Psalms Bible Study (Worshiping God)

Psalm 86, Praying With Arguments

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The theme of this psalm is the mercy and compassion of God. We are not given the details of the circumstance from which David is motivated to pray. But the situation is grim and appears to even be life threatening. Rather than simply make his pleas to God, David prays with arguments. David presents arguments for why God should answer his prayers.

The first thing that is interesting about this psalm is that David does not address exactly what he needs. David does not describe his circumstances. David does not describe the type of deliverance he needs. We have seen in many of the psalms David explain how he needs deliverance from his enemies or to have his life saved. In verse 1 David asks the Lord to listen and to answer him. David asks for his life to be protected in verse 2 and asks for mercy in verse 3 and verse 6. Graciousness is requested again in verse 16. So we are left in the dark as to what is going on. However, it is important to consider that we can go to God and pray without knowing what we want God to do. It seems that all David knows to ask for is mercy and protection. He does not know how that mercy may come about but seems to be entrusting his life to God to take of that. We need to remember to pray to God not only when we think we know what we need but also when we do not know what we need. You and I do not have to know what we need. We can just know that we need God and leave the rest in his hands to provide for us.

Arguments Based On David’s Need

“I am poor and needy” (vs. 1). David does not declare himself self-sufficient. Humility is a key to our prayer requests. As we come before God, we must see ourselves for who we truly are. We like to think and act that we have total control over life. But notice that David expresses that he is in need. When is the last time we told God that we are “needy?” Being needy is almost a bad word in our society. We aren’t supposed to need other people. We are supposed to be powerful and self-sufficient. But such an attitude before God is fruitless. Be needy with God. “Lord, I need you. That is why I need You to help.”

“I am faithful. You are my God; save Your servant who trust in You” (vs. 2). The second argument is that David is in a covenant relationship with God. He is the servant of God. God is his master. As a servant of God, David acknowledges that he has duties toward God. As the master, God has certain duties toward His servants. I think it is important to realize that we need to correct our own spiritual situation before we start asking God for things. When I am practicing a life of sin, why would I suppose that God is going to listen to my appeals? We need to have repentant lives that sincerely try to serve God so that we can go to God in prayer saying that we are faithful and put our trust in God.

“I call to You all day long” (vs. 3). The third argument made by David is based upon how he has made his appeal. God should listen and answer because David is making his appeal to the Lord all day long. The way we call to God is something has been lost upon us unfortunately. The people of the scriptures should the earnestness of their appeals in a number of ways. Fasting was a way to show fervency. Posture was a way to show the earnestness of the request. Praying on one’s knees, the tearing of clothes, and other such outward acts were performed. Frequency of our prayers also matters. We can use these things as our arguments to God for why we want him to answer our prayers.

“I set my hope on You, Lord” (vs. 4). Most of the versions read “For to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.” To lift up our souls to the Lord is to say that we are resting our lives in God’s hands. Our hope of the future rests with God. Thus, David requests that the Lord bring joy to his life because all of life’s hopes are resting with the Lord. The argument that we can make to God in our prayers is that our confidence is resting upon God to act. We have hope in nothing else but God who has the power to give us what we request.

Arguments Based On God’s Character

The rest of the psalm makes a shift from arguing based upon David’s need to arguing based upon the character of God.

“You will answer me” (vs. 7). In the first verse David asked for God to listen. Now David declares confidence that God will listen to him. David knows that praying works. David trust in God in the way James would later express in his letter, “The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective” (James 5:16; NRSV). This confidence comes from living righteous lives. I believe the times we question whether God will answer our prayers is when we are not living godly lives. We are right to be concerned about the effectiveness of our prayers when we are practicing sin. I believe we see throughout the scriptures that God answers the prayers of the righteous, when we ask according to God’s will and purposes. We just do not always find the answer we are seeking.

“For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God” (vs. 10). Not only is God a prayer-listening and prayer-answering God, God is also able to do what the person praying requests. “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us…” (Ephesians 3:20). It is so important that we remember the goodness of God and praise him for his goodness. We need to think about how God is able to help us endure our difficult situations. I believe that God is doing wondrous things for Grace right now because she is succeeding in areas where most other children with PWS are not able. We can pray knowing that God is able to do anything, even beyond our requests. As we noted at the beginning of this study, we may not know what to pray, but we pray knowing that God is able to act beyond the solutions we imagine.

“Your faithful love for me is great” (vs. 13). This phrase “faithful love” comes from one Hebrew word which pictures God’s love based upon the covenant he has made with us. This love is steadfast and unshakable. God’s love is something that can be relied upon such that we can present an argument to God to act based upon his faithfulness.

9 What man among you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! (Matthew 7:9-11)

“You, Lord, have helped and comforted me” (vs. 17). David’s final argument is recalling that God has helped and comforted in the past. This is an argument that is good for us as well as to the Lord. God helped me before and he will help me again.

Other Prayer Aspects

Praising God for who he is (vs. 14-15). In the midst of describing the arrogant and the ruthless who are attacking him, David expresses praise for the character of God. The arrogant have no regard for the Lord. But they ought to regard him because he is compassionate and gracious. Lucky for them God is slow to anger and abundant in faithful love and truth. God is not evil like those who commit evil against us. God is loving toward us.

Spiritual requests (vs. 10-12). Finally, we see that David is not only praying for physical deliverance but he also has some spiritual requests. David wants to know the way of the Lord so that he can live by God’s truths. This is a great request to make in prayer, that we know the way of the Lord so that we can live by his way. This is a covenant request. Teach me your ways and I will live by them. We need to be able to say that to God. When I learn what you want me to do and when I see I need to change, I will make those changes. I am upholding my end of the covenant. David further requests an undivided mind and heart. We are saying to God that we do not walk down any other paths. We do not want to serve our desires and lusts. We want to have a fully devoted heart to the Lord. We must stop practicing sins because that shows we have a divided heart. Sexual immorality, pornography, lying, deceit, stealing, and the like are all things that show we are fully devoted to the Lord.

The other covenant statement is that David will praise God with all of his heart and honor his name forever. We praise God with righteous living. We honor God with pure tongues and cleansed hearts, not lives full of wickedness. How dare we think that we can honor God when we are steeped in sin unwilling to change! David is declaring that he is honor the Lord and requests that God respond with mercy.


  1. We need mercy. This cannot be said enough because we so easily forget that we need God’s mercy.
  2. God is full of mercy. Thankfully, God is full of mercy and we need him to be that way. Sin will be punished. God’s wrath is against the disobedient. But God offers mercy when we come to him on his terms with humble hearts.
  3. We can appeal to his mercy. How wonderful that we can appeal to the mercy of God for ourselves spiritually! But how great is it that we can also appeal to God for mercy based upon the life circumstances we encounter! Remember the tax collector in Jesus’ story who would not raise his eyes to heaven, but simply proclaimed, “Be merciful to me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13).
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