Sermon for Sunday, June 21st, 2020, the Second Sunday after Trinity
The Lessons: Psalm 86:1-13, 16-17; Genesis 21:8-21; Romans 6:1-11
The Text: Psalm 86:1-13, 16-17
The Topic: A prayer for deliverance appealing to God’s faithfulness, mercy and goodness
The largest and finest bell in the East was in the great Buddhist Temple, Shwee-da-gone, in Rangoon. During a war the bell sank in a river. Over the years, various engineers tried but failed to raise it. At last a clever priest asked permission to try, but only if the bell was given to his temple.
The priest had his assistants gather an immense number of bamboo rods. One by one the rods were fastened to the bell at the bottom of the river. After thousands of them had been fastened, the bell began to move. When the last bamboo rod was attached, the buoyancy of the accumulated rods lifted the bronze bell from the mire of the river bottom to the stream’s surface.
“Every whisper of believing prayer is like one of the little bamboo rods,” writes author A. B. Simpson. “For a time they seem to be in vain, but there comes a last breath of believing supplication, and lo, the walls of Jericho fall, the mountain becomes a plain, and the host of Amalek is defeated.”
— Cregg Puckett, “One More Prayer,”
This morning I shall do something unusual and preach on the portion of the psalm appointed for this service, since it has so much to teach us about prayer.
The title of Psalm 86 is “A Prayer of David,” but this could be the prayer of any servant of God. Though this psalm has been classified as an individual lament, it nonetheless is a petition for God to hear the supplicant’s prayer made in faith, a faith based on God’s merciful nature and abundant goodness. The Psalms help us in our prayers as they so often present real situations the Psalmist faces and needs God’s help to face, as well as the thoughts and feelings which the praying person may often have.
PSALM 86: A PETITION FOR GOD’S HELP IN A TIME OF TROUBLE
One of the first obstacles that the supplicant has to overcome is the feeling that it’s no use praying, since God is so transcendent, while he appears so insignificant. The psalmist overcomes this obstacle by appealing to God to hear him, since is poor and in misery (Ps. 1:1).
But why would King David be poor and in misery? Perhaps this Psalm dates from the period before David’s reign as king, when he was fleeing from King Saul, or even from the time when he was fleeing from his own son Absalom. In this first verse of the psalm, he bases his appeal on God’s care for the poor and needy, and his willingness to hear their prayers.
As we read this psalm today, though, the poverty and need may be interpreted as a deep need for God’s help, since there appear to be no others who can or will help us. Using the same Greek word for “poor” (ptochos) as is found in this verse in the Septuagint, the Lord Jesus Christ pronounces a blessing on the poor in spirit, the blessing of having the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3).
The second reason given by the psalmist for the Lord to hear his prayer is that he is holy, or devout, attempting as best he can to live a way of life that pleases God. A third reason is the psalmist’s trust in God (v.2). All these reasons are very compelling and worthy reasons for God to hear his prayer, but the psalmist adds even more.
In our Prayer Book Psalter, Ps. 86:3 reads, “Be merciful unto me, O Lord; for I will call daily upon thee.” The word “daily” translates a word that more likely means “all day long”. Whether daily or all day long, the impression is frequent, persistent prayer, the value of which is taught by our Lord in the Parable of the Widow and the Judge (Luke 18:1-8).
As we read this psalm, we see how the psalmist overcomes the depth of whatever distress he is facing, as well as the tendency human beings have to not even want to pray about such distress because it seems so overwhelming, or it seems hopeless even to pray about it. What we see is that the psalmist thinks of every reason possible in favor of God hearing his prayer, and these reasons all outweigh the distress he is facing. He has mentioned the facts that he is poor and in misery, that he is devout, that he trusts in God, and that he will call continually on God. To these he adds the nature of God’s goodness, graciousness and mercy by which God will have mercy on all who pray to him (v.5), and the truth that God hears his prayers (v.7).
Exalted above all gods and objects of worship, God alone can do wonderful things (vv. 8 & 10), and all nations will come and worship him (v.9). This is a high point in the psalm, when we see that God can do not only what we ask in prayer but ‘exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us” (Ephesians 3:20, KJV). The divine context, then, for our petitions in prayer is what God has done for us through Jesus Christ his Son, our Lord and Savior, what he has one in our lives already, what he will do, and his ability to do far more than we ask or think, all of which will be affirmed when all nations will come and worship the Lord and glorify his name.
HUMILITY, WALKING WITH THE LORD, AND GIVING THANKS
In verse 11, the psalmist makes an important request of God, a request which will give his prayer even more weight in the presence of God. He prays that God will teach him his way, so that he may walk in God’s truth, and he prays for God to unite his heart to him that he may fear God’s name. The psalmist therefore prays both that God will guide him in his way and unite his heart to him, so that he may honor God’s name in everything he does. This request points forward, I believe, to our Lord’s teaching on prayer in John 15:7 (KJV):
If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.
Effective prayer comes from the faithful when they are abiding in the Lord Jesus Christ and keeping his word.
In verse 12, the psalmist declares he will thank the Lord God with all his heart and praise his name for ever. How necessary it is to give thanks to God, even before our prayers are answered. St. Paul reminds us in Philippians 4:6-7 (KJV):
Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Yet our thanksgiving does not only arise from God’s hearing and answering of our prayers, but from the great salvation we have received by his great love for the world in giving his only Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to reconcile us to Him. Christians must be thankful to God for delivering their souls also from “the nethermost hell” (v.13c).
In the final two verses of the psalm, the speaker returns to his prayer for God’s mercy, strength and help, praying for a sign of God’s goodness even in the present distress he is facing. He wants his enemies to see God’s goodness to him and be ashamed of the distress they have caused him. Often, we too expect some turn around, some sign, from God that he has heard our prayer and is giving us a favorable answer. We do not know if King David received this sign from God or not, and though we can ask for “some token…for good”, God might not always give it in the way that we expect it. Instead, with faith, thankfulness and persistent prayer, we must wait patiently for God’s answer.
What have you learned from Psalm 68 about effective prayer, and God’s faithfulness in answering it? Will you turn to God in prayer during difficult times with the same persistence, faith and gratitude?