A few weeks ago I watched a PBS documentary about the rebuilding of the skyscraper that is taking the place of the Twin Towers in New York. It was interesting and sobering as they replayed those video clips of the Towers as the planes crashed into each one and then how they buckled and came crashing down.
In the days following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Billy Graham stated, “IN TIMES LIKE THIS, WE REALIZE HOW WEAK AND INADEQUATE WE ARE, AND OUR GREATEST NEED IS TO TURN IN REPENTANCE AND FAITH TO THE GOD OF ALL MERCY AND THE FATHER OF ALL COMFORT. IF EVER THERE WAS A TIME FOR US TO TURN TO GOD AND TO PRAY AS A NATION, IT IS NOW — THAT THIS EVIL WILL SPREAD NO FURTHER.”
Graham was right. Things like the attacks of Pearl Harbor and September 11th remind us how weak and inadequate we truly are. They call us to turn to God and ask for mercy in dependence upon Him.
Psalm 86 reminds us of this need for the mercy of God. Without God’s merciful hand upon us, we are weak, poor, blind and naked. We need the Lord. The psalmist David knew this.
This blog post will begin looking at David’s appeal in order to begin seeing our own need and how we can find hope and mercy in the Lord God alone.
Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. Preserve my life, for I am godly; save your servant, who trusts in you—you are my God. Be gracious to me, O Lord, for to you do I cry all the day. (Psalm 86:1-3 ESV)
David’s Appeal: Hear Me (v. 1)
A basic indispensable truth of Christian prayer is that our God will hear us and answer our prayers. If God cannot or will not hear us, or can hear but will not answer us, there is no reason to go on.
But the Lord addressed is Yahweh, the Great I AM, he is not like the false god Baal who would not respond to his prophets on Mount Carmel. He is not like the countless false gods of this world that remain silent as their worshipers seek their aid.
And David is confident that the Lord will answer him not only because the Lord is living and can hear his prayers, but because David has taken the posture of a true worshipper of the Lord God Almighty. How does he describe himself? As “poor and needy.”
Although it is not clear when in David’s life he wrote this song, from what we know about David’s life, he was not from a family that could be described as poor and needy. His father Jesse was a somewhat prosperous man, blessed by God with moderate wealth. And of course, when David became king of Israel, he was neither poor or needy in terms of riches and wealth.
I don’t think that David meant that he was poor and needy in those terms. David was, like all of us, poor and needy in terms of his inability, his helplessness and his utter need at this time. He was poor in strength, poor in capability—poor in the spiritual sense without God’s hand upon his life.
David knew that the riches man on this earth cannot compare to the poorest man on earth who has the Lord at his side. David needed the Lord’s ear. With the Lord listening to his prayers and with him answering his needs, David would surely cease to be either poor or needy.
This is because David understood who our God is. Just a quick run through of this psalm and we can see the categories that David attributes to the Lord.
- He is good and forgiving, V. 5
- He is a God who answers prayer, V. 7
- He is a unique God who does mighty works, V. 8
- He is God of all the nations, V. 9
- He is great, does wondrous things, the One true God, V. 10
- He is faithful in his covenant love, delivering his people, V. 13
- He is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in covenant faithfulness, V. 15
- He is a helping and comforting God, V. 17
Of course, the rest of Scripture fills out this short list with so many more attributes of our Great and Mighty God.
Let me ask you this, does your understanding of God impact the way that you pray? It should. It should impact not only the content of your prayer, but also the boldness, the frequency, the size of the requests and the expectancy you should have of his response.
But what if your knowledge of the Lord is small or lacking? Try practicing this as you read the Bible. As you read, take some time to allow the Bible to first be God-centered before you look for how it can speak to you about your own life and situation.
What I mean by this is, if you are reading this psalm, Psalm 86, we could be tempted to first focus on David’s need to be heard. But if we rush to that and we have a lacking understanding of God, we will only be able to pray in a limited fashion. But if we look at the other things that David says in this psalm about what he knows about the Lord, we will be instructed and be able to expand our vision of who God is.
Or maybe we are reading the Gospels. We come to John 10, we need to ask ourselves, How is God reveled in Jesus the Good Shepherd? How is my understanding of God expanded when Jesus speaks about being One with the Father? etc.
When David said that he was poor and needy, he was recognizing that the Lord is the provider in every way. Whatever he needed, David knew that the Lord is our provider. And that knowledge impacted not just his prayer in verse 1, but it impacted his life, so that whenever he needed anything, he knew where to go to have that need met.
If we do not seek out the Lord in our need, we need to ask ourselves “why not?” Does this show a self-sufficient attitude? Perhaps a lack of faith or denial of the power of prayer? Maybe it is a subtle form of pride in our own strength? Whatever the case, we need to know that it is sin.
John Calvin wrote,
“To know God as the sovereign disposer of all good, inviting us to present our requests, and yet not to approach or ask of Him, were so far from [helping] us, that it were just as if one told of a treasure were to allow it to remain buried in the ground.”
Save Me (v. 2)
Here in this second verse David says something that might be initially objectionable if not understood correctly. He says, “Preserve my life or soul.” Thus far we are okay with this. He needs to be saved. Verse 14 tells us that insolent and ruthless men were after him and they hated him (v. 17) and wanted to take his life (v. 17).
But the reason he calls God to save him is what is distasteful. David says, “Preserve my soul, for I am godly (ESV) or holy.” At best, it sounds like boasting on his part.
The word, “godly” or “holy” is the Hebrew word hasid. It is where the hasidic Jews get their name from. It means “faithful, zealous, devoted.” Now, looking at it in that light helps, doesn’t it? David is not saying that he has arrived spiritually. He just finished saying that he was poor and needy. Of course he didn’t mean that.
He did mean to call attention to the fact that he was a devoted follower of the Lord and not a man who had scoffed at God until disaster made him call out in desperation. David is pointing to his consistent walk with the Lord.
It is not as if the Lord needed reminding, but it does show us that David has a strong bond—a covenant relationship with the Lord he is so dependent upon.
This can be seen in the next line of verse 2. David calls himself the Lord’s servant. David considered himself God’s slave. He wasn’t like those who promise God they will do whatever he wants from them if he will make a deal and save them. No, David has been serving the Lord as his slave his whole life and now he asks the Lord as the Great Master to save his humble servant who has been so faithful in his service all of his life.
The last line of verse 2 adds to David’s reflection on his relationship with the Lord. David reiterated that he trusts in the Lord and that David’s God is only and supremely the Lord.
David understood service. As a shepherd for his father in his youth, he served the family and the flock. He went out into the fields and led the sheep and goats to pastures and water. He lead them to the pen for protection. In doing this he also served the family.
When Jesse sent David out to his brothers to take them food, David did so. He served his family in menial tasks with the utmost obedience despite not gaining any glory or appreciation.
Later, David served his king-Saul. You will remember that David served Saul through some scary and troubling situations. But all the way through he refused to turn on his master, even after he had been chosen as Saul’s replacement. David even grieved on the day that Saul was killed.
So David knew what being a servant was all about. And even though his human masters were not always kind to him, David knew that the Lord was worthy to of all service and honor and glory.
When trials in life grew difficult and even life-threatening, David did not flee to another master that he thought might treat him better. No, David stuck close to the Lord God, fully dependent upon Him to save his life from any and all dangers.
The Apostles thought of themselves as slaves of Jesus Christ. They thought of themselves as lowly, unworthy, slaves who lived for the glory and honor of their Master Jesus Christ and not their own renown.
As John MacArthur wrote in his book Slave,
“When we call ourselves Christians, we proclaim to the world that everything about is, including our very self-identity, is found in Jesus Christ because we have denied ourselves in order to follow and obey Him. He is both our Savior and our Sovereign, and our lives center on pleasing Him. To claim the title is to say with Paul, “To live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21).” (p.11)
David was a servant of the Most High God, and as his servant, he knew that he needed to appeal to the Lord for his help and salvation. Because without the Lord, there was no hope.
What about you? Are you a slave of Christ? Do you have any hope outside of Christ? Cast them all away. None can save. None can bring help or comfort. None can satisfy. Only Jesus can.