Ask God Better Questions: Learning to Pray Specific Prayers
1 Chronicles 13:3-4
“Let us bring the ark of our God back to us, for we did not inquire of it during the reign of Saul.” The whole assembly agreed to do this, because it seemed right to all the people.
1 Chronicles 14:10, 13-14 NIV
“So David inquired of God: “Shall I go and attack the Philistines? Will you deliver them into my hands?” The Lord answered him, “Go, I will deliver them into your hands.” … Once more the Philistines raided the valley; so David inquired of God again, and God answered him, “Do not go directly after them, but circle around them and attack them in front of the poplar trees.”
Back before the ark of the covenant played a starring role in the first Indiana Jones movie, it was a central part of the ancient Hebrews' worship. This wooden box, overlaid with gold, represented the presence of God. Apparently, the ark was also used to help the nation's leaders discern the will of God.
Here's what's alarming: Saul was king for forty years. If we're to believe what David says here, it seems like the people had gone four whole decades without specifically asking God how they should proceed on major decisions. But David is modeling a new kind of leadership. He's coming with a humble heart, not the arrogance of a self-assured gunslinger. David knows the stakes are too high for him to proceed without God's wisdom and clear leading. Not only does he bring the ark back to town, but he gives a clinic in how to use it correctly.
Somebody once said, "If you want specific answers, pray specific prayers." It's exactly what David does here. He asks God a simple, specific question: "Should I go and attack the Philistines? Yes or No?" David comes with the innocence of the shy 7th grade boy who sends a note across the classroom, via his friends, to the girl he's crushing on. "Do you like me? Check Yes or No." Maybe we muddy our prayers up with clauses and prepositions and complex layers, when all God wants is a simple "yes or no" question.
But it wasn't enough for David to know that he should engage in combat, he wants to know how. When in doubt, inquire of God. Then do it again. And again. Then one more time, until you have all the clarity you need. And God, being kind and gracious, tells David how to attack (from the flank) and where (in front of the trees). It's not absurd to assume that if God is leading us to do something, He wants to show us how to pull it off. You can be a person who charges headlong into every scenario with your ego and assumptions. Or you can inquire of the Lord at every turn. One of these approaches yields consistently better results. Always.