In his first battle after becoming King of Israel, David demonstrates four principles for prayer that will help all of us to hear God and know his will.
1 Chronicles, chapters 14-15; Psalm 132; Matthew, chapter 18
1 Chronicles 14:8-17 (NLT):
When the Philistines heard that David had been anointed king over all Israel, they mobilized all their forces to capture him. But David was told they were coming, so he marched out to meet them. The Philistines arrived and made a raid in the valley of Rephaim. So David asked God, “Should I go out to fight the Philistines? Will you hand them over to me?” The Lord replied, “Yes, go ahead. I will hand them over to you.”
So David and his troops went up to Baal-perazim and defeated the Philistines there. “God did it!” David exclaimed. “He used me to burst through my enemies like a raging flood!” So they named that place Baal-perazim (which means “the Lord who bursts through”). The Philistines had abandoned their gods there, so David gave orders to burn them.
But after a while the Philistines returned and raided the valley again. And once again David asked God what to do. “Do not attack them straight on,” God replied. “Instead, circle around behind and attack them near the poplar trees. When you hear a sound like marching feet in the tops of the poplar trees, go out and attack! That will be the signal that God is moving ahead of you to strike down the Philistine army.” So David did what God commanded, and they struck down the Philistine army all the way from Gibeon to Gezer. So David’s fame spread everywhere, and the Lord caused all the nations to fear David.
“David asked God”
The first prayer principle we see in this passage is that David didn’t assume that he knew what God wanted. David asked God, “Should I go out to fight the Philistines?” Why should David have to ask this? God had appointed him as king over Israel. The Philistines were Israel’s long-time enemies. They were mobilized to attack Israel and capture David. Why wouldn’t he go out to fight them?
There are any number of reasons why God could have told David not to fight. It could have been the right idea, but the wrong time. Just because God wants us to do something doesn’t mean that he wants us to do it now. God also may have wanted to do something different than a direct attack. David was a man of battle, a man of action. His natural inclination would have been to fight. But he asked God to make sure that he was doing God’s will, rather than his own.
“Will you hand them over to me?”
The next principle we see in this passage is that David asked specific questions to determine God’s will. Again, it would be easy to assume that if God wanted David to fight, God would hand the Philistines over to him. But sometimes there are bigger issues at work. For example, in the book of Judges, the eleven tribes asked God if they should go fight against the tribe of Benjamin. God told them to go, but on the first day the men of Benjamin killed 22,000 Israelites. The same thing happened the next day, and another 18,000 died. But on the third day, God handed the men of Benjamin over. (See Judges chapter 20.)
David didn’t ask God if he should fight the Philistines; he asked if God would hand them over. He wanted to know more of God’s plan. Now, if God had said, “No, I’m not going to hand them over; I have something bigger planned,” I believe David would still have gone out to fight. But it would have helped him prepare himself and his men for what was to happen. So David asked God specific questions to try to discern God’s will.
David and his troops went up
The next principle illustrated in this passage is that David did what God said. David and his troops went up to Baal-perazim and defeated the Philistines there. He didn’t just ask God what God wanted him to do; he did it. Now, it may have been easier for David in this case, because what God wanted was what David would have done on his own. But that doesn’t change the fact that David obeyed God’s will as God revealed it to him.
I believe a lot of people struggle to “hear” God speak to them because they aren’t listening to what God has already told them. God has revealed his will for us in a lot of the facets of life through Scripture. We have the opportunity to open his Word any time we want. We can read it and discover a great deal of God’s will for us. If we’re not living in obedience to what God has already told us, why should he waste his time to “speak” to us?
“God did it!”
The next prayer principle we see in this passage is David’s response to God’s work. David and his troops went into battle against the Philistines and defeated them, but David’s response was, “God did it!” David understood that although he and his men had acted to bring God’s will to pass, God was the One responsible for the victory.
When we experience God’s work in our lives, we have to be faithful to acknowledge that God has worked. One of Satan’s most subtle temptations is to try to convince us that we are responsible for the good things that happen in our lives. (He also tempts us in the other direction: to believe that everything bad that happens is someone else’s fault. If we buy into that lie, it’s a short step to blaming God for the bad things that happen.) If we’re honest with ourselves – an absolute necessity to effective prayer – we will acknowledge that every good thing that happens in our lives is the result of God’s goodness.
“Do not attack them straight on”
The final principle we see in this passage is what happens in the next battle. After a while, the Philistines return and raid Israel again. Once again David asked God what to do. Just as in the first incident, David didn’t assume that he knew God’s will; he asked. But we’ve already seen that principle. This principle relates to God’s response. “Do not attack them straight on.” God had a different plan in mind, which he shared with David in detail.
The principle is that we should never assume that God always works in the same ways. There are often details that we don’t know. God does; he will always direct us in the best way for each situation. Perhaps the Philistines were prepared for a head-on attack. Maybe God understood that if the Israelites attacked head-on, they would be less prepared to wait for God to act. Whatever the reason, God’s plan was different. If David hadn’t asked, and hadn’t listened to what God said, he would have missed the total victory that God had planned.
Here are our five principles from this story:
- Never assume we know God’s will; ask!
- Ask specifically to prepare yourself to hear God’s response
- When God speaks, do what he says.
- Give God the credit for every victory
- Remember that God doesn’t always work in the same way
I’m afraid that a lot of us would approach the situation in this passage differently. We would pray, “Dear God, help me to defeat the Philistines,” and then we’d rush out into battle. Why? Because we’ve forgotten, or never understood, that listening is an important part of prayer. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus cautions us not to “babble on” when we pray. He reminds us that God knows what we need before we ask, so we can pray simply.
All of the prayer principles we see in today’s passage depend on our willingness to listen. We have to give God the opportunity to respond to us, and then we have to do what God tells us to do. Psalm 46:10 reminds us, “Be still, and know that I am God!” Sometimes, “being still” means that we allow God the time to act. But sometimes it simply means that we need to stop and listen to what God is saying to us.
We’ve become conditioned to measure the vitality of someone’s “prayer life” by how much time they spend talking to God. I’m afraid I’m not impressed by that unless they spend just as much time listening to God as they do talking. If we’re not listening to God, we’re not having a conversation; we’re giving a speech. I don’t think that’s what God wants from us.
Father, thank you for reminding us that you are willing to talk with your people if we will listen. Help us to be still and know that you are God. Remind us that listening to you also involves doing what you tell us to do.
Guard us against the temptation to think that we know what you want; help us to seek your direction each day. Help us to ask specifically, so we’re prepared to hear whatever you want to tell us. And after we do what you direct us to do, remind us to praise you for the results. David declared, “God did it!” after his victory over the Philistines. Help us to say, “God did it!” for every victory and every answered prayer.
Show us your way today, Father. And as we walk in your way, give us the strength to do everything that you have planned for us. Amen.