“Incline your ear O Lord, answer me; for I am afflicted and needy.” (Psalm 86:1) What are times we may have felt this way and appealed to God for help? Maybe I just received word of a life-threatening illness, or my marriage is falling apart, or I haven’t the money to pay what I owe, or I am tired of nobody liking me, or a family member was killed, or I have grown sick of a habit I can’t conquer. Circumstances happen that are beyond our control, or even that we have brought on ourselves, and we see no resolving it without divine intervention. The title of this Psalm simply says, “A prayer of David”. David was a man who had plenty of painful and stressful problems in his life, and this is obviously one of those times. In this situation, the Psalm writer faces a band of godless and violent men who are seeking his life. (Psalm 86:14) He has bullying enemies causing his affliction. God is his ultimate source of help. Not everyone turns to God in troublesome times. But Lord, as for me, I do not want to be like persons who feel there is no use praying because in the past you failed to answer them as they thought you should. I do not want to be like persons who are proud and self-sufficient who choose to believe that they can get through their afflictions by themselves. I do not want to treat you as one to whom I turn only in times of trouble. Nor do I want to keep going my own way, for it has not worked. Like David, I desire to have an ever-present God-consciousness where conversations with you are ongoing, and you are to me a familiar friend. Thank you, Lord, that you care about me when I am afflicted and needy, but I must admit that sometimes I am afraid and have difficulty trusting your goodness, even wondering if you will answer me.
“Preserve my soul, for I am a godly man, O You my God, save your servant who trusts in you.” (Psalm 86:2) How can anyone claim to be a godly person? David was guilty of adultery and murder. Can you or I say that we are godly persons? I am aware of other kinds of enemies that are causes of my afflictions - my failures, my fears, my selfishness, my self-righteousness, my false pride, my inability to love others as they need to be loved, and so forth. It seems to me a bit of a boast to say I am godly. But if I could claim this to be true of me, I would feel more worthy and have more confidence that God would hear and answer me. Is David here bargaining with God for his life? Is he deceiving himself? Is he saying, “God, I deserve for you to help me because I am living my life for you?” I do not think he is bargaining with God, nor deceiving himself, rather, I think David genuinely means it; he is a godly man. He and God are on the same side. He can say this because God is in his thoughts as a constant friend and companion. He is godly because he has an ongoing relationship with God and he wants to do God’s will. The Bible does say that David was “a man after God’s own heart”. (1 Samuel 13:14) This means that he listened to God and obeyed His word; not perfectly, nor all the time, but this is what he truly wanted to do and did do much of the time. (Acts 13:22) Whenever he saw his failures, he sincerely and humbly approached God with complete confession and repentance. (Psalm 32:1-7; 51:1-17) He was godly by virtue of the fact that he kept his heart right with God, and maintained a daily consciousness of God’s presence through meditation and personal conversations. He often consulted with God about what to do in certain situations. (1 Samuel 30:6-8) God was his number one priority. Although imperfect, He was indeed a godly man, one who did a lot of things God asked or commanded him to do, who served God, and who trusted God to be with him. Apparently he knew how to dispel those inner voices of the enemy that accused him of being ungodly
Like David, we too can claim to be godly, not due to our own righteousness, but because God, seeing that we believe His promises of salvation in Christ, declares us to be righteous. (2 Peter 1:1-11) We can know we are godly when we know that we are born of God and accepted by God as His beloved children, and feel in our hearts that we are intimately connected. We can know we are godly because of our desire to grow in His word, add to our faith, and live for His purposes. And, if we know that we have God’s invitation to come to Him, due to the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf, then, like David, we have confidence to come boldly to God and know that we have the right and privilege to ask him to save us in our threatening situation. (Hebrews 4:16) My Lord, as my loving Redeemer, and as your beloved child, I trust you to be with me and help me because I know you care about me. (1 Peter 5:7) My Lord, I trust you as my one great hope in this time of need. Thank you for your promise never to leave or forsake me. (Deuteronomy 31:6, 8; Hebrews 13:5)
“Be gracious to me, O Lord, for to you I cry all the day long.” (Psalm 86:3) We can be in such pain that we are in earnest and continuous contact with God to grant us relief. We can tell God how we wish things to be, but we remain open to whatever plans He may have. To ask for God’s grace is to ask for his mercy and power to help us. God knows our weakness. Jesus was one of us. He experienced what it is like to be in such pain that all we can do is call for relief. Not just once, but persistently, until God does something to change our situation, or to change us, or to give us strength to withstand our pain. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10) God wants us, in faith, to seek him for any need (Philippians 4:6) and He responds to those who do not lose heart in praying. (Luke 18:1-8)
“Make glad the soul of your servant, for to you O Lord I lift up my soul.” (Psalm 86:4) It is easy to let ourselves get downhearted, to feel gloomy, dejected, fearful and depressed about circumstances, or even about our perceived failures. This is one reason why people drink excessively – to drown the sorrows of a life filled with painful events and memories, filled with regrets and “what ifs”, and suffering heartache from self-blame. Gladness of soul is much needed to lift us out of our feelings of self-affliction, or affliction from outside sources. Oh, what a wonderful thing to feel good again – to laugh, to feel cheerful and happy and joyful, to look forward again to the good things life has to offer, and to greet each day with a willing spirit, engaging the hard issues and opportunities before us with the hope of a bright future. What brings about such gladness of heart? In David’s view, comfort and gladness comes when our meditation on God’s love, power, works, and mercy causes us to rise above our feelings of affliction and neediness. God, through prayer and the gift of His Spirit (Luke 11:9-13), will restore the joy of our salvation. (Psalm 51:11-12)
“For you, Lord, are good and ready to forgive, and abundant in loving kindness to all who call upon you.” (Psalm 86:5) When David turns his focus away from his own feelings of affliction, fear, weakness, sinful traits, self-pity, enemies, and neediness, to seeing who God is, his confidence that God will do something to help him grows. The Bible says that God is good to all people – He causes the sun to shine and the harvest rains to fall on all, good or bad. (Matthew 5:45) David had many experiences with God that could be remembered. He had called upon God many times and God helped him. When he sinned, he confessed his sin to God and experienced forgiveness (Psalm 32:1-4; 51) He called upon God for courage and strength to fight the enemies in his life and God helped him. (1 Samuel 17:34-37) We need to learn and believe that God is not a person we fear will fail us, but One who is waiting and ready to come to our aid. Think of God as the father to whom the prodigal son returns, wondering if his father will reject or accept him, and finding just what he needs, forgiveness and open arms to embrace and protect him. (Luke 15:20-24) If I think my sins keep God from helping me, I must remove the thought of them from my mind because God has forgiven those things and I am now a new person who no longer lives the former life, but I now live a life for God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Galatians 2:20)
Many do not recognize God’s goodness to them. I have a fish aquarium and I do good for my fish by feeding them every day and keeping their water clean and fresh so that they can survive and live a full life. I don’t know if my fish realize that I care about their well-being. At least, Hark and Herald, my two angel fish, come to the front of the glass and look at me when they see me coming, as if they know I’m the one dropping food to them. The other fish don’t seem to care. God created us and He created our environment and our food sources. He breathed into us the breath of life. He sent a redeemer to restore us to wholeness. Because we do not recognize it, does that mean He is not doing any good for us? He has done many good things for me, such as providing a way for me to overcome my evil nature, forgiving my guilt, guiding me to where I need to be, and granting me eternal life. Also, I have experienced many amazing and beneficial circumstances that can easily be attributed to God’s goodness.
I am sure it often happens that some have tried to believe God is good and they have called upon Him thinking He would help them, only to be disappointed by bad things happening and no help arriving. But what does goodness mean? To us goodness means that things will work out the way we want them to and that evil, with its suffering, is eliminated. But many have experienced goodness from God through the bad things that happen – a goodness that could not have come to them otherwise. It is sort of like parents who say to their children before disciplining them, “This is going to hurt, but it is for your own good.” I know such a statement seems trite to persons who are going through horrendous pain. But unless one has a loving relationship with God, and is seeking God’s wisdom, it will be very difficult to believe that God’s goodness can come by using the bad things that happen to us. Such good includes growing us into persons who are enabled to be rid of disabling lifestyles, attitudes, fears, and so forth. I think of the author of the song “Amazing Grace”. He wrote, “Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved.” First came the fearful circumstances, and then the relief. God’s grace and goodness often works through the bad things that happen in order to get us to the good things that we need. We know that evil things that happen to us are not good in themselves, but God is able to bring good out of them, and they will not destroy us. (Romans 8:28-39) For the Christ-follower, God is always good, no matter what. Job knew this when he said, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord”. (Job 1:21) Later he said, “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not adversity?” (Job 2:10) Job did not blame God for his adversity, but continued to hope in Him and learn from Him.
“Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer and give heed to the voice of my supplication.” (Psalm 86:6) Realizing that God is good, forgiving and loving to those who trust Him and call upon Him, gives us incentive and courage to go to him with our requests. (Hebrews 4:16) “Supplication” is a big word. It simply means to pray to God with humility and earnestness. Once I was hurting so badly from an affliction I was experiencing that I was depressed to the point that I felt I would lose my sanity. In my mind, I knew that God may want to use this situation to grow me more, but I also knew that unless God gave me the strength to bear it, I would crumble beneath its weight. So I said to God, “I do not ask you to take away this problem if it will benefit me or others, but just give me peace so I can endure it.” And, he did.
“In the day of trouble, I shall call upon you, for you will answer me.” (Psalm 86:7) In verse one he pleads, seemingly in the manner of a request, for God to answer him. Now, he is confident God will answer. What changed? His confidence in God’s goodness, forgiveness, and love has gripped his soul. He has seen who God is in the midst of his desperate cries and his prayer for help turns to praising God’s greatness.
“There is no one like you among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like yours. All nations whom you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and they shall glorify your name. For you are great and do wondrous deeds; you alone are God.” (Psalm 86:8-10)
Every nation surrounding Israel had gods that the people worshipped. Of course, they are not real gods and they have never shown themselves to do the kinds of things Israel’s God has done. As David prays, he is thinking of all the marvelous works of God. He knows about creation. He knows about the mighty power of God in bringing his people out of Egypt, culminating in the parting of the Red Sea and the destruction of Pharaoh’s pursuing army. He knew about the works of God through the prophets Elijah and Elisha: the miraculous feeding of the poor, the raising of the dead to life, and bringing rain to a drought-cursed land. He also could review the marvelous things God has done for him. Reviewing God’s works can be very encouraging. David also has a glimpse of the future – that one day all peoples that God has made will come and worship before Him, and they will glorify His name. God will be recognized as their Maker and the only true God with whom they have to do. (Philippians 2:9-11; Revelation 5:9-13) He is deserving of our worship for He is great and does wondrous deeds. It is not just that God has done great things in the past; He still does them and can work in my present situation.
“Teach me your way, O Lord, I will walk in your truth. Unite my heart to fear your name.” (Psalm 86:11) Once our fears are dispelled by experiencing God’s powerful love and we become aware that there is no greater good than His, our grateful and joyful heart desires to know Him better and to learn His ways. We do not want to lose such a God and the grace He provides. But, we need a heart that keeps putting Him first and never forgets Him, a heart that remains true and grows in His grace. That is why David prays for God to keep fear in his heart. I know that I can easily wander away. How can I be faithful to the only God of the universe who gives what I need for finding my way to peace and glory? I pray that God will put in my heart such a fear, such a deep reverence, respect, and awe for His name, that I will not want to turn away from all that is good and right. (Jeremiah 32:38-40) David knows that God’s Spirit is necessary for this to happen. (Psalm 51:11) God answers our prayer to knit our hearts together by uniting His Spirit with our own. (2 Chronicles 30:12; Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel 11:19; 36:24-27; John 17:21; Acts 4:32) Proper fear of God causes us to be very grateful and to desire to walk in His truth.
“I will give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with all my heart, and will glorify your name forever.” (by living how you want me to live) “For your loving kindness to me is great and you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.” (from the grip of death) “O God, arrogant men have risen up against me, a band of men have sought my life, and they have not set you before them.” (they have no fear of God and his good ways) “But you O Lord are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness and truth. Turn to me and be gracious to me; Oh grant your strength to your servant, and save the son on your handmaid.” (Psalm 86:12-16)
“Show me a sign for good, that those who hate me may see it and be ashamed, because you O Lord, have helped me and comforted me.” (Psalm 86:17) Do something good for me that shows you favor me – that let’s others know that I belong to you and that you support me as your beloved child – that shows them they are wrong to treat me like they do, and that makes it clear to them that they need to let God become their God too. Uphold my trust in you with something good; something that overpowers what they are trying to do to me; something that defeats their plans for evil and lets them see that greater is He who is in me than the evil one who is with them; something to show that God is on the side of those who belong to Him rather than on the side of those who do not acknowledge Him in their own lives. Let them see that you are with me. Give me what I need to be a testimony for you. Give me your strength in my present situation and save me. Let them see by my calm and hopeful and serving spirit that you are my God and that you help me and are my comfort. Help them feel ashamed that they have not acknowledged that you alone are worth knowing and following. Turn to me and be gracious to me that I might be helped and comforted in the face of my afflictions, not just for my sake, but as a witness to others, because they see your rejuvenating power and goodness in my life. Amen.