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. This is obviously one of those times, for he faces a band of godless and violent men who are seeking his life. As always, God is his ultimate source of help.
“Incline your ear O Lord, answer me; for I am afflicted and needy” (86:1).
Not everyone turns to God in troublesome times. Like David, I desire to have an ever-present God-consciousness where conversations with God, as with a familiar friend, are ongoing. I must admit, however, that sometimes I am afraid and have difficulty trusting God’s goodness, wondering if he will answer me.
Afflictions are common to all of us. Maybe we just received word of a life-threatening illness, or my marriage is falling apart, or I haven’t the money to pay bills, 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 that we have brought on ourselves, and we need God’s intervention.
“Preserve my soul, for I am a godly man, O You my God, save your servant who trusts in you” (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? What about my failures, 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. However, if I could claim this to be true of me, I would have more confidence that God would hear and answer me.
The Bible says that David was “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). This means he listened to God and obeyed; not perfectly, nor all the time, but this is what he truly desired to do and did do much of the time. 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 in that he kept his heart right with God, and maintained a daily consciousness of God’s presence through meditation and personal conversations. God was his number one priority.
Like David, we too can claim to be godly. First, we can be godly through our faith in Christ because God declares us righteous when we possess Jesus’ righteousness (Philippians 3:8-9). Second, we can be godly because our heart has been changed, we are accepted by God as His beloved children, he cares about us, and like David, we strive to live God’s ways.
“Be gracious to me, O Lord, for to you I cry all the day long” (86:3).
We can be in such pain that we are earnestly and continuously in contact with God to grant us relief. To ask for God’s grace is to ask for his mercy and power to help us. Jesus, our savior, knows our weakness. He experienced what it is like to be in such pain that all he could do was cry out to God. God wants us, in faith, to seek him for any need (Philippians 4:6-7), and He responds to those who trust his promises.
“Make glad the soul of your servant, for to you O Lord I lift up my soul.” (86:4)
In dire times, it is easy to let ourselves get downhearted, gloomy, dejected, fearful and depressed. Gladness of soul is much needed to lift us out of such feelings. 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 such gladness of heart? In David’s view, comfort and gladness come when our meditation on God’s love, power, works, and mercy causes us to rise above our feelings of affliction and neediness.
“In the day of trouble, I shall call upon you, for you will answer me” (86:7).
In verse one, David pleads 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. Even if his affliction remains, his soul is restored to peace, and he knows God will help him.