As Christians, we are as adept at putting on a show as the Pharisees of old. Only God accurately searches our hearts and knows who is genuine among us. We even deceive ourselves by ignoring the hypocrisy present in our prayer time with the Lord. This is why we must be immersed in God’s Word, and I would argue especially the psalms. The psalms teach us to pray God’s way.
If we want to properly discern whether or not we are asking amiss, Psalm 86 would be a good litmus test for us.
What is it that God wants us to ask of Him? There are 12 specific petitions in this psalm. First, I must determine if these petitions should be mine. I would argue that if my prayer is right before God, it will follow the example I find here. Second, I determine how I should verbalize these requests in my own life? So, I interrogate the text in Psalm 86 in a way that is mindful of progressive revelation. That is, New Testament truth has an impact on how I pray Psalm 86.
- Why would I ask God to hear me? My head tells me that He hears me. My heart tells me that He doesn’t. I have to get it out there and verbalize it.
- Why ask God to preserve my life or save it? After all, I don’t feel as threatened as David was. David found himself in constant danger. But I am in danger. Every human life is precarious and tenuous at best. “For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” (James 4.14b). I cannot presume upon God. He values my life enough to sustain it; I ask that He preserve it. I should value my life. Maybe I don’t ask for God to sustain my life because I don’t value it as much as God does.
- Should Christians ask for God’s mercy? There is a strong strain of false teaching out there that would scoff at requesting daily mercy from God. After all, we have the mercy of God in Christ Jesus. Yet the NT affirms that we should pray for God’s mercy in our own lives and the lives of others. Study the salutations of Paul’s letters and you will find that he often asked God for grace, mercy, and peace. We must have God’s mercy daily. We must ask for it because we betray Him and others constantly.
- How about the request, “Rejoice the soul of your servant”? Do I pray that? I want a sense of joy in my soul each day. I want to know all is right between God and me. I want joy in what I’m doing. I want supernatural peace and comfort. So, I should ask for it.
But there is more to this Psalm than specific petitions. There is a rationale behind the requests David makes in the Psalm. Do I have a rationale for my own prayer life or is it haphazard.
What philosophy undergirds my prayer effort? Is it biblical? I must check the principles which govern my prayer effort against those set forth in Scripture. These principles must be based upon my need and God’s character.
The first principle governing my prayer effort is a sense of my need before God. If I don’t see myself as needy, I am in great trouble. Why did David pray? Why should I pray?
- I am poor and needy (“For I am poor and needy” v. 1).
- I am holy (“For I am holy” or set apart for God v. 2a).
- I am in fellowship with God (“For I cry to You all day long” v. 3b).
- I am dependent upon God (“Who trusts in you” v. 2b)
Again, I mention a few of the phrases in this Psalm that help us to see our need. Once we capture the principle of need, our prayers are rightly framed. But there is a second principle…
The character of God is a major principle governing prayer. It’s one thing to see your need, it’s quite another to believe God is powerful enough to meet it according to all His riches in glory (see Philippians 4.19). What did David emphasize regarding the God’s character and how it should govern my own prayer effort?
- He is LORD – “I AM”; self-existent; self-sufficient; the source of all we need; sovereign.
- He is God – “Strong”; the one who is omnipotent; able to preserve and deliver me. His strength drives me to trust in Him. His power gives me peace.
- Merciful – He is longsuffering, compassionate, and kind. “Abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You” (v. 5).
- He is Lord – “Master”; He is King and controls everything; I must submit to His authority because it is the safest place for me to be. Joy only comes to those who truly serve the Lord.
- Good – beneficial; God always opens to us His good treasure, even the heavens to give the rain. When He created all, He pronounced His creation good. When Adam and Eve were created, He pronounced His creation very good.
- Forgiving – God is willing to dismiss our sin; are we broken and contrite in prayer? Have we become complacent and presumptuous about our betrayal and sin?
It is true that prayer not only provides what we need. It changes things, and it changes us. This is prayer’s performance. God is at work in and through us. So, as we develop in our prayer lives, we become more like the Lord Jesus. Our own character is transformed.
- We understand that God is not our equal. When we pray, there is only one throne. It is the throne of grace. It belongs to God. We do not have our own throne from which we command God in prayer. His will be done. His mercy poured forth.
- We understand what approach pleases God. “For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, with him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the heart of the contrite ones'” (Isaiah 57.15). “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart – these, O God, You will not despise” (Psalm 51.17).
- We understand that God is always faithful and loving toward His children. Sometimes we are tempted to focus on our sinfulness to the point that we don’t understand that God’s grace abounds more than our sin does. God is always ready to forgive; we simply must be willing to repent and forsake sin. Look at v. 15: “But You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth.”
- We must understand that God is zealous and fervent in His work on our behalf. Psalm 86.6 states, “Give ear, O LORD, to my prayer; and attend to the voice of my supplications.” David would not rest until he committed himself to the one who never slumbers or sleeps. We press on in prayer without fainting because we know that God hears us. All the day we cry to God. We persevere because He will prevail!