I always think of what to say after the conversation’s over. For an hour I sat and listened to my friend complain. The world is falling apart, she fears. “And can you believe those people who pray about every little problem — do they think God cares about a parking space?!” She was incensed. “God has way too much on his mind to worry about us and our lives. Global warming, world hunger, preserving marriage . . . those are things I pray for.”
I sat there sad and wondering, trying to figure out just who or what is her “God.” Because the God I know is concerned with global issues and with the everyday things of life. He’s personal. He loves me (and her and you and the person who prays for parking spaces). Really loves us. After my friend left, it dawned on me: “God” to her is an impersonal force. A distant power that should be bringing about peace and justice but that has fallen down on the job. Maybe, just maybe, this force will take notice if we pray. If the need is great enough. If we yell loud enough. But in the end, change is up to us.
How very different that is from the view of the believing Christian or Jew. Just look at Psalm 86:
This is a lament psalm, and it begins and ends with a plea for help. But it is suffused with trust in a God the psalmist knows will help him. “On the day of my distress I call to you,” he says in verse 7, “for you will answer me” (emphasis mine).
The reason for his certainty lies smack in the center of the psalm (read verses 8-10 above).
“Wondrous deeds” covers everything from creating the universe to intervening in the affairs of nations: the global issues my friend was concerned with. But God is more than a great and powerful force. The rest of the psalm highlights God’s mercy. That is the nature of God, the thing that makes him stoop in his power and concern himself with our cries.
+ + + + + + +
This word “mercy” (Hebrew: hesed) is important. In the Old Testament, when hesed is used of God’s mercy, it’s always in the context of the covenant relationship that he established with his people. With that covenant, he made Israel his “first-born son.” Because of that, even when they betray him, he acts out of faithful love and shows mercy.
+ + + + + + +
There’s a lot to ponder in this psalm, but let’s look at what it tells us about God.
Three times Psalms 86 speaks of the “name” of God (9,11,12). That is, his character. What you call a person helps define them. And in these 17 short verses, the psalmist names God 19 times. He also addresses him directly (calling him “you”) or describes him (“your” ear, works, way, truth, etc.) more than 20 times. The psalmist may be in trouble, but his entire attention is on God to whom he speaks.
Spend some time meditating on Psalm 86. Pray, then read it several times and write down what you learn. Here are some things you might look for:
- You’ll notice three names used for God: LORD (YHWH, the intimate family name God gave Israel when he made them his people); Lord (Adonai, “my sovereign”); and God (Elohim, God. But note also “my God,” which lays claim to their covenant relationship). What comes across with those different names?
- List every way God is described. What do you learn?
- List everything the psalmist asks for. Are these things God can help with? How do you know?
- Notice all the times “for” is used. That means “because.” What reasons does the psalmist give, for God to answer and help him?
- In verse 15 the psalmist is quoting God himself, who described his own name that way to Moses after Israel sinned with the Golden Calf (see Ex. 34). Why does that make a difference to his plea?
- What else comes to mind?
When you’re done meditating on what you observe, read Psalm 86 again and ask God to speak to your heart and life. What do you hear?
Perhaps it is because I am thinking of my friend, but I am most struck by how close the psalmist is to the Lord. The love in their relationship goes both ways! God may be the Great and Only, but that greatness is exercised on behalf of those he loves. The psalmist turns to him with as much confidence as a child turns to a beloved parent. He knows he can trust in his loving care.
How can I introduce my friend to this personal, merciful God? I find an answer in verse 17:
Give me a sign of your favor:
make my enemies see, to their confusion,
that you, LORD, help and comfort me.
Not that she is my enemy, but my friend is someone who doesn’t know God. She is certain that God is “out there” and not concerned in the details of our lives. “Give me a sign of your favor,” Lord. Act in my life, and help me to bear witness to you. May she see “that you, LORD, help and comfort me.” And may she long to know that comfort and help for herself.
© 2016 Sarah Christmyer
Read the first post in this series: Lord, Make Haste to Help Me!