A Lesson On Prayer
Sermon preached by Pastor Alan Redpath on Sunday, June 15, 1958.
Our subject is prayer, and I feel that within Psalm 86 are some fundamental lessons on this great theme that everyone of us needs to learn. It is uncertain when David actually wrote these words; it may have been when he was being hunted by Saul, or maybe when he was betrayed by Absalom. This much I do know it was at a time of great crisis, perplexity and affliction in his life, when he was being sorely tested and tried, when it seemed that but for God he would be overcome.
At such a time he turned to the Lord in prayer. He was a man of convictions and those convictions are revealed in this Psalm. As he prayed it was not in a panic, but to come to God with his convictions: convictions first about God Himself, then about himself as a man, convictions that led to decisions and actions as he prayed. This is not a prayer of intercession for others; it is a prayer of desperate petition for himself.
No less than thirty-five times in these seventeen verses we have these words: “I,” “my,” “me,” “thy servant.” This is a place for prayer like that. Of course, we must not be selfish in our praying, but when we get to the place of recognizing the desperate condition of our own lives and our utter need, this is the kind of prayer we begin to pray.
As we look closely into this Psalm, I want you in the first place to notice David’s convictions concerning God. First, the personof God. In the English language we lose a great deal in the translation from the original tongues of the Bible. Both Hebrew and Greek are so much richer than the English, and David in the course of this prayer uses three titles for God which express his convictions about the character of God. In verse 2 David says, “My God.” In verse 10 he says, “Thou art God alone.” In verse 14 he says, “Oh, God, the proud are risen against me.” In verse 15, “But Thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion,” and in each case where we have that word “God,” it is the word “Elohim,” the Mighty One, the Great and All-powerful One. It is in that character that God first revealed Himself in the Bible: “In the beginning God.” And in the hour of this man’s great need he turned to a God who was omnipotent. How wonderful it is to be able to turn to a God like that! Elohim, the mighty God, the Omnipotent One!
Then in verse 1, David says, “O Lord, hear me;” in verse 3, “Be merciful unto me, O Lord;” in verse 5, “For thou, Lord, art good;” in verse 6, “Give ear, O Lord;” in verse 9, “…shall come and worship before thee, O Lord;” in verse 12, “I will praise thee, O Lord;” in verse 15, “But thou, O Lord,” and in each case he using the word “Jehovah,” the covenant-keeping God, the God who is utterly dependable, the God who never breaks His word.
There are some people who have a reputation for being unreliable, and if some folks say to me, “I’ll give you a helping hand, I’ll be along tomorrow,” I believe that when they come!
If Jehovah had broken one word of His promise to anyone of His children, I would have to regard Him with suspicion. If He did, I would have to accept His word with reservation, but how wonderful in prayer to come to a covenant-keeping God whose word cannot be broken.
Then again in verse 14, David says, “Oh, God, the proud are risen against thee;” in verse 8, he says, “Among the gods there is none like unto thee, O Lord;” and again in verse 11, “Teach me thy way, O Lord;” in verse 17, Because thou, Lord, hast holpen me,” and the word is “Adonai,” master, owner, sovereign.
I shall have something to say to you at the conclusion of my message about David’s claim upon that title. Notice it in the meantime, and also the language of verse 8 when David says, “Among the gods there is none like unto thee, O Lord.” “Lord, you are absolutely unrivaled in your Deity.”
In verse 9, “All nations whom thou hast made shall come and worship before thee, O Lord; and shall glorify thy name.” “Lord, thou art unmatched in thy sovereignty.” And in this hour of this man’s need he had these deep convictions about God, the Mighty One, the Omnipotent One, the One who never breaks His word and never breaks His promise, the One who is his Master, his Owner, his Sovereign.
It would take some of the panic out of life if you and I knew God like that. David not only had convictions concerning God’s person, but he had convictions concerning God’s plenitude. Verse 5, “For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive, plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee.” Verse 13, “For great is thy mercy toward me; and thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell;” verse 15, “But thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth.”
As this man went to prayer in this crisis, he knew he had no claim upon God because of anything in himself. He needed desperately at that moment a God who was full of mercy, a God with limitless patience.
I heard just recently about a young convert to the Christian faith who at one moment was failing, the next moment confessing his sins; one moment on the mountain top, the next down in the valley, and he was going on failing and confessing, sinning and coming back, and getting restored. So it went on for years, until one day his pastor saw him again and said, “My dear brother, God gave me a bucket full of patience for you, but believe me, it’s almost empty!”
But I know a God who is limitless in His patience, and that is the kind of God I need, a God who is full of mercy and there is no end to His patience.
I have said to you before and I repeat, God’s love and mercy to the sinner out of Christ is only matched and even outmatched by His patience with His erring, wayward children.
David came to a God whose plenitude he knew. But now notice something else: he had convictions about His power. Verse 10, “For thou art great, and doest wondrous things: thou art God alone.” As he came to this God out of the depths of his need, he came to a God whom he knew could work a miracle, and it needed a miracle to save and deliver him.
I believe that there is nothing that the church of Jesus Christ needs more today than a new conception of His deity, of His power to work a miracle. We need desperately in these days a miracle-working God, for nothing less than a miracle can deliver any of us. We are far too prone to tie Him to our puny little programs and ask Him to bless them, and forget that “He can do anything but fail.” I need today a God who can work a miracle.
David had unshakable convictions concerning God, and in the crisis of his life, in his desperate need, he turned to a God like that.
Now notice in the second place, David’s convictions about himself. Verse 1, “I am poor and needy.” There is a very well used and hackneyed phrase around that says, “God helps those who help themselves.” I want to tell you that God helps those who are absolutely helpless and destitute. In Psalm 102:7 we read, “He will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer.” What a dreadful thing to be destitute! But what does the word mean? It means to be homeless, to be friendless, to be penniless, to be absolutely at the end of everything.
May I say that I honestly believe that one of the curses of twentieth century fundamental Christianity is that we are not destitute. We have become desperately self-sufficient, and indeed so great is the craze, if I may use such a word, for higher education that we are training our young people to be self-sufficient. Of course, I am not saying a thing about education of the very best that a man can get, but I remind you that Paul was a man of great and outstanding education, and he said, “Our sufficiency is of God,” and two thousand years have gone by and the situation is no different today. Our sufficiency, our help, our hope is not in the church program, not in the theological degree; it is in God.
I happened to pick up a copy of Reader’s Digest just a little while ago and noticed an article in it which was headed, “Ten Ways to Get Rid of Fear.” I guessed pretty well what the man would have to say, but I thought I would have a look—the usual sort of stuff written by a psychiatrist, and the last reason of the ten he gave was, “Have faith.” For a moment I pricked up my mental ears, but I read, “Have faith in yourself. You have got through before, you have struggled through in the past, you’ll get through again.”
My brother and sister, that is the tragedy of modern philosophy. The fact is that we are desperately poor and needy, and there is a sense in which I don’t want to ask God to take me from my knees because if He takes me out of the place where I am destitute, I’ll miss a miracle.
David’s convictions about himself, “I am poor and I am weak.”
Again, verse 2, “I am holy.” Can you be poor and needy and in the next breath holy? Surely. David is not being spiritually arrogant. He is not guilty of spiritual conceit, but he knows with absolute conviction that he has obeyed God’s way of approach to the throne and he has come to God by way of a blood sacrifice and therefore, I am holy. I have come to God the only way a sinner can come, on the ground of shed blood of an animal, and therefore because I have come God’s appointed way, I am set apart, His purchased possession, I belong to Him, and I am holy.”
If I come to God in Jesus Christ, poor, desperate, helpless, needy, and I come to Him on the only basis upon which a sinner can come, the ground of the blood and faith in the blood, then I can say, “Lord, I am positionally holy. I am your purchased possession and I belong to you.”
Again in the same verse David said, “Save thy servant that trusteth in thee.” “Lord, I’m trusting in you,” and that is the only ground and the only foundation principle of our relationship with God, for without faith it is impossible to please Him.” “I’m depending upon You,” says David, “only You can deliver me, nobody else. I’m trusting in Thee.”
Now look, my friend, some reader beset with problems, panics, trouble, crisis, fears, and burdens, here is a man who comes out of the very depths to a living God, the same God to Whom you can come, and he has these deep convictions about God, unshakeable convictions about His power and His faithfulness, and He keeps His promises for He is his Master and his Owner. He comes to God with these same deep convictions about himself, confessing that he is destitute.
If you seek to come to God and are not prepared to take that position, you will never touch the throne. I do not care who you are, if you are trying to get through to God and are still not destitute, but are imagining that your education and your ability will see you through, God has to bring you to the place where you cry with David, “I am poor and needy, desperate.”
Oh, that the church might catch the note again of its absolute destitution! David had that conviction, and yet he says, “I am holy,” and you and I can say that, too, for by faith in Jesus Christ, God has imputed that righteousness to us. Therefore, he came with the conviction that, “I am trusting and depending on Thee, Lord.” That is the approach, not only for a sinner, but for a saint; not only for an unbeliever, but for the child of God. God save us from ever getting too big to come that way, ever growing up in that sense and leaving the only basis of approach to God.
We were singing, “Teach me to pray, teach me to pray and do,” and there is no use praying unless it leads to action and deed, and conviction is no good unless it is carried into life. Therefore, because of these convictions we see David’s decisions concerning his actions.
Notice, first, he cast himself on the mercy of God. Verse 2, “Preserve my soul; for I am holy: O thou my God, save thy servant that trusteth in thee. Be merciful unto me, O Lord; for I cry unto thee daily.” He casts himself completely and utterly upon the mercy of God, and I would bring you an Old Testament illustration of someone who did that. It is found in 1 Samuel 1, the story of Hannah. Oh, how she longed for a child, how she was taunted and rebuked by her neighbors and friends and relatives for her barrenness! One day she came to the only place where she thought her prayer might be answered, to Shiloh, and there she poured out her soul, indeed she poured it out so desperately that poor old back-slidden Eli thought she was drunk. So desperate was she in prayer, and so unusual was it to see anybody desperate in prayer, that she was accused of drunkenness!
David cries in this Psalm, “O Lord, O Lord.” Isaiah cried, “Oh that Thou wouldest rend the heavens, that Thou wouldest come down!” And Hannah in bitterness of soul prayed to the Lord and wept sore, “Oh Lord!” My brethren, my sisters, the “oh” has gone out of our praying, the desperation has left, the cry from the depths of our soul, “Oh, Lord,” has gone. A few prayer requests, Brother So-and-So will lead in prayer, and that’s it.
Has God ever taunted you for the barrenness and fruitlessness of your life and testimony? He has me. The trouble is that we lie down to it. Hannah refused to, and she pleaded, “Oh, Lord!”
I would that everyone of my readers, and I myself in my own heart, in a new way might get the “oh” into our praying, that the burden might be there, that we might refuse to lie down to the barrenness of our testimony and that the Holy Spirit might make us all desperate for Him!
David cast himself on the mercy of God.
Then in the next place, he called upon the Lord in the day of trouble, “Be merciful unto me, O Lord: for I cry unto thee daily” (v. 3). He was not content to seek the help of other people; he called personally on the Lord. How often we go to others for counsel and help, but, oh, how seldom in our desperation do we go to the Lord!
As this man prayed and made these decisions concerning his actions, he saw his own heart need: “Teach me thy way, O Lord; I will walk in thy truth: unite my heart to fear thy name” (v. 11).
In the first ten verses of this Psalm, David has been asking that God do something for him; now he asks that God would do something in him, “Unite my heart to fear thy name.” See what has happened, (and it always happens when a man prays like this): as he sought the Lord and cried unto the Lord, God began to speak to him, and say to him, “Now, David, I want to talk to you about this and that in your life. In this place you have not been wholehearted in your surrender; in this place there has not been consecration; in this place there has been divided loyalty, the pull of other things. David, if you want my help and power, if you want heaven to open upon you and answer, I have something to do in you first.”
Lord, unite my heart to fear thy name. When I come to the throne with a sense of desperate need, and turn to the Lord, this covenant-keeping God, and recognize my own position before Him, God begins to talk to me and says, “My child, what about this, what about that? Do you want a miracle? I only work through clean channels. Are you prepared for that? Do you want deliverance in your own life? I only meet in power those who have been dealt with by my loving, chastening hand.”
David saw his own heart need. My friends, do not be afraid of prayer, but remember when you begin to get desperate, this is the kind of thing God does. And then, you notice, he begins to praise the Lord for deliverance, “I will praise thee, O Lord, my God, with all my heart: and I will glorify thy name for evermore” (v. 12).
He has used that word “God” up until now with an agony of need. Now, still in the same predicament, and yet with this relationship, this conviction established, this assurance in his heart that God will hear him, he uses this word in an ecstasy of praise. And before there was any sign of an answer, he began praising the Lord for victory. He stopped crawling, now he started praising. He is rejoicing in the assurance that this God can never break His promise and before he calls He will answer, so he began to praise the Lord before the answer came!
In the last place, we find that he claimed in prayer the throne rights in God. Notice the last verse of this chapter: “Shew me a token for good; that they which hate me may see it, and be ashamed: because thou, Lord, hast holpen me, and comforted me.” In the previous verse he cries, “O turn unto me, and have mercy upon me; give thy strength unto thy servant, and save the son of thine handmaid.”
Why did David say that? “Save the son of thine handmaid.” I puzzled over that quite a while as I thought about this Psalm, and then I turned back to Exodus 21:4, and I read this law concerning the slave: “If his master have given him a wife, and she have born him sons or daughters; the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out by himself.” The wife and the children of the slave belong, not to the slave, but to the master.
David says, “Save the son of thine handmaid.” “I’m only the child of a slave, but Lord, I’m not trusting in anybody but you only, I’m yours. You are my Master, my Sovereign, my Lord, and therefore, humbly but boldly I claim my throne rights,” and I say, “Lord, it is your responsibility to get me through; it is your responsibility to deliver.” I believe in coming humbly to the throne because I am poor and needy and desperate, but I believe in coming boldly to the throne for I belong to Him and He belongs to me and it is His responsibility in any crisis, in any situation to take me through and to deliver.
Do you know a God to whom you can turn like that, a God of absolute power, a God who never breaks His word, and a God to whom you can say, “He is mine, my Master…Owner?”
If so, do you come to Him constantly as a man who is just destitute of anything apart from the grace of God? Have you come like that? Have you come with that conviction that God has made even you holy in Jesus Christ? Do you come with a simply dependence upon the Lord? Do you pray like that? For if you do, those convictions will be put into action, and you will refuse to lie down to the barrenness of your testimony. Boldly you will claim your throne rights, this relationship with God in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour, and out from the place of prayer will go a man, a woman, whose whole being, demeanor, and character speak of confidence, trust, and absolute assurance that when we take it to the Lord in prayer, He hears before we call.