Dear Friends of Jesus Christ,
Psalm 86 is a prayer of lament, prayed by an individual who is in trouble. A band of ruthless men have risen up against him. People who have no respect for the Lord’s ways are out to harm him.
Like many of the Psalms, this one is attributed to David. Bible scholars sometimes debate the reliability of these inscriptions. Did David really write this Psalm? Or was that note included by a later scribe?
These debates aren’t that significant in my opinion. The Psalms are not in the bible to help us better understand King David’s life. Rather, they are the voice of faith, giving us language to sing, pray, and be in a communicative relationship with God.
One thing that always amazes me about our God, the Christian God—something that should never be taken for granted—is that he reveals himself as one who willingly bears whatever we bring to him. He wants honest communication with his people; an encounter with the real you.
Some of us grew up in households where it only safe to share certain things in certain ways at certain times. And we learned, often the hard way, that we had to filter ourselves in order to avoid getting glared at, or yelled at, or something worse.
But our Father in heaven isn’t like that. Anything, any emotion, can be brought to him, anytime. He’d rather have our unfiltered shouts of anger than our carefully curated religious piety.
The Psalmist in Psalm 86 is feeling weak and vulnerable. And so he brings this to the Lord in prayer:
“Hear me, Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy….
“Arrogant foes are attacking me, O God; ruthless people are trying to kill me—they have no regard for you.”
I’ve never had reason to fear for my life, but I know that some of you have. Maybe you remember what it was like to live through the war. To have German soldiers knock on your door. Others of you, have had scary encounters will people who are not in their right mind, or who have terrible things on their mind.
“Hear me, Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. Arrogant foes are attacking me; ruthless people are trying kill me.”
It’s scary thing, to be in a powerless position. Where do you turn? Where does our help come from?
The Psalmist turns to the Lord. Specifically, he takes refuge in the truths that he knows about his covenant God.
If you read this Psalm closely, you’ll notice that the title “Lord” appears numerous times. And if you look even closer still, you’ll notice that sometimes Lord is capitalized. L O R D — all caps. And at other times, only the L is capitalized.
Did you notice that?
The reason for this difference is that the translators are translating two different words here. The all caps “LORD” is God’s covenant name “Yahweh”, whereas the lower case version of Lord is “adon” which means “master” essentially.
Yahweh (God’s covenant name) = LORD
Adon = Lord in the common sense. ie. Master, boss, overseer,
Why is this significant. Here’s the significance. An “adon” in the ancient world, a master, had a responsibility to take care of the servants within his house. It was his job to protect them. And a servant, had the responsibility of carrying out the business of the adon in accordance with his will.
Well, in this Psalm, the Psalmist is appealing, again and again, to this servant / master relationship he has with his covenant God. With this in mind, listen to these verses.
Guard my life, for I am faithful to you;
save your servant who trusts in you. Vs 2
Bring joy to your servant, Lord,
for I put my trust in you. Vs 4
Turn to me and have mercy on me;
Grant your strength to your servant and save the son of your maidservant. Vs 16
A little while earlier, I made the comment that the Psalms invite us to come to God, as we are. That is true. But there is a proper posture to life with our covenant God.
We can speak to the LORD, all-caps, because he has first spoken to us and has adopted us as his own.
But as we do, we need to remember that he is not a servant in our house, but that we are servants in his house.
Many people engage God as if he’s a cosmic butler of sorts. We ring the bell when we need him. If he shows up and does what we want him to do, he’s a good God, and we drop a little tip in the offering plate. But if God doesn’t serve us in the way we want to be served, we feel miffed, distant. “Does God even care about me?”
But that’s the wrong way to conceive of the relationship. God is not a cosmic butler, he’s the all-powerful, Lord of the universe. We are servants in his house, he is not a servant in ours.
Many modern people chaff at this idea of servitude. We value autonomy. Freedom. This is why we want God to be like a butler.
But who would rather be in relationship with when faced with actual trouble? The butler? Or the Lord of the house.
The testimony of the bible is that it is better to be a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord, than it is to be doing anything else. Better is one day in HIS house, than a 1000 elsewhere.
Why is this… because the Lord is not a ruthless slavedriver? He’s good. A Steadfast father. And if he can be counted on to clothe the grass of the field and feed the birds of the air, then how much more will he take care of the servants he loves within his house.
The psalmist knows his vulnerability and poverty. But he also knows what he has going for him: he is a servant in the house of the Lord.
This is the foundation of prayer. We can speak to the LORD (all-caps) because he has first spoken to us and invited us in. And we come to the Lord (lower case), because he is sovereign and can be counted on to do what is best.
Its these truths that the Psalmist calls to mind in the middle of the Psalm. In prayer, he fortifies himself with all that he knows about God.
You, Lord, are forgiving and good,
abounding in love to all who call to you. Vs 5
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. Vs. 8-10
There is nothing original about the verses that just flashed on your screen. They are basically quotes from other places in the bible. What the Psalmist is doing here, essentially, is preaching to himself. He’s quoting the great truths about God, in order to ground himself in the midst of his trouble.
We need to do this from time to time, you know.
This is true on good days, but it is especially true when facing trouble.
Over the last few years, I have taken up the practice of journalling. I journal my prayers. And when things are difficult, and I’m all stirred up, I tend to begin my prayers by preaching to myself. By remembering all that I am and have with God in Christ.
I write it out. Lord you know me and you have created me. You knit me together in my mother’s womb. Truly I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Jesus you came for me. He lived for me. He died for me. He rose for me. My every sin on him was laid. I am someone in whom Christ dwells and I live in the unshakable kingdom of God. And I do not have to be afraid. Because nothing can separate me for the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. I am not my own, but belong body and soul, in life and in death to my faithful saviour Jesus Christ.
And I keep going. Quoting scripture, songs, confessional material. Usually, something clicks. Then I underline it. Write it again. Chew on it.
Recounting the Great Truths, tends to calm me down.
Fear and anxiety can undo us pretty quick, eh. It can make us a little like a feather, tossed around by the wind. Our minds race. Worst case scenarios rush through our heads. We become reactionary. But reflection on God, his character and work, grounds us like an oak. The wind may shake our branches, but we remain firmly rooted in Christ.
Its from this place of stability that we can reflect on what’s most important. And what’s most important from a servant’s perspective, is not the safety of our bodies, but the glory of our master’s name, and the formation of our character.
Notice what the Psalmist asks God for in this Psalm. He prays for mercy, yes. Deliverance. Yes. But their request at the centre of the Psalm is that God would be glorified in the Psalmist’s life.
“Teach me your way, O Lord,
and I will walk in your truth;
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… Vs. 11-13
A lot happens in this world that is outside our control. The goal of the faithful servant, when confronted with things outside of their control, is not to seek more power, but to pursue purity of heart. To operate in a way that reflects well on the master’s name and will.
I think of Stephen in the New Testament. Ruthless men sough his life. All Stephen could do was testify to God’s greatness.
He couldn’t stop them from stoning him, but he could choose how he would handle himself as he died. And he died bearing witness to the glory of God, and forgiving the ones who were killing him.
The first three petitions of the Lord’s prayer are all about increasing the kingdom of our Father in heaven. That is where faithful prayer starts.
And yet it’s still appropriate to ask for daily bread and deliverance from evil.
Psalm 86 ends will a plea for mercy, and a request for a sign. The Psalmist asks God to reveal his goodness, that his enemies may be put in their place.
Do something, Lord. Show your power. Let them know who you are and that you, not them, are in control.
In the end, we don’t know if the Psalmist received this sign or if his life was protected. But we do know that he took refuge in the right master.
For when the time was right, God did ultimately answer the Psalmist’s prayer. And he did enact a sign of his goodness in the midst of this world ruled by ruthless powers. What is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ? It is a sign of God’s goodness meant to put the powers of sin and death to shame.
Jesus died and rose again to release us from the ruthless and relentless power of our sinful nature. And when he returns, he will banish all evil and injustice from the world that God so loves. Sin has been served notice. Arrogant people—who have no fear of God—their days are numbered.
And while the true servants of God still experience suffering in this life, we do not do so as feathers tossed about by the wind. We endure it, like oaks, rooted deeply in Jesus Christ. Living in the assurance of knowing that nothing, not even death itself can separate us from the Love of God that is in Christ Jesus.
I don’t know what trouble you’re facing today. But I know the Lord and master. Take your trouble to him in prayer. Remember who you are in relationship to him. And rest in the reality that his is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever and ever.
The ones that he called, he loves and protects. Your life is safe with him.
I’d like to end this sermon by re-grounding us in the gospel, as it is found in Q and A 1 of the Catechism. In the midst of trouble and hardship we preach the gospel to ourselves:
Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A. That I am not my own, but belong— body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Saviour, Jesus Christ.
He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.
Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.