If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Psalm 86, and you will notice as you turn to this Psalm that it is a Psalm of David. Now, there's nothing surprising about a Psalm of David. There is something unique about a Psalm of David in the Third Book of the Psalms. This is the only Psalm of David in the Third Book of the Psalms. The Psalms are divided into three books, and we've been studying this Third Book that takes us all the way to Psalm 89.
This is the only Psalm or prayer of David in the Third Book of the Psalms, and interestingly, like some of the other Psalms around it, there is a solemn, somber mood to this Psalm. David feels alone, he feels isolated, he feels under duress, under persecution. He's crying out for God's help and salvation, His justice on his behalf; and it will be very apparent to us as we look at this Psalm that David is even struggling to get the petitions out of his heart and out of his mouth. Isn't it interesting? As we work through this Psalm, he is over half-way through this Psalm before he can get the first petition out of his mouth.
Have you ever been there before? You’re trying to pray, and you just can't get the prayer to come out. Well, David is wrestling with all his might to get a prayer to come out in this Psalm, and it's not until verse 11 that he finally gets one to come out. So if you've ever struggled, you were in such a hard spot that you couldn't get the petition out, David's right there with you.
And God is so good that He put this song right in the middle of Israel's songbook, so that on any given gathering of the worship of the people of God in the old covenant, people that were struggling with situations so difficult that they couldn't get a prayer out to God could sing a song that described exactly where they were, and yet gave them hope and victory at the end.
As we look at this Psalm, I want to look at it in three parts. Look at first of all the first ten verses. Verses 1-10 focus, notice, on the character of God. Then secondly, if you look at verses 11-13, this Psalm focuses on the believer's relationship with God, and actually there are three specific prayers that David lifts up in that second part about his relationship with God. And then in verses 14-17, the believer lifts up specific requests to God in the context of the problem that he's praying to God about. So that's what we’ll do. We’ll look first at the character of God as it's revealed in verses 1-10; then, the desire for right relationship with God as it's revealed in verses 11-13; and, then, the requests of the believer in the midst of his problem. Before we do read God's word and hear it proclaimed, let's pray and ask for His help and blessing.
Our Lord and our God, as we've already prayed tonight, if You do not open our hearts, if You do not open our eyes to see wonderful things in Your word, if You do not open our ears to hear the truth and to respond to it in faith, then that truth will fall on deaf ears; and it will, no matter how large and bright and glorious it is, not appear to blind eyes. And it won't get through to hard hearts or discouraged hearts. You know our circumstances, God; open our eyes, our ears, our hearts to Your word tonight, and glorify Yourself. In Jesus' name. Amen.
This is God's word:
“A Prayer of David.
“Incline Thine ear, O Lord, and answer me;
For I am afflicted and needy.
Do preserve my soul, for I am a godly man;
O Thou my God, save Thy servant who trusts in Thee.
Be gracious to me, O Lord,
For to Thee I cry all day long.
Make glad the soul of Thy servant,
For to Thee, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
For Thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive,
And abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon Thee.
Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer;
And give heed to the voice of my supplications!
In the day of my trouble I shall call upon Thee,
For Thou wilt answer me.
There is no one like Thee among the gods, O Lord;
Nor are there any works like Thine.
All nations whom Thou hast made shall come and worship before Thee, O Lord;
And they shall glorify Thy name.
For Thou art great and doest wondrous deeds;
Thou alone art God.
“Teach me Thy way, O Lord;
I will walk in Thy truth;
Unite my heart to fear Thy name.
I will give thanks to Thee, O Lord my God, with all my heart,
And will glorify Thy name forever.
For Thy lovingkindness toward me is great,
And Thou hast delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.
“O God, arrogant men have risen up against me,
And a band of violent men have sought my life,
And they have not set Thee before them.
But Thou, O Lord, art a God merciful and gracious,
Slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth.
Turn to me, and be gracious to me;
Oh grant Thy strength to Thy servant,
And save the son of Thy handmaid.
Show me a sign for good,
That those who hate me may see it, and be ashamed,
Because Thou, O Lord, hast helped me and comforted me.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
It's interesting, isn't it? David doesn't divulge the problem that is the setting of this Psalm until the fourteenth verse. Do you notice that? David in this Psalm moves from God to his relationship with God, and then finally the problem that prompted him to pray to God last. It's quite remarkable, isn't it? Normally when we're under intense duress, the first thing we do is express to God the problem that we find ourselves in, and I think it's a remarkable testimony that David doesn't get to the problem until the very end.
He starts with God: the character of God. He moves to his relationship with God. Then he describes the problem and lifts up specific requests, already having been instructed in his heart by what he has forced himself to remember about God and His character and to desire about his relationship with God. There's a great message in that for us. Let's walk, then, through this Psalm: God; God's character; and David's request.
I. The character of God.
First, in verses 1-10 you see David here meditating on God, thinking about His character. But the bottom line is that in the first ten verses David is basically coming up with arguments as to why God ought to hear his prayer in the first place. David is arguing with himself, because he's under such pressure he's having a hard time getting a prayer out, and so he is arguing with his own soul to pray. And in order to argue with his own soul to get him to pray, he starts making arguments as to why God ought to hear his prayer in the first place.
And before we look at those specific arguments, don't we learn from that that great principle that the Puritans used to say, “Pray until you pray”? That there are some times when you are absolutely dry and empty, and you try to pray and you can't pray. What do you do when that happens? You pray until you pray.
And David is having…he wrestles for ten solid verses before he can get a petition out, and what is he doing? He's arguing with himself. ‘David, this is why you ought to pray. This is why God will listen to you. This is why you need to go to God with your prayer request, no matter how bad things are. These are the reasons why you ought to have confidence that your prayers will be heard, and therefore you ought to pray them.’ So we learn from this that great principle, “Pray until you pray.”
Look at the arguments. By the way, did you count them up? In verses 1-10 he mounts thirteen arguments as to why God ought to hear his prayer. Did you notice that? Look at verse 1. His first argument is ‘Lord, I'm needy. That's why You need to hear my prayer. I'm needy.’ We sang tonight I Need Thee Every Hour, a hymn in part meditating on that very verse, Psalm 86:1. And David is saying ‘Lord, I need You to hear my prayer, because I'm needy. I'm afflicted. I'm in a situation where I need You.’ And so his first argument is ‘Lord, hear my prayer. Enable me to pray because I need You.’
But his second argument is ‘Lord, I'm a godly man.’ Now understand, David is not saying ‘Lord, I'm a godly man; I haven't sinned. Lord, I'm a godly man; I'm perfectly righteous in this situation that I find myself in.’ Did you notice that later in this Psalm he recognizes that he still has to ask forgiveness, so he's saying ‘I'm in a really tight spot, and some of it may be my fault’ but he can still say ‘Lord, I'm a godly man.’ And what does he mean? He means ‘Lord, I am a man that loves God. I'm a man that longs, that desires fellowship and communion with God. I'm not a perfect man, I'm not a sinless man, but I am a man who wants God.’ And after all, the Lord did say, “David is a man after My own heart.” That's what David is saying. He's just saying ‘Lord, You know me. You know I want You. You know I desire You. You know I love You. I'm not a man running off in love with the world; I'm in love with You. So hear me.’
And then notice what he says in verse 2 again. He says ‘Lord, hear me because I trust You. O God, save Your servant who trusts in You. Lord, hear my prayer because I trust You. I depend on You. I'm dependent upon You. I believe in You. I have faith in You.’
Fourthly, notice he argues ‘Lord, hear me because I'm crying out to You.’ [Verse 3 — “Be gracious to me O Lord, for to You I cry all day long.”] ‘Lord, hear me. I'm crying to You, I'm begging You; I'm pleading with You. I'm sprawled out on the floor before You, begging You to help me.’
Fifthly, notice what he goes on to say. His soul desires God. Look at what he says. “Make glad the soul of Your servant, for to You, O Lord, I lift up my soul.” It's to You that my soul is lifted up; it's You that my soul desires.
Sixthly — now notice what happens here. The first five arguments have been about what? They've been about David. All the rest of the arguments are about God, and he starts off with acknowledging as much as he can about his own desire for God, but then he recognizes he can't rest in that. No, if he's ever going to get any ability to pray to God, what he's going to have to rest in is something more sure than himself, and so all the rest of the arguments are based on who God is.
Notice what he says in verse 5: “For You, Lord, are good.” There's his first argument about God. ‘My God is good.’ And understand, you only have that in one phrase. I wonder how many times David had to say that to himself in that prayer before he could believe it, in the spot that he was in. I wonder how many times. I wonder how he had to wrestle with that thought. I wonder how many directions he had to attack that sentence, “Lord, You’re good.” Because you understand he's not experiencing the goodness of the Lord wherever he is, or at least he's not conscious of his experience of the goodness of the Lord where he is right now. He's so snowed under, and so he starts off, ‘Lord, You’re good. I know You are.’ I wonder how many arguments he used to get at that particular argument.
And then he goes on to say ‘Lord, You’re ready to forgive.” [Verse 5 again.] Lord, You’re good, and ready to forgive. You see, there's David acknowledging ‘It's not that I'm without any wrong. It's not that I'm without any sin. It's not that I'm without any fault, even in this mess that I'm finding myself in. But, You are ready to forgive.’
Eighth, notice what he says about Him — verse 5: “You’re abundant in lovingkindness….” ‘God, You’re abounding in love. Hear me!’
Ninth, notice what he says: “Give heed to the voice of my supplications! In the day of my trouble …You will answer me.” ‘You’re a God who answers, so hear me.’
Tenth, there's no one like You. “There is no one like You among the gods, O Lord.” It's an acknowledgement of the absolute uniqueness of God.
‘No one can do the things that You do.’ (That's the eleventh argument.) “Nor are there any works like Yours.”
Where's the twelfth argument? ‘Lord, You know that there's going to be a day when all the nations come and worship and glorify You.’ [Verse 9.]
And thirteenth, “You alone are God.”
So David is mounting up on all these arguments. Why? It's the soul of the believer, lonely and in trouble and under duress, arguing with his own soul to pray. And so, my friends, if there are times that you can't get the prayer out of your mouth, or, if you can, you can't get it above the ceiling, turn to Psalm 86. David's been there. And pray until you pray. That's the first thing I want you to see in this Psalm.
II. The believer's relationship with God.
Notice where David goes now. To get him to pray, he's spent most of his time in this first section thinking about who God is. God's good. He's ready to forgive. He's abounding in love. He answers prayer. There's no one like Him. There's no one who does the things that He does. All the nations are going to worship Him. He alone is God.
Now he's going to think, before he ever states what his trouble is, ‘Lord, whatever my trouble is now, the main thing is that I have the right relationship with You. No matter what's happening to me right now, the most important thing is that I have the right relationship with You.’ And so look at where he goes next, in verses 11-13.
Here we see an expression of David's soul desire for right relationship with God, and we see something of the importance of the believer's relationship with God: “Teach me Your way, O Lord. I will walk in Your truth.” And so, you know how walking is a good Hebrew metaphor for living, and the way is a good Hebrew metaphor for the way that God intends us to relate to Him. “I will walk in Your way, O Lord; I will walk in your truth. Teach me Your way, O Lord; I will walk in Your truth.” And so he prays ‘Lord, show me how to live in Your truth, to live the way that You want me to live.’
And then he says in a beautiful prayer, “Unite my heart to fear Your name.” We’re going to come back and think about the first part of that prayer totally separately, because it just deserves that kind of consideration. It's an extraordinary prayer. It has echoes of what Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount about having an undivided heart and a single eye, and all those things.
But notice what he's asking for. He's asking God to give him the fear of God. You remember in the Old Testament the soul of religion is summed up with a phrase: the fear of God. And it means a reverence, an awe — not a slavish, cringing fear that God is going to zap you, but an awe that this is the God who made the world that we have to do with, and it's an awe that's mingled with an affection for God. And the Old Testament says that's the heart of religion, to have that kind of a view of God and response of the heart to God. And he says ‘Lord, work that in me. Give me a fear for Your name, a reverence, an awe, an awesome affection for Your name.’
And then notice what he says: “I will give thanks to You, O Lord my God, with all my heart.” So he's saying ‘Lord, it's absolutely important in the midst of this problem that I do — what? — that I thank You. I'd be very tempted right now not to be thankful because of this problem that I'm dealing with, but I realize that I need to be thankful because You've given me everything that I have and am.’
So he asked the Lord to show him how to live in His truth, how to fear His name, and how to be thankful for His mercies, and then he says, “And I will glorify Your name forever.” So what's that about? Worship. Isn't it interesting? This guy is in the middle of a tight spot, and he's praying petitions to God that God would show him how to live, show him how to reverence God, show him how to be thankful, and show him how to worship. You see, he's more concerned about his relationship with God than anything else.
Now let's go back and look at that little phrase in verse 12, “Unite my heart….” It's quite extraordinary. What is he saying? He wants a heart that is not sort of tugged towards the world and loving the things of the world, and sort of tugged to God — divided heart, moving in two different directions. He wants a heart that is wholly and solely focused upon God, upon His glory, upon His relationship with God, enjoying God, glorifying God forever. He wants a single mind. He wants to be utterly focused and devoted to that one truth, that one thing, and that is the one true God. “Unite my heart….” Isn't that a beautiful prayer? Because we all know that tug of the world.
Some of you heard the State of the Union message last night, and in the State of the Union message, our President mentioned one Marine sergeant who was killed in Iraq in early December, Sgt. Dan Clay. He was the nephew of Rod Clay, who is the PCA minister in Greenville, South Carolina, at Second Presbyterian Church, one of our sister congregations, the congregation that I grew up in. And on the Marine Corps Moms website the whole letter that Bud Clay, Dan's dad, wrote to President Bush after his son was killed is listed there. And Bud wrote to President Bush and said that “My son, Dan, was a Christian. He knew Jesus as Lord and Savior, and so we know where he is. And in his final letter to us, the one that was left for his family to be read in case of his death, he said to us, ‘If you are reading this, it means my race is over.’” And Bud went on to say to the President that he wanted to tell the President how proud and thankful he was [Bud, Dan's dad] of President Bush. It is a heart-rending letter to read.
But then, part of Dan's letter to his family is listed on the website, and this is how Dan describes…he says, now, family, if you’re reading this letter it means my race is over. He says this to them:
“But here is something tangible. What we have done in Iraq is worth any sacrifice. Why? Because it was our duty. That sounds simple. All of us have a duty. Duty is our God-given task. Without duty, life is worthless. It holds no type of fulfillment. The simple fact that our bodies are made to work has to lead to the conclusion that God has put us together to do His work, and His work is different for each one of us.”
And he starts describing the different things that God had called different members of his family to do. He said, “Mom, your work was to be the glue of our family.” Then he starts going through the rest of them, and he said,
“My work was to be here and to defend my country. And even though I have died in doing it, it was my duty and I don't regret it.”
“I've had the privilege of being one who has finished the race. I have been in the company of heroes, and now I'm going to be counted among them. But don't hesitate to honor and support those of us who have had the honor of protecting that which is worth protecting.”
Now one of the things that stands out — and there are a thousand things that stand out about that whole exchange — is here is a man who is wholly and solely focused on one thing, and he does not even regret his death, because he was doing what he was made for. And you see David's asking for that. He's saying ‘Lord God, give me such a focus on the one thing that matters that everything else is put into perspective.’
How did that family cope with the loss of that son? Because they shared that same focus on the only hope that there really is in this world.
III. The believer's requests.
Well, one last thing…to the final section of this Psalm. Finally, now, he gets to tell you the problem. And the problem is he's got arrogant ungodly men that have risen up against him and are trying to kill him. Not all of us have that kind of problem every day. David did! It's a pretty big problem, but it's verse 14 before he tells you about it.
And he asks God for three things. He says ‘Lord, give me strength; save me; and show me a sign for good.’ Isn't that interesting? We've been studying Ephesians 3:14, and what is the thing Paul's praying for the Ephesian Christians so that they can deal with the problems that they’re facing? What? Strength. And notice how David prays here: “O grant Your strength to Your servant.” He just doesn't want to be strong, he wants God to give him His strength to face this. And that's the first thing he needs, is God to give him strength.
Then he says ‘Lord God, save me. If I'm going to be saved, it's going to be You that do it, because this is a pretty tight situation that I'm in, so save me.’ And then he says, “Lord, show me a sign for good.” Now it's hard to say exactly what David's asking for there. Is he asking God to show in him a sign that his enemies see, to indicate that God is with David despite their designs against him? Or is David so desperate for a little good news he's saying ‘Lord, just couldn't You give me some encouragement? Couldn't You just give me some little token of encouragement? Because I'm in a tight spot.’
The story I'm about to tell…the names have been changed, the cities have been changed, “to protect the innocent.”
A godly Christian mother has reared three children in the church. First child walking with the Lord, third child walking with the Lord…second child (daughter), she's always walked to the beat of a different drum. And this mother has wrestled with her, she's talked with her, her husband's been good in talking to his daughter, but the daughter always seems to pick the wrong crowd to be with, the wrong priorities of life, and frankly, has just gone directions in college that her siblings have not gone, and this mother is just at the end of her rope with the kinds of choices that her daughter is making.
And she is faithful in praying for her. She prays with a friend for her; she prays with her when she's home; she loves her; she's not overbearing, but she's persistent; and, lo and behold, the girl is going to go off on foreign study. So she's been having a hard enough time as it is in school, and now she's going to go to the Southeast…Southeast Asia, that is, for a semester. And Mama's just at wits end: ‘Lord, please give me some sign of encouragement with my daughter. This has just been such a long fight.’
Daughter calls from Singapore. Fifteen minute inconsequential conversation, the Mama just yearning for something substantive; it's all superficial. Gets ready to hang up the phone, and Daughter says, “Oh, by the way, Mom. You remember that lady that you grew up with in Kosciusko? Well, she's a missionary here in Singapore and we bumped into her at the airport, and she invited us over to the house tonight for supper.” ‘Thank You, Lord! I just needed a little encouragement. I just needed a little encouragement. You’re hearing my prayers. I don't know when You’re going to get me out of this pickle; I don't know how You’re going to answer the prayer, but I've just needed a little encouragement to go on.’
And I think David might be right there in this Psalm.
So, when you’re in one of those spots and you don't know how to pray, open up Psalm 86, and pray until you pray. Let's pray.
Lord God, a lot of these brothers and sisters have been there, and a few of them just might be there now; so help them to pray until they can pray. Show them who You are, show them what You do. Give them a burning desire for fellowship with You, and dear Lord, just give them a little encouragement along the way, just to let them know that You are there and You care, and You’re in control and You are working Your purposes out, and our prayers are not in vain. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.
Would you stand for God's blessing.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.