In the midst of such a challenging year as 2020 has turned out to be, we can grow weary and think things are just too big for us to handle. And, for the most part, they are. And that’s exactly the time we need to be encouraged and reminded that it is God, and not us, who is in control.
In a message (sermon notes) published on July 21, 2019, titled, “Psalm 86: A Humble, Confident Cry for Help,” by Matthew Breeden, Elder and Teaching Pastor at Southern Hills Baptist Church, he states:
“When People are Big and God is Small” is the title of a book that I read many years ago but that I still think of often. The premise of the book is that we are prone to giving more weight to what other people say rather than to what God says. In our thoughts we make people big and God small.
In a similar way many of us are guilty of seeing our situations and thinking they are too big or too complicated while at the same time minimizing the power and care of God. We are guilty of believing that our situations are big and God is small.
In Psalm 86 we see a prayer of a man who has a proper perspective. While he finds himself in a difficult situation he remains confident that God hears and is able to save him. He’s sure that even though his situation is dire, his God is bigger and desires to show mercy to those whom He loves.
A common feature in ancient literature is the use of structure to highlight a main idea. In Psalm 86 David uses a distinct structure to show what’s central to his thinking. While the psalm starts and ends with references to his situation and his requests for salvation, the center sections of the psalm are completely focused on God and David’s devotion to God.
This structure reveals David’s heart. He certainly wants to be saved from trouble (this is made clear in vv. 1-7 and 14-17) but above all He emphasizes the character of God (vv. 8-10) and his own devotion to God (vv. 11-13). The situation is difficult but He is confident in His God.
David’s Request: A Humble Plea to the God who Hears His People (86:1-7)
- David believes that God hears and answers prayers – In vv. 1-7 there are 8 prayer requests. At first read it may seem like David is trying to persuade God, but in fact these verses reveal David’s humble confidence in God. He is praying to God with confidence that He hears and responds.
- David appeals to God based on their relationship – Throughout this section David emphasizes his relationship to God as His servant. He doesn’t see God as a distant unreachable figure, but as his Lord who will care for those who are His own.
- David is sure of the ways God relates to His people – In verse 5 David recounts the ways God relates to His people: God is good and forgiving and faithful in love.
David’s Praise: An Expression of Trust and Confidence in God’s Character (86:8-10)
- If we read verses 8-10 in isolation from the rest of the psalm it sounds like it would be part of a psalm of praise. It’s remarkable to remember that this is included in a prayer for salvation as David is running for his life. But what’s clear is that David understands the “bigness” of God and trusts that God can save him from any situation.
- God is unrivaled in His position (vs. 8a)
- God is unrivaled in His works (vs. 8b, 10)
- God will be worshipped by all (vs. 9; Psalm 22:27-28)
- Application: How quick are you to remember the truth of who God is in the midst of a difficult time? How dialed in are you to the truth when you are going to God in prayer? Do you tend to focus on the enormity of struggle rather than on the ‘bigness’ of God?When we are really conscious of who God is then it should enable us to pray with boldness.
David’s Devotion: A Humble Commitment to Obedience and Worship (86:11-13)
- Without the context vs. 9 may seem somewhat ordinary, but the fact that this is included in prayer for salvation makes it more remarkable. In the middle of a prayer for protection David is asking God to grow Him and to teach Him so that He can walk in the truth.
- Even in the midst of difficulties David is focused on the character of God and he is poised to give thanks and praise to God–trusting that He will hear and save him.
- Application: When life gets hard our spiritual growth and the praise of God may be the furthest things from our minds, but we should want them to be front and center. We should want to love and trust God so much that even in the struggles we are asking Him to hold us close and teach us.
David’s Request Restated: A Humble, Confident Cry for Help (86:14-17)
- In many ways vv. 14-17 mirror vv. 1-7. Once again we see that while David is crying out for help he is confident in God and His ability to save him. David is also hopeful that God will be praised as others see God’s protection of His servant. (Quote source here.)
In an article published on BeliefNet.com, titled, “5 Things Every Christian Should Know About Psalm 86: There’s More to David’s Prayer Than You Think,” by Angela Guzman, Writer at Large for BeliefNet, she writes:
Psalm 86 is a prayer of David. Before we look at what is said, let’s revisit the scripture.
Hear me, Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.
Guard my life, for I am faithful to you; save your servant who trusts in you. You are my God;
Have mercy on me, Lord, for I call to you all day long.
Bring joy to your servant, Lord, for I put my trust in you.
You, Lord, are forgiving and good, abounding in love to all who call to you.
Hear my prayer, Lord; listen to my cry for mercy.
When I am in distress, I call to you, because you answer me.
Among the gods there is none like you, Lord; no deeds can compare with yours.
All the nations you have made will come and worship before you, Lord; they will bring glory to your name.
For you are great and do marvelous deeds; you alone are God.
Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.
I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever.
For great is your love toward me; you have delivered me from the depths, from the realm of the dead.
Arrogant foes are attacking me, O God; ruthless people are trying to kill me–they have no regard for you.
But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.
Turn to me and have mercy on me; show your strength in behalf of your servant; save me, because I serve you just as my mother I did.
Give me a sign of your goodness, that my enemies may see it and be put to shame, for you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.
It’s thought that Psalm 86 was not penned upon any particular occasion, but was a prayer that David himself often used. It’s also presumed that he often recommended the prayer to others that were battling an affliction within their lives. After re-reading the psalm, it’s evident that the language is very plain and lacks any poetic flights or figures in comparison to other psalms.
David is very passionate with his words and at times can sound somewhat preachy; however, when someone is driven by their faith, sometimes passion can be misconstrued as being overly preachy. This passion and desire for real resolution and understanding is visible through David’s pleads. He pleads his relation to God and interest to him; he pleads his distress, he pleads God’s good will towards all that seek Him, and he pleads God’s good work in himself, by which is qualified.
The elements to keep in mind and take a deeper look at include:
Label of David
Psalm 86 is a very in-depth lesson on prayer. Interestingly enough, Psalm 86 is Book three of the Psalter and is the only one labeled as written by David. Many readers will say that this indicates that it’s not an original psalm. Instead the psalm pieces together verses and phrases from other psalms and scriptures, which causes people to believe that David didn’t actually write it himself.
It’s impossible to put a specific time in David’s life for this prayer because there are too many possible points where this connects with his overall circumstances. In addition, David calls God “Adonai,” master, seven times.
In Psalm 86 you’ll find a man who puts his faith in God while crying out desperately. The psalm is filled with 15 requests—some of them are repetitive. All in all, the requests break down into four sections. In 86:1-7, David cries out in great need for God to hear and act on his behalf. In 86:8-10 there is a deliberate request of praise when David declares God as the only true God—the Lord of the nations. Then in 86:11-13, David asks for God to teach him and unite his heart to fear God so that he can glorify Him forever. And then finally in 86:14-17, David appeals to God’s mercy and grace to deliver him.
The ultimate lesson and bigger picture that encompasses the entire psalm is, “Our great needs should drive us to pray to the great God, who alone can deliver us.” God is the only one who has control over the world that we live in. No matter how hard we wish, the Lord is the only one who can really provide us with the strength and hope to get where we yearn to be. Once we all learn to put God first, then everything else will fall into place. All in all, God is the key to everything.
From time to time, an individual’s pride can become blinding and get in the way of the reality that God has put into play.
In Psalm 86:14, David mentions the band of arrogant, violent men that are seeking his life. David understands his need and this drives him toward prayer. Psalm 86 helps Christians to recognize their own selfishness and helps to shed light on the bigger picture of relationships within families and the church.
Throughout the entirety of Psalm 86, David gives glory to God. He praises Him throughout the prayer in the most humble and reverent adoration. Throughout everything he never takes away from God’s greatness or infinite greatness. Furthermore, he identifies his infinite goodness as well.
We all need the salvation of the Lord. There are so many trials and tribulations within the world, therefore, it is imperative that we pray to God for mercy and allow Him to help lead us away from potential sins. (Quote source here.)
With so many things going on in America right now to include a very divisive Presidential election taking place in eight weeks from now, may this psalm remind us of how much bigger God is then anything going on in America and the rest of the world, and may it drive us to pray as David prayed in humility and confidence in our great God!
I’ll end this post with the words from Psalm 86:11—Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me…
An undivided heart . . .
That I may fear . . .
Your name . . . .
YouTube Video: “Voice of Truth” by Casting Crowns: