A Prayer for Guidance

A Reflection on Psalm 86.11-end by Canon Rob,
23rd July, The Seventh Sunday after Trinity

A month ago we had the opportunity to reflect on verses 1-10 of Psalm 86, verses which expressed the author’s anxiety, if not depression. Today, our focus is on the later verses of that psalm which are set for this morning’s Eucharist. If you read it in its entirety, you will find that it is almost like reading two very different psalms. Last month the heading was “A cry in the darkness.” Today, it is as if the psalmist has moved on. Having given thanks for all that God has done for him, he asks that God will guide him to do what is right. “Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth: knit my heart to you, that I may fear your name.” [Verse 11.] Here we see an act of re-dedication. The cloud of depression is lifting and he knows that God is with him. Indeed he can now thank God for all that God has done for him. In verse 11, as we have seen, he wants to “fear” the Lord. That doesn’t mean to be scared of God. On the contrary in verse 12 we have a clearer idea of what he means: “I will thank you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and glorify your name for evermore.” To fear God is to love God, to trust Him, and that, in turn, leads the believer to glorify – or praise, even thank – God. In verse 13 we find the reason. “For great is your steadfast love towards me, for you have delivered my soul from the depths of the grave.” Before we move on though, reflect upon the words “your truth” again in verse 11. Truth is critical throughout the Bible and when applied to God, it means that God can be relied on completely. He is “a fortress” and “a rock,” analogies which we have come across in several psalms before.

That is important to the author of today’s psalm. He finds himself under attack, presumably from evil men. [See verse 14.] He describes them as a “ruthless horde” who “seek after [his] life.” We have seen this kind of language in several psalms too. This “ruthless horde” are described as “the proud” who “rise up against” him. Whoever they are, and they are not identified, they are arrogant and cause terror to those who are faithful to the One, True, God: the Lord who made a covenant with those who would become His People: especially with Noah in Genesis 9; with Abram (Abraham) in Genesis 17; and with Moses in Exodus – see especially Chapter 24. This covenant, renewed as it was, was a huge privilege for God’s People, but it also laid upon them a huge responsibility, to obey God’s Commandments and to be faithful to Him and Him alone. No wonder then that the People of Israel, God’s own people, had many enemies who did not “set you (God) before their eyes.” [Verse 14.]

The author of Psalm 86 knows God though. Having come through his period of depression, in the earlier verses, he is now certain that God is with him and can be trusted to stand up against the enemy. Those, like him, who trust in the Lord experience Him as, “gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and full of kindness and truth.” [Verse 15.] These words are reminiscent of those we read in the Book Exodus, Chapter 34, verse 6, when Moses is given the Ten Commandments for the second time. “The Lord then passed in front of him [Moses] and called out, ‘I, the Lord, am a God who is full of compassion and pity, who is not easily angered and who shows great love and faithfulness’.” In the last two verses of today’s psalm, the author prays for strength to keep following God and also that others may see who God really is. “Show me a token of your favour, that those who hate me may see it and be ashamed; because you, O Lord, have helped and comforted me.

God of mercy, who in your great love drew your Son from the depths of the Pit,
bring your people from death to life, that we may rejoice in your compassion
and praise you now and for ever.

[Prayer at the end of Psalm 86 in Common Worship, Daily Prayer]

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