Praying for Our King
That seems odd to us but praying for the king is what we find the congregation doing here in the first half of Psalm 20:
May the LORD answer you in the day of trouble! May the name of the God of Jacob protect you! 2 May he send you help from the sanctuary and give you support from Zion! 3 May he remember all your offerings and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices! Selah 4 May he grant you your heart’s desire and fulfill all your plans! 5 May we shout for joy over your salvation, and in the name of our God set up our banners! May the LORD fulfill all your petitions! (vv.1-5)
David is set to lead the army into battle, and the people are asking God to give victory. They petition the Lord to grant King David his petitions for victory and protection, to send help from His holy sanctuary, to remember the king’s heart and devotion, as a faithful king, and to fulfill David’s battle plans.
We have a tendency to read ourselves into the texts of Scripture. So if we can’t find ourselves we dismiss a passage as irrelevant. We ask where is this text speaking of me, or how is it speaking to me. But we should read the bible more patiently and from sound principles of interpretation. So in Psalm 20, we might apply the petitions to our own daily lives, “Lord, help me in the day of trouble.” Or “Father, grant my heart’s desires and fulfill my plans.” Problem: you and I are not the King. This psalm is not about prayers for myself, but about the congregation praying for our King!
We have a King. He is the Jesus, the son of David according to the flesh, and the Son of God according to the Spirit of Holiness and resurrection (Romans 1:3-4). And we are to pray for him. Yes he prays for us, but he calls us to pray for His kingdom (Matt. 6:10 — “Your kingdom come”). Thus Psalm 20 highlights the call to pray for the advance of the sovereign reign of God through his Christ.
Right now Jesus reigns and his putting all things beneath his feet. He is executing his plans to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth. He is not bringing sacrifices, he is THE SACRIFICE FOR SIN, the true worshipper and eternal high priest. He asks of the Father who gives Him the nations as his heritage, the ends of the earth as his possession (Psalm 2:5). His rules in righteousness and will establish righteousness.
Once we are rightly oriented to this psalm–that it’s not first about us, but about Jesus–we see that it instructs us to sing and pray for the Messiah’s kingdom. With that orientation in place, we are in a better position to see how the psalm speaks to us.
First psalm 20 confronts our lack of concern for the Kingdom of God. We love the kingdom of God to be sure. But we don’t really pray that much or all the deeply for it because we are too preoccupied with daily lives. For most Christians, the kingdom of God is a remote reality, an irrelevant concept. If this is your attitude about Christ and his kingdom, you are either uninstructed or rebellious. You may very well not be a Christian. Your association with the Christian faith may be for the wrong reasons.
Additionally, Psalm 20, instructs us to yearn for the sovereign rule of God. But notice that this is a God centered yearning. We want to see Christ glorified. Too often the focus of Christian teaching is about overcoming personal problems. The focus is still on the self, not Christ. Ours is an age of self-help and self-improvement, and personal problem-solving. We live in a therapeutic culture and books and preaching often reflect therapeutic concerns. The bible’s ethical instruction focuses on our obedience in grace. The focus is upon God and submitting to his will.
The destruction of our King’s enemies is also in view in Psalm 20. Yes God has enemies. God does not love everyone equally and savingly. A scandalous thought in today’s Arminian climate to be sure. Yet Romans 1 speaks of the wrath of God being revealed from heaven. It is his anger at those who are rejecting him and worshipping counterfeits. God is turning his enemies over to their own sins as an act of his judgment. If we pray that God will give success to Jesus our King, we are asking him to destroy or remove those enemies. One has only to read the book of Revelation to see Jesus bringing his judgments upon those don’t bear his name. The bible is clear on these matters. God is not a tamed puppy dog, but an untamed lion, dangerous if you don’t relate to him though Christ, that is on his terms.
Psalm 20 instructs us to be confident that the Lord will bless his Kingdom. He will give him victory. As Christian we know that the decisive action has already taken place in our Lord’s death and resurrection. When we pray for the advance of his kingdom, we know that the battle has already been won. We are fully confident that he will complete his victory.