His power, and we trust in His mercy (56:8–13).

In prayer, we lift our hearts to the Word of God. “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?” (56:3–4).

Did you catch that? If you put the first and last part together, “When I am afraid, I will not be afraid.” How do you go from fear to no fear? “In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.” Also see 119:38, 120; 138:2.

His Word is supreme, sure, and sufficient. Psalm 23 is a great example of prayer, trust, and confidence in God:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

57. Psalms 32, 38, 51: Why Do Christians Pray and Fast? Prayers of Confession Before God

As we’ve seen in other places in Scripture, in prayer we acknowledge the seriousness of sin. Psalm 51 is so helpful here. Sin is offensive because it defies God and destroys man. Sin is comprehensive and pervasive (51:1–5).

In view of our sin in prayer, we appeal to the grace of God, knowing that His cleansing is costly (51:6–8). Psalm 51:7, “Purge me with hyssop…” That hyssop takes us back to the sacrifice of the lamb in Exodus 12:22 and the picture of sacrifice in Hebrews 9:19–22.

His cleansing is costly and His forgiveness is free. God ultimately answers our prayers for forgiveness in the cleansing that comes through Christ. So don’t miss this.

In prayer, confession is the connection between sin’s seriousness and God’s grace (51:16–17). Confession requires honesty and humility before God.

Through prayers of confession, restoration becomes a reality (51:11–12). God re-creates our heart, re-establishes our joy and as a result, we walk with Him, witness to Him, and worship Him (51:13–15).

58. Psalms 26, 66, 103–107, 145, 148–150: Prayer of General Praise to God.

There are three more categories of prayers in Psalms. There are so many examples of general praise to God.

In prayer we praise God for Who He is (145:4–6) and for what He has done (150:1–6).

59. Why Do Christians Pray and Fast and Psalms 68, 78, 105, 106, 114, 136: Prayers of Remembrance

Then there are Psalms that are prayers of remembrance. They remember God’s giving of the law (78:10), God’s parting the Red Sea (78:13, 53), God’s guidance through the wilderness (78:14), God’s provision of food and water (78:15–16), and God’s judgment against sin 78:30–31). They remember God’s mercy toward sinners (78:38–39), the signs and wonders in Egypt (78:44–51), the victory of enemies in the Promised Land (78:55), God’s discipline of His people (78:59–64) and God’s anointing of the king (78:67–72).

The point is: prayer is an opportunity to remember, recall and retell the works of God (78:5–8). I don’t think this is something we do well. I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently as I’m reading through the Old Testament. Take time to look back and remember, recall and retell, even in prayer, what God has done–not just in our lives, but in the history of His people.

God, help us not to forget, but to remember all You’ve done in the history of Your people and in our lives.

60. Psalms 7, 9, 36, 50, 58, 67, 82, 94, 98, 137, 149: Prayers Asking for or Rejoicing in the Salvation and Judgement of God

Read Psalm 82 in light of injustice and evil in the world, oppression and corruption, racism and trafficking.

We pray to the sovereign King over all, the good Judge of all, and the merciful Savior for all.

We pray for God’s justice to reign, God’s Kingdom to come, and God’s salvation to spread. Pastor and author Thabiti Anyabwile says, “Justice comes most surely by falling on our knees with our heads bowed. When God’s justice comes, it will be perfect, proportionate, and balanced.”

Then in Psalm 67, we pray for God’s blessing on His people for the sake of His praise among all peoples. We pray to the God Who saves the needy, the God Who judges the peoples, and the God Who guides the nations. We pray for God’s ways to be known among all peoples, God’s salvation to be enjoyed by all peoples, and God’s name to be feared by all peoples.

We pray with confidence that God will accomplish His purpose by spreading His praise among all peoples (67:6–7).

Indeed, O God, cause Your justice to reign, Your Kingdom to come, Your salvation to spread. Be gracious to us, bless us, and cause Your face to shine upon us so that Your ways can be known on earth and Your saving power known among all nations. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

That’s the Psalms. Now let’s close out with Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon.

61. Proverbs: Acceptable Prayer

In Proverbs, we find acceptable prayer (15:8).

The prayers of the righteous are acceptable to God (15:29).

The prayers of the disobedient are abhorrent to God (28:9).

62. What Does Wisdom Literature Say About Prayer and Fasting in Ecclesiastes 5: Our Approach to Prayer

As we pray, it’s often good to pause in heartfelt, thoughtful reverence and to prioritize listening over speaking. “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God…” (Ecclesiastes 5:1–3).

63. Song of Solomon: A Relationship Filled with Love

Then Song of Solomon–what in the world can Song of Solomon teach us about prayer? Well, count me among those who believe this book is about marital love as God has designed it to be between a man and a woman–romance and joy and all that involves. But remember, marriage and marital love is designed by God to depict the love of Christ for the church. So this book wonderfully portrays romantic love in marriage. And in this way, this book ultimately points to God’s design for marriage, which is to show Christ’s love for the church and the church’s love for Christ (5:22–33).

In this way, this book powerfully reminds us that we are created for a relationship with God filled with love (4:7). This is the heart of prayer. The heart of prayer is a relationship with God marked by love. We pray because we love God and He loves us. We converse with God because we want to grow in our love relationship with God.

So God, may it be so. I pray this for every single person in the sound of my voice. I pray that they would know Your love for them, that they would experience Your love for them in prayer, and that You would draw all of us into deeper love for You through prayer. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Session 4 Discussion Questions

Study Guide pp. 97-112

1. What does Job’s example teach us about how we should approach God in the midst of our suffering? (See #47-50, Job)

2. What do the psalms have to teach us when it comes to praying in the midst of grief, loss, false accusations, and a sense of alienation? How can we express our grief to God without sinning? (See #51-53, Psalms)

3. How can the psalm lead us to purse the Giver (God) and not just His gifts? What evidence from Scripture do we see of God’s faithfulness? How has His faithfulness been demonstrated in your own life? (See #54, Psalms)

4. What role should confession of sin play in the life of the Christian? What about the church’s weekly gathering? What does a failure to confess sin say about the way we view God and ourselves? (See #57, Psalms)

5. How do the psalms help us to pray in light of injustice in the world? (See #60, Psalms)

6. What do the psalms as a whole have to teach us about the character of God? (See Psalms)

7. What do the psalms as a whole have to teach us about God’s desire to commune with His people? (See Psalms)

8. Should non-Christians have confidence that God will answer their prayers? Explain your answer. (See #61, Psalms)

9. While we should pray continually and about all things, how can we guard against approaching God irreverently or flippantly? (See #62, Ecclesistes)

10. How does the book of Song of Solomon helps us see that pursuing God is not merely a duty to be performed? (See #63, Song of Solomon)


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