Prayer and psalm 86
by Joseph Jagde
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Psalm 86 reads from the New Oxford Annotated Bible as follows: Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy, Preserve my life, for I am devoted to you, save your servant who trusts in you, You are my God, be gracious to me, O Lord, For to you do I cry all day long, For to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul, For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, Abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you, Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer, Listen to the cry of my supplication, In the day of trouble I call on you, For you will answer me, There is none like you among the gods, O Lord, Nor are there any works like yours, All nations you have made shall come, And bow down before you, O Lord, And shall glorify your name, For you are great and do wondrous things, You alone are God, Teach me your way, O Lord, That I may walk in your truth, Give me an undivided heart to revere your name, I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, And I will glorify your name forever, For great is your steadfast love toward me, You have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol, O Og, the insolent rise up against me; A band of ruffians seeks my life, And they do not set you before them, For you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. Turn to me and be gracious to me; give your strength to your servant: save the child of your serving girl. Show me a sign of your favor, so that those who hate me may see it and be put to shame, Because you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.
> In this psalm, David is stating his pleas, that he feels poor and needy as he seeks the Lord in prayer. These aren’t exactly the most positive self characterizations, but he feels he needs to be clear about the truth of what is happening to him and see it for what it really is. He professes his devotion to the Lord and describes that he cries to the Lord, or calls upon him all day long. He speaks of the day of trouble, something that of course can come upon anybody. In the day of trouble, he doesn’t expect the Lord to disappear on him, but to incline his ear to him and listen to him.
The key verse to this psalm is verse 5, which says,” For you, Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.”
This steadfast love, which includes the goodness and forgiveness to the individuals who call upon the Lord, is of such an abounding nature that is will usurp anything else that could be sought after, but also simply can be found no where else.
In verse 8 it says, “there is none like you among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like yours.”
These great works can not be found elsewhere including from the hands of pagan gods.
Verse 10 says, “You are great and do marvelous wondrous things, you alone are God.
This verse reiterates verse 8; these great and marvelous things are only found from the Lord. There is no other possible source for them. They arise out of his abounding love and this is the source of the Lord’s personal favor to given individuals.
In verse 13, this great love is directed personally to David. It says’ For great is your steadfast love toward me, you have delivered my soul from the depth of Sheol.”
The abounding and astounding love of God that is identified widely by David in this psalm, is also identified as personalized to him as an individual. He is able to classify some of these great works, that have also been seen widely by him, as indeed personalized to him as an individual. In the final verse 17 it says,
Show me a sign of your favor, so that those who hate me may see it and be put to shame, because you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me. Here is asks for signs, a sign that will be of the Lord’s favor upon him. He is in this particular case asking for such a sign will also be visible to his enemies, mentioned in verse 12 where it says, “ O God, the insolent rise up against me, a band of ruffians seeks my life, and they do not se you before them.” The signs he asks for would relate to something like the great works and wondrous things of the Lord mentioned in the earlier verses of the psalm, and he is trusting in the Lord for personal signs and personal great works for him as he starts off in verse 2 with referring to his trust. His trust extends from the abounding love of the Lord which he can call upon in prayer, and that within this abounding love are included great works and signs that accompany these great works. He is able to say with trust that the Lord has a steadfast love towards him personally and the signs he asks for are only signs of the Lord’s abounding love. The great works he has seen and trusts that he will continue to see are also from the abounding love of the Lord, an abounding love that is also held steadfastly for him personally. Verse 4 says, “Gladden the heart of your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift of my soul.” He sees the Lord as his very joy and the width and depth of this joy can only be increased by the goodness of the Lord.
Verses 11 and 12 say” Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth, give me an undivided heart to revere your name. I give thanks to you Lord with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever.
There is no reason to have a divided heart, given that the Lord’s love is so abounding, and that the Lord is the only source of wondrous things. The Lord’s love is so encompassing, that David would never get past it, to something else. If he does divide his heart, it is only to naught.
David doesn’t take thanksgiving lightly in this psalm. He says, he will give thanks with his whole heart. Being taught in the ways of the Lord is something that even the most knowledgeable need and if David himself wasn’t exempt from this then nobody is. The ways of the Lord are from realms we can only achieve a limited understanding of and the Lord does offer to teach us.
And if in this psalm, David is asking for signs of the Lord’s favor, knowing how favored he already was of the Lord when he composed this psalm, then anyone else in history should feel free to ask for signs of favor from the Lord as well as well as understand the possible importance of asking for signs from the Lord in prayer.
It is interesting that this is the one verse in the psalm, where David says that he will give something to the Lord and it is thanksgiving. When he says, you will teach me your way, it does imply that these capacities can be searched, known, followed and walked with. There is also a prominence to his mother in this psalm, to where he refers to the Lord as knowing her as “your serving girl.”
As this psalm relates to prayer, one key idea is to inquire as to signs from the Lord, relating to possible works coming on down the road. In the final verse of the previous psalm, psalm 85 verse 13 says, “Righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps.”
David sees and grasps elements of the Lord’s great love as applying to him personally. He characterizes it as containing graces, described in verse 16 where it says,” But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”
In the context of God mercy and grace given to an individual, he is slow to anger. He is not necessarily going to be gracious towards you and correspondingly angry. An example might be if the Lord does give the gift of healing to a lame person, is he going to be correspondingly mad if this person then starts walking again? If the Lord is getting angry about the misuse of the graces, he will reveal this slowly so that the adjustments can be made back to the center and proper use of the graces given.
This particular verse is something to meditate on as people sometimes fear or don’t fully understand the meaning of certain gifts from the Lord. If the Lord is giving this particular manner of grace, he is not correspondingly going to be angry with you as you go forward in this grace. Although the grace itself can be mysterious and not fully understood, as contained in wondrous things or great works of the Lord, they can be walked into as part of the truth of the Lord, as mentioned in verse 11. In the context of this psalm, thanksgiving is very important but this psalm is very much about wondrous things extending from the abounding love of the Lord that might not be easy to at first understand or grasp at. This is why thanksgiving should not be withheld until perfect or even a better understanding is found or arrived at of the Lord’s mysterious graces. With all the people in the world, how the Lord would have such a great love and singular love for one given individual is somewhat mysterious as well, but David does cite that this is true in his case, that this great love of the Lord is towards him.
One of the keys from this psalm is willingness in prayer to go into the mysteries of God’s great personal love, and thanksgiving for his ongoing often mysterious graces as a reality and true manifestation of the great individualized love as well as its possible outward manifestations which can include intercessions within prayer.
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