By Christopher Raley
Pop quiz! What is an imperative verb?
An imperative verb gives an order or command. Stop that! Put that down! Read your homework! Give me an Excedrin! In these examples the speaker is telling someone to do something that is, well, imperative.
We often associate use of the imperative verb with being bossy. This gives it a negative connotation. But this is not necessarily the case in scripture. In the Psalms we find this verb form used quite often. In fact, without the imperative verb, David would not have had much of a prayer life.
Consider Psalm 25. David’s use of the imperative verb here tells us something different about him than our common association with the verb form would lead us to believe. In this psalm the demand has an undeniable tone of desperation. David pleads with God, and this shows, at least in part, why he was a man after God’s heart.
David places his soul in the hands of the only one who can save it. In verses 1 and 2 David begins his prayer to God with a statement of trust because he knows that only God can affect the change that David is looking for: “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust.”
The imperatives David uses tell us something about the kind of change he needs. Let, make, teach, lead, remember, don’t remember, pardon, turn, be gracious, bring, consider, forgive, guard, and redeem all speak of David’s desperate need for forgiveness and a trustworthy God to lead him in the right path.
Verse 4 is not the statement of a spoiled man. A man who asks to be instructed is a submissive man: “Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths.”
Or look at verse 18: “Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins.” A demanding man doesn’t want anyone to think too hard about his trouble, especially if it is a result of his sin, as this verse implies. And he doesn’t want forgiveness, he wants to let it slide. But a contrite man pleads for forgiveness because he knows that is his greatest need.
David’s “demands” reveal something crucial in his understanding of God’s character. David trusts God’s goodness enough to know that fulfilling promises is God’s own divine imperative. Knowing this will change the way you pray, too.