How do we pray in 2020? Psalm 86

Week of November 9: Psalm 86

No matter what the week ahead holds, the psalmist in Psalm 86 has some guidance for us on how to pray when we’re in need of help.

  • Read Psalm 86 (each day or whenever you’re able)
  • Journal for 5 minutes whatever comes to mind. Don’t overanalyze what comes out – just put it out onto the paper.
  • Go on with your day, letting the psalm marinate within you.
  • Look back at your journal at week’s end. What do you notice?
The psalmist plucks at God’s ear and points to the worthy soul issuing from his mouth. “Bend your ear lord and hear me: because I am destitute and poor. Defend my soul because I am holy.” St. Alban’s Psalter

The psalmist asks for help and,
nearly immediately, praises God for answering.
How can I pray like that?

In Psalm 86 we see the psalmist vow to praise God in anticipation of God’s deliverance. What do we make of this? 

  • Are we engaging in a “quid pro quo” relationship with God?  God: You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours? 
  • Did something happen sometime in the middle of this psalm that changed the psalmist? 
  • Is the psalmist just that faithful that she/he can praise from within the struggle?

“Perhaps this certainty of a hearing is more of an inward conviction on the psalmist’s part that arises after the complaint has been voiced…. God is ‘powerful and accessible’ and is characteristically known to intervene to transform situations of distress. Israel’s God is faithful to the divine promises… Thus, a lament is an act of faithfulness.” – Denise Dombkowski Hopkins, Journey Through the Psalms

“While I sputter angrily at God in disbelief that this is happening to me, grief at the changes and losses, and frustrations with limitations, wishing I could scream – but I’m not there yet, it’s churning inside me – I simultaneously rejoice in KNOWING that God wants to know how I feel, is big enough and cares enough to hear it, and that our relationship is strong enough to bear it… I am humbly thankful to be able to trust our powerful, awesome God with my anger, grief, and frustration, knowing that the commitment is there – on God’s part and mine – to work through it. Like an ant standing up to an elephant, trusting the elephant to love it and not step on it.” – Denise Dombkowski Hopkins shares this Christmas meditation which Rev. Elaine Emeth wrote after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

The psalmist humbles herself/himself
and praises God’s wonder…
but also prays boldly.

How do humble ourselves before God AND ask for real help?

“This psalm concerns a person in need who is able to announce himself as a legitimate petitioner before the God of life, like whom there is no other. Remarkably, the desperate needs of ‘I’ are displaced by confident trust in ‘thou.’ The self is overwhelmed and immersed in the glorious truth of the ‘thou,’ who has the capacity to heal and restore the ‘I’ of the petitioner.” – Walter Brueggemann, William H. Bellinger, Jr., Psalms: New Cambridge Bible Commentary

One Minute with Psalm 86: How do we avoid “IF/THEN” prayers?
One Minute with Psalm 86: How do we pray to God, and not about God?
One Minute with Psalm 86: How do we pray without apologizing for our neediness?