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  A Study of Psalm 86:1-17

This study contains Greek or Hebrew words. They will appear as scrambled letters enclosed in <brackets> unless you have the appropriate fonts installed on your computer. See the Information about this web site page for more information.


Prayer is one of the foundations of our Christian faith. We know we should be praying, but sometimes we’re not sure how. Psalm 86 gives us a pattern of prayer. As we examine this beautiful psalm, we will discover how we should pray.

The Hebrew titlefor this psalm is < dwidfl; hl@fpit@;> taphillah l’dawid which means "A Prayer of David." Although many of the psalms can be considered prayers, only five are actually titled as such—psalms 17, 86, 90, 102, 142. This is one of them. Spurgeon commented, "We may learn from the present Psalm that the great saints of old were accustomed to pray very much in the same fashion as we do; believers in all ages are of one family."

Verse 1


Hear, O LORD, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.


When we go to prayer, we need to freely express our faults and our weaknesses. The psalmist starts off by saying he is poor and needy. This is a simple confession of David’s state. Do you feel poor and needy? Do troubles seem to appear around every corner? Don’t be anxious. Go to God for help.

Notice the first part of this verse says, "Hear, O Lord, and answer me." When we go to God, he hears and he answers. We must come to him in humility freely admitting all our failures, all our temptations, and all our sins. We need to enter God’s throne room with no masks on. Let’s not pretend to be something we’re not. After all, God knows everything about us anyway, so we’re not going to fool him. It is only when we remove all the facades, that we are able to truly be ourselves in prayer. Then we will feel the touch of God ministering to our soul.

As Spurgeon wrote, "When our prayers are lowly by reason of our humility, or feeble by reason of our sickness, or without wing by reason of our despondency, the Lord will bow down to them...."

Verse 2


Guard my life, for I am devoted to you. You are my God; save your servant who trusts in you.


As we pray, we need to trust God. It is always amazing to me that people pray to God but don’t really believe that God is going to do something about what they are praying. It’s as if they’re saying to themselves, Well the doctor couldn’t help me, the aspirin didn’t work, and the heating pad didn’t bring relief so I might as well try prayer.

When we pray we need to believe. Jesus said in Mark 11:24, "Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours." We need to believe that God hears us and answers us.

In 1864 Barnes explained why David could confidently come to God with his prayer, "The ground of the plea here is, that he was a friend of God; and that it was proper on that account to look to him for protection. ... A child looks to a parent for protection, because he is a child; a citizen looks to the protection of the laws, because he is a citizen; and so the people of God may look to him for protection, because they are his people."

Verse 3


Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I call to you all day long.


We must pray often. Prayer is not to be used only when we are in trouble or facing some dilemma. Every Christian should spend time every day in prayer. In fact Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:16, "Pray continually." We need to be communing with our Savior throughout the day. It can be for just a short moment, or maybe only a few words, but as we go through our daily activities, we need to be in an attitude of prayer.

Spurgeon assures us, "He who prays every day, and all the day...may rest assured that the Lord will hear him in the day of his need. If we cried sometimes to man, or other false confidences, we might expect to be referred to them in the hour of our calamity, but if in all former time we have looked to the Lord alone, we may be sure that he will not desert us now."

Verse 4


Bring joy to your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.


We see from this psalm that David prays as if to a friend. Praying to God is like talking to a close friend. We can share the deepest concerns from our heart, and come to him with all our sorrows and cares. He is always happy to hear us, and he is ever willing to listen to our requests.

Notice that there is no pretentiousness here. Just a simple prayer from the heart. No fancy, long entreaties of God, only a simple, "Bring joy to your servant." When you feel that all your friends have deserted you, you can always go to the One who sticks closer than a brother. God is always near. Speak to him as you would to your closest friend.

This is what David does as he concludes this verse with the words, "for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul." Do you need a friend? Are you looking for a friendly ear to listen to your problems? Lift up your soul to God.

Amesius informs us, "That prayer which brings consolation principally consists in an elevation of the heart, not of the voice."

Verse 5


You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call to you.


Pray for forgiveness. This verse tells us that the Lord is abounding in love to all who call on him. We need to confess all our faults to him. And we also need to pray for the forgiveness of others.

Keil and Delitzsch wrote, "The Lord is good...and for this very reason also ready to forgive, and great and rich in mercy for all who call upon Him as such."

And Barnes stated, "We should call in vain on a God who was not merciful and ready to forgive; but in the Divine character there is the most ample foundation for such an appeal. In his benevolence; in his readiness to forgive; in the plenitude of his mercy, God is all that a penitent sinner could wish him to be."

Verse 6


Hear my prayer, O LORD; listen to my cry for mercy.


Pray that God will show you his mercy. God reaches us in his mercy even though we don’t deserve his help. We cannot earn his favor by our goodness or by our good works. We receive his grace because he loves us in spite of our failings. No matter what difficulties you are facing, you can ask for God’s mercy as the psalmist did here. The Lord will hear your prayer and show you kindness.

Adam Clarke paraphrases and comments, "Attend to me. Millions call upon thee for help and mercy; but who has more need than myself? That the psalmist was deeply in earnest, his conduct shows. 1. He prayed. 2. His prayer was vehement; he lifted up his voice. 3. He continued in prayer; he abounded in supplications."

Verse 7


In the day of my trouble I will call to you, for you will answer me.


One of the secrets of an effective prayer life is to expect an answer. Expect God to help you. As David wrote here in this verse, "I will call to you, for you will answer me." We are not praying just for the purpose of hearing ourselves recite words. We are praying in order to receive help from the Creator and Ruler of the universe. We need to believe that God will answer us.
As James wrote in James 1:6-7, "But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord."

So let us pray believing and ask without doubting, and let us expect that God will hear our prayer and answer us.

Dickson commented on this verse in 1650, "Every man should so make use of, and apply to himself, the general command of God to call upon him in trouble, with a promise of deliverance, as his faith may be most strengthened by it...."

Spurgeon wrote, "Our experience confirms us in the belief that Jehovah the living God really does aid those who call upon him, and therefore we pray and mean to pray...because we really, indeed, and of a truth find it to be a practical and effectual means of obtaining help from God in the hour of need."

Verse 8


Among the gods there is none like you, O Lord; no deeds can compare with yours.


When we pray, we need to trust in God based on what’s recorded in scripture, on his deeds. God’s actions to men, and man’s response to God are recorded throughout the Bible. Scripture gives us clear instruction as to the nature of God and how he operates with man. When we read of men like David who believed in God and prayed in faith and received God’s promises, we can be confident that God will do the same for us. When we read of God’s mercy and forgiveness in the case of David’s murder of Uriah or Mary Magdalene’s adultery or Rahab’s harlotry or Peter’s denial of Christ, we can be assured that God will show us the same mercy and forgiveness.

When we pray, we need to trust in God’s word. As the hymn tells us,

Standing on the promises that cannot fail,
When the howling storms of doubt and fear assail,
By the living Word of God I shall prevail,
Standing on the promises of God.

Verse 9


All the nations you have made will come and worship before you, O Lord; they will bring glory to your name.


What a wonderful prophecy of what actually occurred with the spread of the church to the gentiles. During David’s time, few besides the Jews worshipped the Lord. Now members of all nations come and worship before God. And some day all from every nation will come and glorify God’s name. What a privilege we have that we are now allowed to be grafted into God’s family, though unworthy gentiles, to be able to come and worship before him and glorify his name.

Keil and Delitzsch point out, "But although for the most part flowing on only in the language of prayer...this Psalm is, moreover, not without remarkable significance and beauty. With the confession of the incomparableness of the Lord is combined the prospect of the recognition of the incomparable One throughout the nations of the earth."

Verse 10


For you are great and do marvelous deeds; you alone are God.


When we pray we need to acknowledge God’s greatness. For the last phrase in this verse, "you alone are God," the Septuagint, which was the Greek translation made in 250 B.C., gives this translation, "thou art the only and the great God." We need to realize that when we come in prayer, we are coming to the great God who rules the worlds. We are not speaking empty words, but we are enlisting the aid of the most powerful force in the cosmos.

As Barnes wrote in 1871, "A God who could do these things could also do that which the psalmist asked of him, for what God actually does proves that there is nothing within the limits of possibility which he cannot perform. The greatness and the power of God are reasons why we should appeal to him in our weakness, and in our times of trouble."

Verse 11


Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.


When we pray, we need to ask for the Lord to help us to grow in his Spirit. Notice that the psalmist prays for 4 things: 1. God, teach me your way, 2. Help me to walk in your truth, 3. Unite my heart, and 4. Help me to fear your name.

First, we need to pray for God to teach us. We need instruction in his ways. Next, we need to pray for God to help us walk in his truth. It’s easy to do things our own way, but we need to learn the truth of God’s way. Third, we pray that God will unite our heart — make it one in purpose. And finally, we pray that God will help us to reverence his name. Too often we take God and his name too lightly, but we need to be in awe of the Lord.

In 1825 Adam Clarke wrote about what the psalmist is telling us to do, "...join all the purposes, resolutions, and affections of my heart together, to fear and to glorify thy name. This is a most important prayer. A divided heart is a great curse; scattered affections are a miserable plague. When the heart is not at unity with itself, the work of religion cannot go on."

Verse 12


I will praise you, O Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever.


Every time we pray, we need to spend time in worship and praise of our Lord. We need to tell God we love him, and praise him for all the wonderful things he has done for us. We need to worship him for who he is — the almighty one, the all present one, the all knowing one, the one who love us and shows us mercy and compassion, the one who forgives us from our sins, and redeems our soul from destruction. Prayer is not complete without a time of praise to our Creator.

As Spurgeon comments on this verse, "God has never done blessing us, let us never have done blessing him. As he ever gives us grace, let us ever render to him the glory of it."

Verse 13


For great is your love toward me; you have delivered me from the depths of the grave.


When we pray, we need to believe in God based on our past experiences. As we look back over our life, we remember countless examples of God’s mercy, his love, his intervention, his healing, and his protecting hand upon us. We need to allow these past experiences to bolster our faith to trust the Lord for our future needs. He took care of me yesterday, he is taking care of me today, so I know he will be with me tomorrow.

As Spurgeon learned, "Personal experience is ever the master singer."

Verse 14


The arrogant are attacking me, O God; a band of ruthless men seeks my life— men without regard for you.


I believe one of the most important things we can do when we pray is to acknowledge our fears and our worries. Here David expresses his concerns for his physical safety. There were men who were seeking his life, but worse yet, they did not honor God or his word, so they would not be inclined to treat David justly.

We all have faced times in our life when we were afraid or felt insecure — when circumstances seemed to be working against us and we feared what the future might hold. Let God know your feelings. Express them to him. Don’t hold anything back. Sometimes, it’s only after we acknowledge our fears that we are ready to receive God’s peace.

Verse 15


But you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.


When we pray, we need to understand that God is compassionate to us. Some people have this picture of God as a harsh tyrant going about searching for any little thing that we do wrong, and when he finds it, we think he will send down his wrath upon us and cause us to go through all kinds of pain and misery. God is a God of judgement — to the unbeliever. But to the believer God is a God of love and compassion. Jesus paid the price for our sins, so we are no longer under the judgement of God. We have been set free by the cross.

Many a Christian’s prayer life has been hindered by this misunderstanding of God’s judgement. When we have sinned and failed God, we are afraid to enter into his presence. We don’t want to pray for fear of what God might do to us. So we do the worst possible thing we can do when we are in trouble — we try to ignore God. In this verse, David wrote that the Lord is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abounding in love and faithfulness.

No matter what awful things we have done, God wants us to come to him in prayer and repentance. Remember, David committed murder and adultery. He knew first hand about God’s mercy.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon also wrote about God’s mercy, "Here is compassion for the weak and sorrowing, grace for the undeserving, longsuffering for the provoking, mercy for the guilty, and truth for the tried. ... Are we sorrowful? We find the Lord full of compassion. Are we contending with temptation? His grace comes to our aid. Do we err? He is patient with us. Have we sinned? He is plenteous in mercy. Are we resting on his promise? He will fulfil it with abundant truth."

Verse 16


Turn to me and have mercy on me; grant your strength to your servant and save the son of your maidservant.


When we pray, we can be confident that God will give us strength. We may be emotionally distressed, we may be physically ill, or we may be spiritually weak, but God will always give us strength to make it through. He will help us and comfort us and lift us up.

Spurgeon comments, "When the Lord gives us his own strength we are sufficient for all emergencies, and have no cause to fear any adversaries."

Verse 17


Give me a sign of your goodness, that my enemies may see it and be put to shame, for you, O LORD, have helped me and comforted me.


When we pray we need to believe that God will come to our aid when we face trouble. As Christians, we cannot respond to the taunts and threats of others as non-believers do. We need to be like David here and trust in God’s protection. Many time believers want to take things in their own hands, but Jesus told us in Matthew 5:39-40, "But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well." We are not to deal with adversaries as others do.

Poteat asks the question of David, "How shall he deal with them? Since he is a godly man, he must use godly methods, apprehended by learning and practicing the way of the Lord. It is not enough to be taught; he must walk in God’s truth. ... This he can rightly do because he has committed himself to God’s way of handling insolent persons. What is God’s way? Here we breathe the rarefied atmosphere of the saint’s world, an atmosphere too finely pure for the robust and realistic man of our times. For God’s ways are the ways of mercy and grace, of patience and faithfulness."
If we are filled with doubts and fears, we will not be able to act according to Christian principles. We need to realize that God will help us no matter how bad the situation.



So how should we pray?

  • We need to freely express our faults and our weaknesses - verse 1
  • When we pray, we need to trust God - verse 2
  • We need to pray often - verse 3
  • We need to realize prayer is a conversation with our friend - verse 4
  • We need to pray for forgiveness - verse 5
  • We need to pray that God will show us his mercy - verse 6
  • When we pray, we should expect an answer - verse 7
  • We need to trust in God based on what’s recorded in scripture - verse 8
  • When we pray, we should acknowledge God’s greatness - verse 10
  • We need to pray for God to help us grow in his Spirit - verse 11
  • When we pray, we need to spend time in worship and praise - verse 12
  • We need to believe in God based on past experience - verse 13
  • When we pray, we should acknowledge our fears - verse 14
  • We need to realize God is compassionate to us - verse 15
  • When we pray, we need to believe that God will give us strength - verse 16
  • We need to believe that God will come to our aid when we face trouble - verse 17

As we learn to spend more time in prayer, we will discover our spirit being refreshed. God has made us to be praying people. Let us not neglect this important part of our Christian life.


Additional Study Notes:


Plumer: "We have excellent models of prayer in Scripture, and especially in the Psalms; and we deprive ourselves of much pleasure and profit by not using them freely and familiarly."

Scroggie, "The prayer is full of the Lord. ...the Lord is mentioned once for every verse except one. They are the best prayers which are fullest of Him."

According to Hamilton taphillah is found 76 times in the Old Testament and 32 times in the psalms.

Verse 2


Hebrew for "devoted" < dysixf> chasiyd means literally "one who shows mercy."

Adam Clarke for the Hebrew gives, "for I am merciful. The spirit of this prayer is,

The mercy I to others show,

That mercy show to me!"

Verse 5


Spurgeon comments, "God does not dispense his mercy from a slender store...but out of a cornucopia he pours forth the infinite riches of his mercy: his goodness flows forth in abounding streams towards those who pray...."

Verse 7


Barnes noted, "He had firm confidence in God at all times; an unwavering belief that God is a hearer of prayer. This is a just foundation of hope when we approach God."

Verse 8


Barnes: "The psalmist, in respect to prayer, and to help to be obtained by prayer, compares his own condition with that of those who worshipped false gods. He had a God who could hear; they had none. ... To him there is a throne of grace which is always accessible; to them there is none. There is One to whom he may always pray...."

Verse 11


Barnes comments on the term united, "...that his heart might be single in its views and purposes; that there might be no distracting purposes; that one great aim might be always before him. ... It may be added, that there is no more appropriate prayer which a man can offer than that his heart may have such a unity of purpose, and that nothing may be allowed to interfere with that one supreme purpose."

Verse 13


Clarke: "This must mean more than the grave...a place of perdition for the soul, as the grave is a place of corruption for the body."

Verse 14


Barnes: "The idea here is that they pursued their object by violence and not by right; they did it in a fierce and savage manner, or in such a way as to inspire terror."