Reaching God's Ear (Psalm 86)
avid's confidence is also seen in Psalm 86, where he appeals t
My book on prayer, Reaching God's Ear (Tyndale House, 1988), has been out of print for over a decade. When the few who purchased a copy took a look at the cover, they immediately asked me: "Is that you in the picture?" No, but I have to admit, the man sitting in the chair did bear a striking resemblance to what I looked like in 1988.
Those of you who've seen the cover also know that there is a young boy standing on tip toes, whispering into his father's ear. It's a powerful picture and beautifully illustrates the point of the book.
You can imagine my surprise, then, when I met that young boy while teaching at Wheaton College! His name is Taylor Clausen. Although I didn't have him in class, he became a close friend of my daughter Joanna who was a classmate of his at Wheaton. Taylor told us that in order to induce him to pose for the camera in this way, his mother said: "If you'll go whisper in daddy's ear, he'll take you to McDonald's for a treat later today." It worked.
It made me wonder, is that why we pray? Are we disinclined to bring our petitions to our Heavenly Father and prompted to do so only on the promise of a goody or some other earthly reward? Taylor was only around four years old at the time the picture was taken, and can therefore be excused for yielding to such a carnal motivation.
So why do you pray? What motivates you to whisper in your Father's ear? Is it even worthwhile to do so? Let's explore this for a moment by asking five questions and seeking the answers in Psalm 86.
First, why did David, the psalmist, pray so fervently in Psalm 86 (I encourage you to pause, if you haven't already, and read the entire psalm)? Why should we do the same?
David gives one powerfully persuasive reason in v. 5 when he says, "For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you." We are repeatedly exhorted in Scripture to "call" upon the Lord "in the day of trouble" (Ps. 50:15) and to "offer prayer" to him at a time when he may be found (Ps. 33:6) and to pour out our hearts before him.
It is stunning, is it not, that we have to be commanded to pray? The sick hardly need an exhortation to visit a doctor or the hungry a soup kitchen, yet we must be told repeatedly to avail ourselves of a God who stands ready to richly supply our need and draw near when we call.
David was also quick to pray because he was confident that God did not command him to do so in vain. In other words, he was assured that God commands prayer because he takes indescribable delight in giving answers. "In the day of my trouble," said David, "I call upon you, for you answer me" (Ps. 86:7). "Call to me," said God to Jeremiah, "and I will answer you, and tell you great and hidden things that you have not known" (Jer. 33:3). "When he [the believer] calls to me [God], I will answer him" (Ps. 91:15).
This isn't to say the answer he gives is always the one we want (cf. 2 Cor. 12:7-10). But it is to say that it is always the answer we need!
Second, what is required of those who pray? In the first place, they must be "poor and needy" (Ps. 86:1b). People who pray must be keenly aware of their spiritually destitute condition and their utter dependence on God for all things good. It's another way of saying that humility is required of all who seek God. I've often heard the excuse: "I can't pray to God. I'm not good enough." This is actually pride masquerading as humility and robs God of his glory. It is prideful because it is based on the assumption that it's actually possible for a person to become good enough by their own efforts and thus worthy of receiving his answer. Of course you're not good enough, but that's precisely why you must pray!
To be "poor and needy", to use David's terms, is to recognize one's spiritual distress, lingering doubts, anxiety, physical weakness, emotional struggles, and lack of wisdom, the very things God delights to heal and overcome as a way of magnifying his strength and mercy.
David mentions yet another prerequisite in v. 11 - "Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name." We are by nature divided within, at one moment trusting the Lord and at another defying his will. This disingenuous and disintegrated state of soul must be overcome by a unified commitment to seek fervently after God and to tremble at his word.
Third, how often ought we to pray? According to David, "all the day!" (Ps. 86:3). There are no fewer than fifteen petitions in this psalm alone. We, on the other hand, are quick to quit. We must train ourselves to distrust the certainties of discouragement, the "never's" and the "always's" and the "impossible's" that creep into our heads when heaven seems silent.
Fourth, what reason do we have for confidence that our prayers will be heard? Answer: the character of God! Look at how David put it. He prays,
Because "you, O Lord, are good!" (v. 5a).
Because "you, O Lord, are . . . forgiving!" (v. 5b).
Because "you, O Lord, are . . . abounding in steadfast love" (v. 5c).
Because "there is none like you among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like yours" (v. 8).
Because "you are great and do wondrous things" (v. 10a).
Because "you alone are God" (v. 10b).
Fifth, and finally, are not my sins too many, too evil, and too frequent that God should hear my prayer and answer it?
There is no greater obstacle to prayer than the burden of sin and guilt that weighs heavily on the human heart. Add to this the accusations of the enemy, who says: "Why should you, of all people, pray? How could you ever hope to prevail upon God? Your sins have caused him to turn away his face. You're a traitor to his cause, a thankless rebel. You, pray? Ha!"
What makes these words of Satan so powerful is that they seem so reasonable, so true. After all, we are often precisely what he says. We have done precisely what he claims.
This is why David is so relentless in his affirmation that "you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness" (v. 15; see Ps. 106:6,13-15,19-21,24-25,37-39,40-43 and compare these with vv. 44-46!! See also Ps. 107 and the four-fold refrain in vv. 4-6, 10-13, 17-19, 23-28). For every accusation of the enemy, there is a corresponding remedy from the throne of grace!
In the final analysis, how do we overcome the lethargy of heart and discouragement of mind and spirit and pray as we ought? David's solution was simple: Pray for strength! "Turn to me and be gracious to me," said David; "give strength to your servant" (v. 16a)!
We must not act as if we were four-year old children who need to be cajoled and manipulated into prayer. God is ever ready to stoop and "incline" his "ear" (Ps. 86:1) to hear those why cry to him for help. What excuse do we still have not to obey?