Week of June 30

The Gift of Face-to-Face Prayers

Read: Amos 4-6; Psalm 86; Titus 1

“Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me,
for I am poor and needy.”
Psalm 86:1, ESV


“In prayer it is better to have a heart without words, than words without a heart.” The psalmist knew this when he cried out, “You are my God!” This psalm is the only one associated with King David in the third book of Psalms. He pours out an individual lament to God and, while we do not know the specific circumstance, his cry involves need, affliction, and even enemies (86:1, 7, 16 &17). All three of those situations would stir up a lament in most everyone! Have you ever asked God for something similar? Let’s learn today how God hears and answers our heart cries.

The Meaning of the Text

The psalm’s structure
This psalm has been termed an “individual lament” psalm, where God is called upon to help with need (v. 1), affliction (v. 7), and enemies (vv. 14, 17). The psalmist knows he is devoted and faithful to God, so he confidently expects God to answer him and to defeat his enemies (Handbook). There are five strophes, each consisting of a prayer for mercy and a confession of the Lord (vv. 1-5, vv. 6-10, vv. 11-13, vv. 14-15, and vv. 16-17; EBC). We will turn our focus to the first section of the psalm today. The worshiper cries out to God for help and his petition shows us how to develop our own soul cries for God’s aid.
Turning our pain into precise prayer
Hospital and physician exam rooms typically display charts that help patients to describe the intensity of their pain. Pictures and language help express a specific level of discomfort. Verses one through four in this psalm provide us with requests that are supported with reasons. The psalmist has crafted a careful argument that he offers to the Lord. The petitions made to God do not fly off in every direction; instead the psalmist knows precisely what he wishes to place before the Lord and states it with precision.

We should notice that “you are my God” is the only statement in these verses that stands on its own without making a request or stating a reason (Handbook). I liken it as the all-important nail upon which each of the prayer requests hangs. It occurs at something like a midpoint in the first four verses (v. 2).
Presenting our requests to God
Ask God to turn His attention to your need. The petitions begin with “incline Your ear, O Lord,” meaning “to bend the ear” or “pay attention to” or “to listen.” It is not clear what the psalmist’s needs are, but the phrase “poor and needy” is a common one for “the godly” (35:10; 37:14; 40:17; 70:5; 109:16, 22; EBC).
Call on God to preserve you. The psalmist also petitions the Lord to “preserve” his life, for he is godly. He literally asks for God to guard his “soul,” or not to let him die, which means his whole person. He longs for God to extend His covenant blessing to him by which God protects His people from harm (cf. Numbers 6:24-26; Psalm 121; EBC).
Rely upon God’s grace. The supplicant now prays for God to “be gracious” to him, meaning to take pity or to have mercy on him. Any sinner, who sees himself or herself rightly, knows the importance of this petition (cf. Romans 3:23; 6:23). Some translators use the phrase, “Cry in your heart for me” to describe the earnest plea in the psalmist’s words (v. 3; Handbook). He then widens the prayer by asking God to “make happy” or “joyful” the soul of His servant (v. 4). From “Lord listen, please,” to “I need your joy to flood my being,” we see how full and rich the prayer of this person was. The focus throughout has been on all those elements of God’s being that bring true meaning and flourishing in a life. No puny request for things when the one who creates all things is available to render aid!

The Message for Your Heart

The “country doctor” has long been synonymous with a person who travels a great distance to provide a listening ear, caring heart, and healing touch. I have encountered such doctors throughout my life, and they are never forgotten. They took time to allow me the opportunity to state my condition. Their questions invited me to share in detail the discomfort I was feeling. In medical ethics we term this relationship a dyad. Face-to-face treatment occurs in this type of relationship.

The Lord wants is to approach Him face to face. Please do not peel off your prayers like you are dispassionately skinning a potato. Take time to open your entire soul to the Lord, one carefully designed petition and reason at a time. Enjoy the relationship with the Heavenly Father, who wants to communicate face-to-face.

For Thought and Action

1. Upon what hinge do your prayers hang? Eliminate any false allegiances (idols) that will interfere with your main claim, “You are my God.” Worship and want Him more than any of your requests.
2. For Families: Does your family know the worship song that goes, “O, God You are my God, and I will ever praise you!”? This phrase, also in our Psalm 86 passage, is one to commit to memory and to say when we pray to God. Here is a way to help your kids to pray like King David.

At bedtime, before their prayer time begins, invite your children to think about King David singing his song of praise and lament from Psalm 86, knowing that God wants to meet with David to hear and answer him. When David sang this song, his heart was troubled. Ask your kids to think about what might be troubling them.

Then invite your children to sing “O, God, You are my God.” (Click here to hear and learn it.) Then lead your children to ask God first to lean down to hear them (incline His ear), and then to tell God, out loud and very clearly, what their troubles are, one by one. Now let them ask for God’s protection and safety, and thank Him for His mercy and grace. Finally, invite them to ask God to give them comfort and to make their hearts glad. Help them, as they climb into bed, to memorize this verse:
“Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me,
for I am poor and needy.”

Psalm 86:1
May your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock