Pray Confidently


Lesson Focus:  Based on David’s prayer in Psalm 86, this lesson reveals reasons believers can pray with confidence.

Confident in God’s Character: Psalm 86:1-5.

[1]  Incline your ear, O LORD, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. [2]  Preserve my life, for I am godly; save your servant, who trusts in you–you are my God. [3]  Be gracious to me, O Lord, for to you do I cry all the day. [4]  Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul. [5]  For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.  [ESV]

This prayer psalm uses many phrases and expressions that appear in other psalms and elsewhere in the Old Testament. It is thus another psalm that takes the form of a prayer soaked in the traditional language of a relationship with Yahweh, the covenant God. By using ways of speaking to God and of God that have been sanctified by their use over the centuries, individuals are able to articulate what they want to say to God. In a context of affliction, then, people who pray do not abandon the formulas of the faith. The psalm also has the standard elements that appear in a prayer psalm, though in a distinctive configuration. It is dominated by its opening plea for attention and rescue [1-7], though this does not tell us why the psalmist needs deliverance. It goes on to a declaration of the way the nations will come to honor Yahweh in light of what Yahweh will have done [8-10]. Then in the next section [11-13] David declares his commitment to honoring Yahweh for the anticipated act of deliverance. Only with the last section [14-17] do we get something like a lament with a brief account of the psalmist’s predicament, though even here a plea for God to turn and act dominates the prayer. The prayer’s dominant image is of Yahweh as David’s master while he is Yahweh’s servant. The psalm thus works within the framework of the relationship of mutual commitment between a master and a servant [2,5,13,15].

The first section begins in the common fashion of a prayer with a plea for Yahweh to listen and an appeal in general terms for God’s deliverance, and it provides arguments for that in terms of the psalmist’s need and Yahweh’s character. [1-3] The psalm’s first appeal is for Yahweh to listen and answer on the basis of the psalmist being poor and needy. Verse 2 moves to the substance of the appeal and begins to introduce the psalm’s recurrent theme: plea for mercy. David is a servant which, in this psalm, means a person who is committed to his Lord. You are my God points to the covenant relationship between Yahweh and His people. Thus the psalmist is identifying himself as one of Yahweh’s covenant people. And this covenant relationship is the reason the psalmist can appeal to God for His protection and deliverance: preserve my life … save your servant. Trusts in you identifies what the psalmist means by I am godly. Verse 3 begins with another plea; this time for grace from the Lord. This plea is followed by another “for” clause which provides further explanation to what the psalmist means by I am godly. David cries all the day to his Lord because he knows the graciousness of the Lord will result in listening and delivering. The indication is that the psalmist is trusting and calling only upon the Lord and no one else: in you … to you. And the fact that he cries all the day indicates how pressing is the situation out of which this plea comes.

[4-5]  In these verses we have another plea followed by two more “for” clauses. Asking for joy goes beyond the appeals in verses 2-3. The word translated soul is the same word translated life in verse 2. David asks not only that his life will be preserved or saved, but that he will have joy in his whole being. The basis of his request for joy is that, as the servant, he lifts up his soul to his Lord. Again the implication is that it is only to the Lord that the servant lifts up his soul. Verse 5 begins with the fifth “for” clause of the psalm, but this clause is quite different from the preceding four. This clause is longer than the others. And each of the previous four clauses appealed to who the psalmist is [1-2] or what the psalmist does [3-4]. But the fifth clause appeals to who Yahweh is: the Lord is good and forgiving. Good in the context of this psalm points to God’s generosity and graciousness. The word translated forgiving suggests the pardon that a person in authority gives an ordinary person which fits the master-servant relationship in this psalm. It is the verb Moses uses in appealing to Yahweh at Sinai [Ex. 34:9]. Significantly, the psalmist then goes on to characterize Yahweh as abounding in steadfast love, which is part of Yahweh’s own self-characterization to Moses at Sinai [Ex. 34:7]. This steadfast love (hesed) is the most important characteristic of Yahweh, the Covenant God.

Confident in God’s Response: Psalm 86:6-10.

[6]  Give ear, O LORD, to my prayer; listen to my plea for grace. [7]  In the day of my trouble I call upon you, for you answer me. [8]  There is none like you among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like yours. [9]  All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name. [10]  For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God.  [ESV]

[6-7]  Give ear … listen connects back to incline your ear in verse 1. And plea for grace connects to be gracious in verse 3. Verse 7 gives an indication of the reasons why Yahweh should respond to the prayer by speaking for the first time of trouble from which David needs deliverance. It thus corresponds to the self-description as weak and needy in verse 1, though it presses that further. The ending for clause explicitly provides a restated reason for the psalmist calling upon the Lord. In verse 1 answer was an imperative as Davis appealed to the Lord for an answer to his prayer. But in verse 7, answer now becomes a statement of faith and the foundation for the psalmist’s hope in spite of his present predicament. David can call upon the Lord because he knows it is the Lord’s nature to answer the call of His people.

[8-10]  The description of the servant’s Lord that follows expresses the psalmist’s faith and provides further assurance that the Master will respond to His servant. The emphasis is on not merely who Yahweh is personally, but who Yahweh is over against other gods, the other masters that this servant might call on but does not. Because Yahweh is uniquely powerful in His works, David realizes that it is useless to seek help from any other source. These are the power and deeds that the servant needs to see operating in his particular situation. He finds hope because there is no other God like the Lord, whose deeds are marvelous and reflect his greatness. The psalmist affirms his confidence in the Sovereign Lord by proclaiming His great acts, pledging wholehearted commitment to the God who alone can do these wonders, and expressing the belief that all people will one day submit to the Lord. See the three parts of verse 9 where all the nations … shall come … worship … glorify. The psalmist does not indicate when this will take place but the thought is similar to Philippians 2:9-11. And the words of verse 9 are incorporated into a song in Revelation 15:4 which the saints sing before the throne of God in heaven. The structure of verses 8-10 are such that verses 8 and 10 give the reasons why all nations will come and worship and glorify the name of the Lord: Yahweh is the only true God as evidenced by His Sovereign Power.

Confident in God’s Ways: Psalm 86:11-13.

[11]  Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name. [12]  I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever. [13]  For great is your steadfast love toward me; you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.  [ESV]

In the confidence that the Lord will have mercy on him, the psalmist looks beyond the present troubles to his own renewed commitment to the Lord, his covenantal God. As in verses 5-7, David here expresses his devotion and submission to the Lord. In his desire to walk wisely in the presence of God, the psalmist asks for guidance and a new heart. He longs for inner renewal so that he may walk in God’s truth and in the fear of the name of the Lord. To walk in truth signifies fidelity to the Lord. Unite my heart asks for a heart that is undivided in its loyalty to Yahweh so that all of it can give Him thanks. To fear the name of the Lord signifies a heart of reverence. The renewed commitment also finds expression in acts and words of praise to the Lord: give thanks … I will glorify [12]. When God acts for us, we do not just give one thank you. It has such an effect on us that the praise will never stop resounding. The for clause in verse 13 again relates to the character and action of Yahweh that will be involved in the psalmist’s rescue. On one hand, it is Yahweh’s great steadfast love, words picked up from verses 5 and 10. On the other, it is because of the deed that will express that steadfast love: the deliverance of David’s soul. The affirmation of confidence in verse 13 presupposes that this great God will and does deliver those who call on Him. He remains true to his nature [5,13,15]. Yahweh delivers from death to life because of his steadfast love (hesed). Adversity is like the depths of Sheol. Though Sheol may denote the realm of the dead, it may also suggest the experience of adversity that ultimately is likened to death. David is in the depths of Sheol where no one can climb out. Yet that does not make it inaccessible to Yahweh, who reaches in and rescues him. This deliverance is probably  a reference to a redemptive act in the past that the psalmist is recalling which gives him hope for his future deliverance from present troubles.

Summary.  This prayer psalm is filled with petitions, at least fifteen of them, but they are variants of the one idea of the psalmist’s need for mercy. He asks God to: hear and answer [1], guard and save [2], have mercy [3], bring joy [4], hear and listen [6], teach me and give me an undivided heart [11], turn, have mercy, grant strength, and save [16], and give me a sign of your goodness [17]. We may remember that there is hardly a psalm of David’s that does not mention his enemies and ask God’s help in delivering him from their attacks. But in the midst of these many requests for deliverance from his ever-present enemies there is a remarkable stanza in which David also prays that God will teach him His way and give him an undivided heart [11-13]. This is the key to David’s greatness. Most of us, when we pray, are concerned about deliverance and help and guidance and such things. But we are not nearly as concerned to be taught God’s way and to be helped to serve Him with an undivided heart. We want prosperity and personal safety while we nevertheless go our own way. David was not like this. He knew his heart, how prone he was to wander from God. But he also knew he needed to go in God’s way if he was to prosper spiritually. So he asks God for this great blessing.

Praying with Arguments. One of Charles Spurgeon’s great themes when he was writing or speaking about prayer was that we should learn to pray with arguments. That is, that we should sharpen our thinking by learning to express the reasons why God should answer our prayers affirmatively. It should be clear that this is not so much for God’s benefit as for ours. If we cannot think of reasons why God should answer our prayers, it is probably the case that our requests are wrong and need to be revised or redirected. Notice how David strengthens his prayers with sound arguments. They are easy to find because they are highlighted by an eightfold repetition of the word for, which means “because.” He begins with reasons based on who he is and his need. As he prays his thoughts shift to God, and his later reasons therefore have to do with who God is, with His power and great grace. First, there are four reasons based on David and his need. (1) For I am poor and needy [1]. (2) For I am godly [2]. (3) For to you do I cry all the day. (4) For to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul [4]. Second, there are four reasons based on God and God’s character. (1) For you answer me [7]. (2) For you are great and do wondrous things [10]. (3) For great is your steadfast love toward me [13]. (4) Because you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me [17].

Questions for Discussion:

1.         In verses 1-5, how does David describe himself; how does he describe God?

2.         What gives David confidence that he will receive an answer from God to his plea for help?

3.         In verse 11, David prays for two things (teach, unite) so that he will be able to do two things (walk, fear). What in verses 8-10 caused David to pray this way? Why do you think that David interrupts his prayer for help and mercy in order to pray for these things? [Focus here on how the recognition of the greatness of God in 8-10 caused David to want to know more about this God and how he can obey and worship Him. Discuss what we can learn about how we are to pray from David’s experience here.)

4.         Verse 12 describes two things David will do: give thanks and glorify. Verse 13 gives two reasons why David will do these two things: steadfast love and deliverance. Why is it important in our prayers to remember God’s steadfast love for His covenant children and His faithfulness in providing for our needs in the past?

5.         What does Charles Spurgeon mean by learning to pray with arguments? How do you see David doing this in this prayer? How can you put this into practice in your prayer life?


Psalms, Volume 2, John Goldingay, Baker.

Psalms, Willem Vangemeren, EBC, Zondervan.

Psalms, Volume 2, James Boice, Baker.

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