How many times have you sat down to talk to God and not known where to begin?
How many times have you promised a friend you’d pray for them … then struggled to find the right requests to make?
Or how many times have you given up on having a conversation with your Father in heaven because it’s too hard to say everything that’s on your heart?
King David, a man after God’s own heart, faced all these struggles and more, but he also left us a pattern for healthy and holy prayer.
The Psalms are a record of David’s conversations with God, through times of celebration and sorrow alike.
Although the Book of Psalms was written by several different authors, David was the primary contributor.
We can read about David’s life and relationship with God throughout the books of 1 and 2 Samuel.
David was as human as any of us.
He sinned, doubted, suffered, walked away from God, repented, and did it all over again.
But he was still called a man after God’s own heart.
And just how did this man talk to God? How did he confess his sins, make his requests, and lay down his burdens before his Father?
Let’s look at several principles of praying after God’s heart as illustrated through his most famous Psalm.
1. Remember God’s Provision and Protection
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” (Psalm 23:1)
David takes time in nearly every psalm to praise the Lord for his protection, forgiveness, and provision for both spiritual and physical needs.
In Psalm 23, David goes on to celebrate “green pastures,” “still waters,” and “paths of righteousness.”
All these things are grace from God and should not be taken for granted.
Likewise, we who follow Christ need to take time to recognize His hand of provision and protection.
When I pray through this portion of Psalm 23, I pause to reflect on the moments of peace in my life.
If I am currently in a spiritual or physical pasture of plenty, I praise God for His generosity in the present.
If I am in a valley of suffering, I focus on praising God for His generosity in the past and the future, even if I can’t appreciate it fully now.
2. Ask for God’s Forgiveness
“He restores my soul.” (Psalm 23:3)
This Psalm isn’t usually highlighted as a Psalm of confession or contrition.
But David still acknowledges the sinful state of his human soul and praises God’s forgiveness.
Sometimes it’s hard to imagine that my soul is worth restoring. How can I approach God when I’ve sinned so much?
Praying in the words of the Psalms always reminds me of God’s abundant grace and forgiveness.
I can always come to my Father, confess my failures, and ask Him to lead me in “paths of righteousness.”
3. Share Your Fears with God
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” (Psalm 23:4)
David had much to fear throughout his life: death, judgment, abandonment, war, loneliness, and even the responsibilities of being king.
In the Psalms, he faithfully confesses these fears to God and draws confidence in His presence.
There are many times in the past few years when I have wondered if I will ever make it through the valley of the shadow of death.
My fears are so many, and often so new and unexpected, that it’s hard to even start to name them.
How can I possibly admit to God that His daughter is so afraid of so much?
But the Psalms remind me that even David, a man who pursued God with his whole heart, had many fears.
So, I start by confessing the evils that I fear.
4. Ask for God’s Comfort
“For you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4)
God alone can comfort His people, and He yearns to do just that.
After David admits that he is indeed in the valley of the shadow of death, he focuses on the strength and power of God.
Though he is in the valley, his God is still present.
Again, sometimes I’m afraid to ask for God’s comfort. I fear I’m not worthy of it after sinning and falling so far short.
But the Psalms remind me to boldly ask—and to keep asking—for God’s comfort and the joy of His presence.
They also remind me to look for the signs of God’s presence around me, whether they are a rod and a staff or simply a ray of sunshine in the valley.
5. Fix Your Eyes on Eternity
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” (Psalm 23:6)
David closes this brief Psalm by telling himself the story of the future: eternity spent in “the house of the Lord.”
As believers, we also have this promise of a joyful eternity after our lives on earth.
It’s useful to spend time in prayer meditating on this truth. I can thank God for what’s coming and ask for strength to endure until that time.
Praying each day requires discipline, but praying through a Psalm often simplifies the process for me on days when I’m spiritually drained.
After I’ve prayed through a Psalm, I have the reassurance that I’ve both heard from and spoken to God.
Just like David, I’ve praised my Father, confessed my sins, told Him my fears, received His forgiveness and comfort, and looked forward to the time when I’m with Him forever.
This week, I encourage you to find your favorite Psalm and spend some time praying like David.