The Cure for Performance-Related Prayer

1 Chronicles 29:10-13

1 May 2011

Blenheim Free Church, Maidenhead

Morning service


Here's a question: do you find that your prayers are performance related? At my work we have a scheme for performance-related pay: your reward goes up and down in line with your achievements. What I'm asking is, do you experience performance-related pray?

So, when you've had a good day, do you pray one kind of prayer, and when you've had a bad day, a different kind of prayer? Let me explain.

Take 1. You've had a good day. You bounced out of bed in the morning. You read a chapter of Ezekiel before breakfast. You got to work on time. Over coffee you told a colleague about your faith in Jesus and he wants to know more. In the afternoon you received an encouraging email from a missionary you support. You led a great Bible study group in the evening and everyone said it was very helpful. Last thing that night, you kneel at your bedside... How are you going to pray? Something like, "Lord, thank you for enabling me to stride forth in victory...", and so on?

Take 2. You've had a terrible day. You overslept: not even time for breakfast, let alone Bible reading. The car wouldn't start. You were late for work. You got into an argument with a colleague. You received an email from a missionary your church supports: she's struggling financially; you remembered that you meant to renew your standing order, but completely forgot to do it. On the way home you ran over your neighbour's cat. You arrived to find that the washing machine had leaked water everywhere. You were too exhausted to contribute a thing at study group. Finally, you kneel at your bedside... How are you going to pray now?

Will your prayer be very different? What do you think? If so, why? Does your relationship with God really depend on what kind of day you've had? Does your relationship with God depend so strongly on how you feel, what's happened during the day, what's going badly and what's going well in your life?

It doesn't seem right, does it? We know that we are not saved because of anything we've done. We know that the ground of our relationship with God is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and we can't add a single thing to that. We know that whether our day has been fantastic or terrible God has been just as sovereign over everything that has happened. So why are our prayers so fickle?

Well, all that is by way of introduction to David's prayer in 1 Chronicles 29, so let's see what we can learn.

Now, I read from verse 1 so that we can see that King David is having a great day: his performance is superb.

David is at the end of his life. He is preparing to pass the throne on to his son, Solomon. But, crucially, he is also passing to Solomon the responsibility to build a temple for the Lord in Jerusalem.

In preparation for this, David has been collecting vast quantities of materials for Solomon to use when the temple is built. So David personally gives a hundred tonnes of gold, and 240 tonnes of silver out of his own wealth. Then there is a collection among the leaders of Israel who find a further 170 tonnes of gold, 340 tonnes of silver, 600 tonnes of bronze and three-and-a-half thousand tonnes of iron, along with precious stones. This is all in addition to the 3,400 tonnes of gold and 34,000 tonnes of silver David provided back in chapter 22, presumably from the government coffers.

To help us get a handle on this, if we can, I calculated what all this would be worth at today's metal prices. In chapter 29, David donated out of his personal wealth 3.4 billion pounds worth of gold and silver. The leaders of the people donated a further 5.6 billion pounds worth of metal. The total amount of metal donated for the temple would be worth, in today's prices, including that allocated back in chapter 22, over 150 billion pounds.

Even allowing for three thousand years of inflation, that's a staggering amount of wealth that had been given.

So, David is having a good day. He is flying. His performance is awesome. How would you pray if you'd just publicly donated 3.4 billion pounds to the church?

I think we'd be tempted to congratulate ourselves a just a little, wouldn't we? "I have done pretty well today, haven't I, Lord? I expect you'll be blessing me mightily in the days to come. I know you'll be good to me, because I've been so good..." and so on.

But David starts in quite a different place. David doesn't start with himself at all. He starts his prayer firmly with God, and in doing so he shows us how to escape from performance-related praying.

I want to look at look at verses 10 to 12 under three headings. Verse 10, David praises God for who he is. Verse 11, David praises God for what he has. Verse 12, David praises God for what he does.

Praising God for who he is (v.10)

So, David begins in verse 10 simply by praising God for who he is. Praise be to you, O Lord.ref. Not, "praise be to me" or even, "woe is me", but, "praise be to you".

And the first thing he remembers is simply who God is: O Lord, God of our father Israel, from everlasting to everlasting.

God is God unchanging. It's not the ups and downs of David's experience of God that matter, but the whole history of the people of Israel's relationship with God. And they've found him to be constant throughout their ups and downs. He's stuck by them since the days of their father Israel, that is, Jacob. He will stick by them from everlasting to everlasting.

By starting with God, David has completely taken the focus off his own performance.

It doesn't matter what kind of day you've had: a fantastic day, or a terrible day. God is the same: he doesn't have good days and bad days. The ground of your relationship with him is exactly the same today as on the day you were saved. The basis on which you come to God is the precisely the same on your worst day as on your best day. It's got nothing to do with what you have done. It's got everything to do with who God is, and God does not have ups and downs.

This is where the Lord's prayer starts, isn't it? It was super to hear it on Friday broadcast to millions: "Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven." The Lord's prayer starts firmly with God and who he is: our Father. The spotlight is all on him, not on us.

Praising God for what he has (v.11)

Next David moves on to praising God for what he has.

Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendour, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, O Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all.ref

I gather that over 25 million people in this country watched the royal wedding on Friday. And really, there is no other country in the world that does pomp and ceremony quite as well as we do it, is there? Everything about the uniforms, the protocols, the extravagance is designed to proclaim that the monarch, the royal family, has power and glory and majesty and splendour. These days it's all really a bit of theatre, but in days gone by it would have been an impressive display of the absolute power of the king or queen.

But, although David is king, he doesn't want to claim these things for himself. Again, his prayer turns the spotlight away from him and his throne and points it firmly at God. All these things belong to God. Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendour.

Even the kingdom that David is passing on to Solomon is not really his. David knows that he rules only as the servant of another. Yours, O Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all.

These words words are so majestic that I can't really begin to unpack them. They are completely comprehensive. They sum up the very God-ness of God, don't they? Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendour, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. There is nothing greater, nothing more powerful, nothing more glorious, nothing more majestic, nothing more splendid in the whole of the universe than God himself.

There is another throne-room in the Bible where we find similar words being proclaimed — an echo of this prayer. In Revelation chapter 5 we find a heavenly throne, with a lamb on it. A lamb looking as if it had been slain. And we find ten-thousand times ten-thousand angels singing loudly Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise!ref

Jesus, our slain saviour, embodies the God-ness of God.

As David prays, he is aware of what God has: the shear God-ness of God. Likewise, whenever we pray, let's remind ourselves again and again of the God-ness of God, in the person of the glorified Lord Jesus, Great David's greater Son.

Praising God for what he does (v.12)

Thirdly, in verse 12 we find David praising God for what he does.

David is so radically God-orientated that he refuses to take credit even for the astonishing giving he has just done. He recognises that everything is given by God: Wealth and honour come from you. This links with verse 14, Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.ref

I think that we often come to our prayers very conscious of what we have or, more commonly, haven't done: our own successes and failures. But in this prayer, centre-stage is not David and his activities, but God and what he has done and is doing. Our relationship with God depends not at all on what we've done, only on what he has done.

David also recognises that God exercises complete sovereignty: you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all.

When you've had a good day, do you thank God for acting sovereignly in your life? I think we're quite ready to do this, aren't we: "Lord, you've been good to me, you've blessed me in so many ways."

What about when you've had a bad day, when everything's gone wrong? Do you still thank God for acting sovereignly in your life? "Lord, today has been rotten, but you have been just as in control of things as you were yesterday. I trust your sovereign will." Do you pray like that?

If we truly understand God's sovereignty, then we will believe that he is just as in control, exercising his power just as much when things go badly for us as when things go well.


So, in verse 13, David sums up his approach to God in prayer: Now, our God, we give you thanks and praise your glorious name.ref

David has started with God. Like so many of his Psalms, the start of his prayer is just full of "yours" and "you".

David begins with who God is, what he has and what he does. And that's a great model for us!

It is very difficult to build a model of the solar system with everything revolving around the earth. It all becomes very complex and difficult to understand; lots of things are puzzling. But that's what we are doing when we habitually start our prayers with ourselves and how we are feeling. We are thinking as if everything revolves around us.

What David does is to put not himself, but God at the centre. God is the glorious burning Sun around whom everything revolves. And with God in the centre, everything suddenly makes sense.

That's the take-home message today: simply this, learn to start your prayers with God. Be in the habit of starting with "yours" and "you" far more than "I" or "me". Whether we are as high as kites, or as low as worms, let everything revolve around God.

Sometimes we will simply need to cry out to God: God, have mercy on me, a sinnerref; Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayerref. But, in general, our praying will be better if we make a habit of starting with God. We will be much less enslaved to how we feel from day to day; our prayers will be much less performance-related.

So, how will you pray this week?

On a good day when everything is going fantastically? "Yours, O Lord,..."

On a bad day when nothing has gone right and all you've had is bad news? "Praise be to you, O Lord".

We need to start with the Lord, who is from everlasting to everlasting.