Psalm 86: A Fervent Prayer to God

Do me a favor and please read Psalm 86.

As we read this psalm it may appear to you, as it does to me, to be one of randomness. Most psalms are very focused in their petition. If the psalmist is in need because they are hurting then all their words focus around the pain and the need of the salve of God. If they are in hiding and fear that they may die because their foes are attacking and closing in, then the prayer to God is for him to drive them away, keep him hidden, and be their comfort in this time of need. But this one? This one is scattered with needs.

  • Petition to guard their life (vs 2)
  • Have mercy on me (vs 3)
  • Bring me joy (vs 4)
  • Forgiveness (vs 5)
  • Back to mercy (vs 6)
  • In need of saving (vs 7)
  • I need teaching (vs 11)
  • Back to mercy (vs 16)
  • Back to saving (vs 16)
  • Show me where you are (vs 17)
  • Put my enemies to shame (vs 17)
  • Comfort me (vs 17)
And then in the midst of this we have vs 14 that seems EXTREMELY out of place. But that’s not all because we also have two random verses that proclaim the goodness and saving work of God. So 17 verses that seem to be trying to hit all the possibilities and needs one could have in life.
Psalm 86 is one of those psalms that we don’t have much information on. We can assume, based on the subscript, that this is a psalm of David but that’s about where we end. We don’t know where he is, what he is doing, or where he is going. We know he’s in need of God (from the sounds of it it’s MANY needs) but that’s where our information ends. And as I read this psalm and see how scattered his prayer is I cannot help but get this image that David is overwhelmed with all that is happening. So in response to that overwhelmness he throws it all up in the air in hopes and shouts out, “There! Take all of these God!”
Can any of us relate to David here? I’m sure many of us have felt so overwhelmed with our needs that our prayer to God began to feel like a grocery list scattered with a praise, and then more grocery-prayer needs. If you were to sit and reflect about all the things you do and need each day you’d realize that we have a very balanced system. What happens if it gets unbalanced? What happends if a foundational beam in our life gets yanked or something even slightly becomes unbalanced? The results: the whole thing comes crashing down. It’s now not just one thing you need from God – it’s many. Now we are overwhelmed. And in desperation, we toss it all up in the air and seek God to restack, rebalance, respond, and restore. Yes, life is like the game Jenga at times. But instead of trying to remove pieces we’re trying to keep it all stacked while riding on a rollercoaster.
As with many psalms, at least for me, I’m drawn to how they choose to close out their prayer and petition. We have, in verse 17, David proclaiming that God has “helped” him and comforted him. Is this a declaration that God has helped in the past? Or is it a proclamation that God has already helped even though he just lifted up his prayers and needs? Yes. Absolutely yes to both. David prays to God because he knows God and has a history with him. So he knows that his prayers were heard because God has been faithful all throughout his life. But he also knows that because God is who he is his needs and this chaotic prayer of petition has already been heard. The peace, for David, is in the simple knowledge of who God is and what he does. That, in desperate times of need, is a peace.
The comfort, for David (as well as you and I) is that even in our messiness of life, even in the balancing act of each day with all our needs and actions, that we may stumble and fall but God does not. And while we cannot save ourselves or reassemble the intricate needs of each day – God can, does, and has.

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