Do New Testament prayers differ from the Old Testament? But wait – the title says “how” – not “do”! So there must be differences. Aren’t we still praying to God? Well, yes. But there are differences between the Old and the New Covenants. Therefore, it’s not unreasonable to see differences in the way we pray today.
For instance, we know more about God.
And we know more about salvation and what that means.
Not everything. But more.
So yes, our prayers do differ.
But we can still use David’s “prayer” in this Psalm as an example of how to pray.
Psalm 17 A prayer of David. Ps 17:1 Hear, O LORD, my righteous plea; listen to my cry. Give ear to my prayer— it does not rise from deceitful lips. Ps 17:2 May my vindication come from you; may your eyes see what is right. Ps 17:3 Though you probe my heart and examine me at night, though you test me, you will find nothing; I have resolved that my mouth will not sin. Ps 17:4 As for the deeds of men— by the word of your lips I have kept myself from the ways of the violent. Ps 17:5 My steps have held to your paths; my feet have not slipped. Ps 17:6 I call on you, O God, for you will answer me; give ear to me and hear my prayer. Ps 17:7 Show the wonder of your great love, you who save by your right hand those who take refuge in you from their foes. Ps 17:8 Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings Ps 17:9 from the wicked who assail me, from my mortal enemies who surround me. Ps 17:10 They close up their callous hearts, and their mouths speak with arrogance. Ps 17:11 They have tracked me down, they now surround me, with eyes alert, to throw me to the ground. Ps 17:12 They are like a lion hungry for prey, like a great lion crouching in cover. Ps 17:13 Rise up, O LORD, confront them, bring them down; rescue me from the wicked by your sword. Ps 17:14 O LORD, by your hand save me from such men, from men of this world whose reward is in this life. You still the hunger of those you cherish; their sons have plenty, and they store up wealth for their children. Ps 17:15 And I—in righteousness I will see your face; When I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness.
Some background on Psalm 17
What kind of a psalm is Psalm 17? … it is more of a lament than anything else. The psalmist is in danger and is crying to God for protection and deliverance. But mostly Psalm 17 is a prayer. In fact, it is the first psalm explicitly called “a prayer” in the Psalter (“a prayer of David”).
As we begin to study Psalm 17, I want to suggest that it is a model prayer. It is urgent, perceptive, moving. But, most of all, it models prayer by the way the psalmist uses arguments to make his appeal to God. He does not merely ask for what he wants or needs. He argues his case, explaining to God why God should answer. This is something preachers in an earlier day used to urge on members of their congregations. Charles Haddon Spurgeon often did this. They recommended arguments, not because God needs to be persuaded to help his children—he does not—but because arguments force us to carefully think through what we are asking and to sharpen our requests. Spurgeon said of David, “David would not have been a man after God’s own heart if he had not been a man of prayer. He was a master in the sacred art of supplication.” 1
Psalm 17 doesn’t line up thought for thought with The Lord’s Prayer given to us by Jesus. But it does include praise, awareness of God’s awesome character, and requests.
It’s also important to take special note of something from the excerpt above.
He does not merely ask for what he wants or needs. He argues his case, explaining to God why God should answer. This is something preachers in an earlier day used to urge on members of their congregations. Charles Haddon Spurgeon often did this. They recommended arguments, not because God needs to be persuaded to help his children—he does not—but because arguments force us to carefully think through what we are asking and to sharpen our requests.
This kind of thinking, with discernment from the Holy Spirit, will keep us in line with the passage below about asking God for something.
Jesus the Way to the Father
Jn 14:5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
Jn 14:6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
Jn 14:8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”
Jn 14:9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves. 12 I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”
Notice – You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. Of course, Jesus doesn’t mean we can literally ask for anything! It must be something in line with what He taught and within the Father’s will. So, while we’re working on (praying about) our arguments to God related to the thing(s) we’re asking for, wisdom and discernment from the Holy Spirit will help us to know whether what we’re asking is in line with what Jesus said in the passage above.
How do our prayers differ today compared to thousands of years ago?
Eternity versus now
We’ve already considered Jesus when it comes to the things we ask for. He’s also the difference between Old Testament rewards that were relatively immediate and New Testament rewards that come in the next life. David’s Psalms do include prophecies about Jesus as Messiah and the things that change because of Him.
Verse 14 is one of them.
Ps 17:14 O LORD, by your hand save me from such men,
from men of this world whose reward is in this life.
You still the hunger of those you cherish;
their sons have plenty,
and they store up wealth for their children.
Let’s go through it, line by line, to see some differences.
O LORD, by your hand save me from such men
OK – David wanted to be saved from evil men. But look at Jesus’ prayer to the Father for us. By all means, read the whole thing. it’s a prayer for us who follow Him. But I’ll emphasize one verse for today’s topic.
Jesus Prays for His Disciples
Jn 17:6 “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. 8 For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. 9 I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. 11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name—the name you gave me—so that they may be one as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.
Jn 17:13 “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. 14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.”
Here’s that one verse I mentioned.
15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.
Yes – the protection is from the evil one. Jesus told us we would have trouble in this world. This life. But His prayer was to save us from Satan and his fallen angels. That’s now versus eternity.
from men of this world whose reward is in this life
Earlier, I mentioned the Lord’s Prayer. You’ll see below that the idea of rewards being in this life is part of the passage in Matthew where Jesus gave us that prayer.
Prayer – Matthew
Mt 6:5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Mt 6:9 “This, then, is how you should pray:
“ ‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
Mt 6:10 your kingdom come,
your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Mt 6:11 Give us today our daily bread.
Mt 6:12 Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
Mt 6:13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’ 14 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
The referenced verse is right there in the beginning.
Mt 6:5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.
This is one of three passages where Jesus says something about they have received their reward in full.
In this case, punishment for the evil comes, possibly in this life but, for sure in the next life. Whereas for the true follower of Jesus, there will be troubles in this life, as well as good things, but the ultimate reward will be in the next life.
You still the hunger of those you cherish;
their sons have plenty,
and they store up wealth for their children.
Things like having plenty, wealth, rewards, Etc., may or may not be in this life. But again, here’s another passage for what we should desire, as true followers of Jesus.
Treasures in Heaven
6:22, 23 pp — Lk 11:34-36
Mt 6:19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Mt 6:22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
Mt 6:24 “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”
Where does our righteousness come from?
Another difference between the Old and New Testaments concerns our righteousness. For instance, consider this verse:
Ps 17:15 And I—in righteousness I will see your face; When I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness.
In the Old Testament, The Law had a system of sacrifices to atone for sins that people committed.
But, as we know, under the New Covenant, Jesus was the once for all time sacrifice that paid for all our sins: past, present, and future. That’s exactly what the passage below, from Hebrews, is about.
Christ’s Sacrifice Once for All
Heb 10:1 The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. 2 If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. 3 But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, 4 because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
Heb 10:5 Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:
“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
but a body you prepared for me;
Heb 10:6 with burnt offerings and sin offerings
you were not pleased.
Heb 10:7 Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—
I have come to do your will, O God.’ ” 8 First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them” (although the law required them to be made). 9 Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. 10 And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
Heb 10:11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. 13 Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, 14 because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
Heb 10:15 The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:
Heb 10:16 “This is the covenant I will make with them
after that time, says the Lord.
I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds.” 17 Then he adds:
“Their sins and lawless acts
I will remember no more.” 18 And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin.
And there you have it. Nothing needs to be added to that.
Conclusion – Psalm 17 – How New Testament prayers differ from the Old Testament
There are 150 Psalms. This is just one of them that gives us a good template for praying to God. Even today. We just need to learn how things have changed between the Old and New Testaments / Covenants. Then adjust accordingly. And we have a good example of how we can pray.
It’s good for new Christians, of course, But it can also be good for long-time followers of Jesus when we just can’t quite figure out how to express ourselves.
During the darkest time of my life, I apparently did something I don’t even remember doing. I say apparently, because I found the evidence. Spiral notebooks, in my writing, where I just copied Psalms. Not in any obvious order. It’s like I must’ve just randomly picked one. And then copied it.
Even if we don’t change anything, they’re still praise for God. Acknowledgment of His awesome power. Realization of how much He cares about and for us, and how much He loves us. So when we go through them in a prayerful fashion, it’s also acknowledgment from us to Him about all those things and more. In that way, it’s also a cry to Him for help. And that’s how David began this Psalm.
Ps 17:1 Hear, O LORD, my righteous plea;
listen to my cry.
Give ear to my prayer—
it does not rise from deceitful lips.
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
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