By Pamela Lewis
A Reading from Psalm 86
1 Bow down your ear, O LORD, and answer me,
for I am poor and in misery.
2 Keep watch over my life, for I am faithful;
save your servant who puts his trust in you.
3 Be merciful to me, O LORD, for you are my God;
I call upon you all the day long.
4 Gladden the soul of your servant,
for to you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.
5 For you, O LORD, are good and forgiving,
and great is your love toward all who call upon you.
6 Give ear, O LORD, to my prayer,
and attend to the voice of my supplications.
7 In the time of my trouble I will call upon you,
for you will answer me.
8 Among the gods there is none like you, O LORD,
nor anything like your works.
9 All the nations you have made will come and
worship you, O LORD,
and glorify your Name.
10 For you are great;
you do wondrous things;
and you alone are God.
11 Teach me your way, O LORD,
and I will walk in your truth;
knit my heart to you that I may fear your Name.
12 I will thank you, O LORD my God, with all my heart,
and glorify your Name for evermore.
13 For great is your love toward me;
you have delivered me from the nethermost Pit.
14 The arrogant rise up against me, O God,
and a band of violent men seeks my life;
they have not set you before their eyes.
15 But you, O LORD, are gracious and full of compassion,
slow to anger, and full of kindness and truth.
16 Turn to me and have mercy upon me;
give your strength to your servant;
and save the child of your handmaid.
17 Show me a sign of your favor,
so that those who hate me may see it and be ashamed;
because you, O LORD, have helped me and comforted me.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Doris Kearns Goodwin placed humility at the top of her list of important qualities defining effective leadership in her best-selling book, Leadership: In Turbulent Times. In it she explored how humility and other traits, including empathy, resilience, and control of negative impulses, were manifested in America’s greatest presidents. Although we cannot locate at what point today’s psalm fell in a life often marked by danger and adventure, this “prayer of David” is shot through with a humility that would have made its author worthy of inclusion in Ms. Kearns’s book.
Humility is hard. Yet, aware of his own sinfulness and poverty of spirit, and unafraid to admit it, David is an unrelenting and humble supplicant, who, in expressive and figurative language, asks God to “bow down your ear” and hear his entreaties for mercy, while also telling God why he should do this. David simultaneously asking and informing God is a unique feature of this psalm, and this double action is deeply poignant. David does not flatter God, but reaffirms what he has already experienced through the Lord and will experience again (v. 5, 13). He also acknowledges that while there are many pagan gods that may entice, the God whom David worships is the true God.
While we frequently ask God for a sign as proof of his love for us or to test whether or not we believe in him, David asks for a sign (or a “token” in some versions) of favor as an unequivocal indication of God’s help and power. Similar to having a table prepared in the presence of his enemies (Ps. 23:5), here David wants his “proud and violent” enemies to see God’s signs, to “shame” them into knowing that he belongs to and will be delivered by this God.
David’s prayer is to a God whose work is ongoing, and whose qualities are eternal. Knowing and declaring this is also a sign of God’s favor, and so we should do it confidently and humbly.
Pamela A. Lewis taught French for thirty years before retirement. A lifelong resident of Queens, N.Y., she attends Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, and serves on various lay ministries. She writes for The Episcopal New Yorker, Episcopal Journal, and The Living Church.
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Today we pray for:
The Diocese of Eastern Himalayas (Church of North India)
The Diocese of Southeast Florida