Psalms for Troubled Times – Psalm 86

A lesson in how to pray

This psalm, called a ‘Prayer of David’ is unique in that almost every phrase is borrowed from a previous psalm. In this we find a good lesson on how to pray, especially in times of trouble.

I don’t know about your prayers, but I find praying can be one of the hardest spiritual disciplines. As the psalmist does here, I have found it a help at times to pray from the Scriptures; taking up the words and sentiments of godly men and women of old, and making them my own.

Of course, care needs to be taken that we don’t take things out of context, and it is important, as the psalmist shows here, to be well acquainted with God’s Word.

Let’s take a look at the psalm and learn some lessons.

1) First we note that he makes four very personal pleas in the name of the ‘LORD’ – ‘Yahweh’. For us, we now pray in the name of the Jesus Christ (John 14:13, 15:16, 1 Cor 1:2), but consider how each plea equally spaced throughout gives structure and progression to the prayer. This, we can emulate.

  • Hear me, for I am poor and needy‘ – v1
  • ‘Give ear unto my prayer’ – v6
  • ‘Teach me thy way‘ – v11
  • ‘Thou hast holpen me and comforted me‘ – v17

Beginning from his present need, his prayer goes up to heaven, from whence understanding of the way comes down, giving him assurance of God’s present help at the end.

Too often, I not only begin with my need, but end there also, with no peace or assurance. To spend time in prayer, and in God’s Word, to be taught God’s Way is vital. I’ll develop this more in a moment.

2) Next we note that seven times throughout he addresses his God with the respectful title ‘Lord – Adonai‘. Seven being the number of completeness, shows that, while the psalmist has a very personal relationship with Yahweh, he does not become unduly familiar, but accords his God complete respect and honour.

These seven statements are linked to the content of the prayer. The psalmist begins by asking his Lord for mercy, rejoicing that his Lord is uniquely good, this being proven by his works, which in a day to come will lead to all nations glorifying his name. But the psalmist cannot wait and begins immediately to praise his Lord …

… for all that He is:

But thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth.’

And … for all that He has done – the quotation below coming either side of the psalmist’s cry ‘Teach me, O LORD‘.

For thou art great, and doest wondrous things: thou art God alone … For great is thy mercy toward me: and thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell. 

But how does he know this? And how can he pray this?

As we’ve already said, it’s through his meditation on God’s Word and including the truth of what he reads into his prayer.

And so, meditating on Psalm 72, he is brought to consider the blessing of God’s future works.

Psalm 72:18 – ‘who only doeth wondrous things‘ – the context being the sure blessing bestowed by the coming King. A blessing yet future!

And then turning his mind to Psalm 56:13 – ‘for thou hast delivered my soul from death‘ – he is reminded of the sure salvation already experienced in the past.

The psalmist truly knows his Bible, not as a dusty, old book, but as the Living Word of God. And just like a child learning to speak repeats the words of its parents, so the psalmist learns to skilfully take up and utilise God’s Word as he comes before his God in prayer.

Let us open our Bibles and learn to do the same!

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