Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray with Me”.
In the first four verses of Psalm 86, the poet references himself twelve times. His prayer focuses on himself and his needs. God is almost an outsider in this psalm, a distant being who might be persuaded to help. Listen to the prayer.
Hear me, Lord, and answer me,
for I am poor and needy (v. 1).
You are my God, have mercy on me,
for I call to you all day long (v. 3).
By verse 8, the poet’s focus has done a U-turn. In three verses at the centre of the poem, every line speaks of God, and the poet does not appear even once. Listen to his praise:
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 marvellous deeds;
you alone are God (vv. 8-11)..
I like the way this psalm shows the shifting focus of a person who is seeking God. We often get fixated on ourselves–our problems, our poverty, our needs, and how God could help if only he would listen and respond. Then somehow we find grace and wisdom to let go of ourselves, if only briefly, to focus on the great God we serve.
Our father, like the poet we tell you our complaints. We have heard great things about how amazing it is to serve you–but today we are stuck in the mud again. The scriptures are dry as dust. Our prayers are meandering and unfocused . Our lives are anxious and distracted. We fear the isolation of a long COVID winter. We worry about worldwide failures in politics and economics, about civil unrest and disappearing freedoms.
Our father, as we grow older, we have not discovered the joys we hoped for, only new difficulties and new sorrows. As Fosdick describes it, “…our Edens are behind us with flaming angels at the gate. We have had friends and lost them and something has gone from our hearts that does not return. . . ; we have sinned, and though forgiven, the scars are still upon us; we have been weathered by the rains and floods and winds” (Fosdick, Harry Emerson. The Meaning of Faith. Good Press: Ebook, 2019. Original work published 1917).
But with the poet, we turn our focus to you. You alone are the God of creation, who hung our little planet in space, and set it spinning night and day, circling through the seasons. You alone are the God of salvation, who unexpectedly became a pilgrim in our world, and set up housekeeping among us, and died like a criminal. But you rose again and you offer us the gift of resurrection life. You alone are the God who gives us breath, who hears the prayers we breathe, who breathes your Holy Spirit into us, who sends us news of your kingdom and your coming.
Oh God, we need fresh news of you. Do not forget us. Send us your compassion and grace, be slow to anger and full of love and mercy toward us. With the poet we pray,
Give us a sign of your goodness,
so our enemies will see it and be put to shame,
for you, Lord, have helped us and comforted us (v. 17).
I’m Daniel on the channel “Pray with Me”.