Praying can lead to pondering. And, pondering can lead to praying. They go well together and the Psalms often combine the two.
There are several good synonyms used to define ponder (and I’ll use various ones): meditate, consider, deliberate, contemplate, and muse. The longer definition of ponder that appeals to me is “To weigh in the mind, with thoroughness and care.” It’s not just a quick thought and then move on – the thoroughness and care are critical.
David gives a good example of praying and pondering in Psalm 143. “Hear my prayer, O LORD; give ear to my pleas for mercy! In your faithfulness answer me, in your righteousness! Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you.” (v1-2). David prays for mercy, and then considers that on his own, he isn’t righteous before God.
In verses 3 and 4, he ponders to the point of “Woe is me!”
“For the enemy has pursued my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead. Therefore my spirit faints within me; my heart within me is appalled.” (v3-4)
Then his contemplation turns in the right direction:
“I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands. I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. Selah” (v5-6)
And, David finishes the Psalm with combinations of praying and pondering – acknowledging how much he needs God’s help and mercy, and giving the reasons he is asking for that help and mercy. David concludes that all will be well because he is God’s servant.
“Answer me quickly, O LORD! My spirit fails! Hide not your face from me, lest I be like those who go down to the pit. Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. Deliver me from my enemies, O LORD! I have fled to you for refuge! Teach me to do your will, for you are my God! Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground! For your name’s sake, O LORD, preserve my life! In your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble! And in your steadfast love you will cut off my enemies, and you will destroy all the adversaries of my soul, for I am your servant.”(v7-12)
It is good for us to ponder long on the goodness and greatness of God, and meditate on what He has done for us. The more we thoroughly and carefully ponder those things, the deeper our prayer life will be.