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Psalm 86: Our Prayers and God's Character Print E-mail
Sunday, 12 August 2012

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There are times when it is hard to know what to pray.  We donít always know what to ask for because we may not really be sure what we need.  Or maybe we are not sure what to say because of the context (like me praying at the Rodeo on Thursday night).  Sometimes we are just at a loss, not sure where to begin and what to say.  Thankfully, the Bible teaches us how we are to pray.  Not only do we have specific prayers from those who have gone before us to imitate (like Hezekiah that we looked at earlier or the Lordís prayer), but we have the whole book of psalms which is a collection of prayers and praise offered to God.  As we have noted before, there are identifiable patterns in the content of the psalms.  We have psalms of lament and psalms of praise, which follow similar structural patterns.  Likewise, we have certain themes that show up repeatedly in the psalms: Godís help in Israelís past (specifically saving them from Egypt) or the steadfast love of the Lord (which we see in our psalm today).

One pattern that we see repeatedly is the connection between the requests of the psalmist and the character of God.  As I have preached through the psalms over the past seven years, this pattern has appeared again and again in the psalms.  We see this connection in our psalm this morning.  It is a pattern that I believe we need to practice in our prayers.  Thus, what I want to do in our time together this morning is examine Davidís prayer in Psalm 86 and notice the connection between his requests and his rest in Godís character.  Then at the end I want to come back and talk about how this pattern of prayer should impact our prayers.  So then, letís begin by looking at Davidís prayer, which I think we break up into three sections.

Section One (v. 1-7)

David begins this psalm with a number of requests.  Look at verses 1-4.  Notice all of the requests: incline your ear, preserve my life, save your servant, be gracious to me, gladden the soul.  Davis is longing for the Lord to give him grace and help.  It is hard to know from this psalm what circumstances David was facing when he wrote it.  But it is obvious that he is crying out the Lord for help.  He wants the Lord to hear him and answer him and save him and give him joy.  I particularly appreciate Davidís cry: gladden the soul of your servant.  David longs for joy and he knows that it comes from the Lord.  David does offer some reasons in these verses why he hopes and believes the Lord will in fact help him: I am poor and needy, I am godly (or Ďloyalí), I am one who trusts in you, to you do I cry all the day, and to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.  So David is crying to the Lord because he is needy and because he belongs to the Lord.  He is the Lordís servant who knows to cry out to the Lord for help, which leads to the main reason why he makes these requests to God.

David cries out to God because he rests in the Lordís character.  Look at verse 5.  The Lord is good and forgiving, He is abounding in steadfast love.  David cries out to God for help and grace because he knows that God is good, forgiving, and abounding in love.  The basis of his prayer is not his own goodness or his own worthiness.  Rather, it ultimately rests in Godís character.

Again, David cries out to the Lord in verses 6-7.  Look at those with me.  Notice the connection between these verses and verse 5.  David Ďcalls upon the Lordí because he knows that God Ďabounds in steadfast love to those who call upon him.í  David knows that God will give help and grace to those who ask God for it.  Thus, he asks.  He makes his requests to God because he is confident that the Lord will indeed hear him and respond.  He knows that he can turn to the Lord in the day of my trouble because he knows the character of God.

Section 2 (v. 8-13)

David describes Godís character even more in verses 8-10.  Look at those with me.  Only God is God.  All of the other Ďgodsí are nothing compared to the Lord.  In fact, we know that they are nothing.  There is only one, true God.  God is the only Creator who has spoken everything into existence, including the nations.  They will one Day worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name.  We know that the fulfillment of this passage will take place when Christ returns.  We read of it in Revelation 4-5.  Through the work of Jesus Christ, men from every tongue, tribe, and nation will worship God around His throne.  David did not know all of the details, but he knew the nations would come and worship.  He knew that the Lord was great.  He knew that there was only one God.

And such knowledge of Godís great character caused him to cry out to God for help and grace.  Look at verse 11.  David longs to walk in your (Godís) truth.  He wants to honor the Lord with his life and the practice of his faith.  So then, what does he request?  Teach me your way, O Lord.  He asks the Lord to teach him His way.  He wants to know the truth of God, how else could he walk in such truth?  I think we see in this the connection between our beliefs about God and obedience to God.  We see that doctrine informs our practice, belief our behavior.  For example, do you want to love people more?  Then ask the Lord to show you how He loves people.  DO you want to be more giving and more sacrificial?  Then ask the Lord to show you how He gives and how He has sacrificed.  What we believe was never meant to be separated from how we live.  Rather, the two belong together.  We must say to God: ĎLord show us your character so that we might learn to live your truth.í  Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth.

And once again David moves from a request to resting in Godís character, only this time he begins with praise of God.  Look at verses 12-13.  After reflecting on Godís greatness and His rule over all nations, David pauses to offer God praise.  It is hard to reflect and rest in Godís character without offering Him praise, which is another reason why reflecting on His character is so important in prayer.  He speaks again of Godís steadfast love in verse 13.  God has delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.  It is hard to know exactly what David is referring to here, but for us it is not hard.  God has delivered us from all our enemies by sending Christ to die on a cross for our sins.  God loved us so much that He sent us Christ to give Himself for us.  David praises God for delivering his soul, resting his requests in His character.  Likewise, we should always pray in light of Godís deliverance of us at the cross.  His love and mercy and salvation should cause us to erupt in praise and to be confident in our prayers.

Section 3 (v. 14-17)

The final section begins with a more specific request for help and grace.  Look at verse 14.  Again, we do not know the circumstances and many situations from Davidís life could fit such a description.  He is being hunted by a band of ruthless men.  Thus, he cries out to God for help.

And what is the hope of his cry?  Look at verse 15.  Once again, David rests in the character of God.  This particular passage is taken from Exodus 34, where God reveals Himself to Moses.  Thus, David knows Godís Word.  He knows the character of God because God has made Himself known through the Word.  And David is a student of that Word, even quoting from it in His prayers and praise.  Why does David cry out to God in the day of trouble when ruthless men are seeking his life?  Because he knows that God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.  He knows Godís character and thatís why he pours out his soul to Him. 

David ends the psalm with a few more requests for help and grace.  Look at verses 16-17.  Again, David is crying out to the Lord for grace.  He asks for the Lord to turn and be gracious to me.  He asks for strength and salvation.  He even asks for the Lord to show him a sign of Godís favor so that his enemies will know that God has helped him.  David makes his requests known to the Lord.  He comes to God for help and grace.

So then, from this psalm we see two major ideas: Davidís request for help and grace, and Davidís rest in Godís character.  His requests are always connected to Godís character.  In three different places he writes of Godís steadfast love toward him.  Because of who God is, what He has revealed of Himself in His Word, David can make his requests with confidence.

What about your prayers?  What about my prayers?  When we pray do we pray like David?  Do we follow this pattern in our prayers?  I took the time this week to take out all of the references to Godís character in Psalm 86 so that I could hear what Davidís prayer would sound like without them.  Do you know what convicted me the most about it?  I was convicted by the fact that my prayers often sound more like what I came up with.  In other words, instead of praying like David and resting in Godís character, I often just come to the Lord will all my requests.  And I focus so much on the requests that sometimes I forget to whom I am praying. 

Thus, I want to encourage you and encourage myself to follow this pattern of David in our prayers.  Yes, we need to make our requests known.  Yes, we need to come before the Lord asking for help and grace and strength and protection and salvation.  We need to ask for all of this and more.  But we need to always do it resting in the character of our Lord.  We need to tell ourselves over and over again that no one is like the Lord.  He is good and forgiving.  He is great.  He does wondrous things.  He has delivered our souls at the cross.  He is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.  We need to meditate on these truths when we pray.  We need to tell ourselves over and over again of Godís steadfast love toward us.  For it is in meditating on His character that we find the boldness and confidence to make our requests known.  And if we do this enough, then even in the midst of our Ďday of trouble,í we will be able to say to the Lord: I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 22 August 2012 )

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