Bringing our Whole Selves to Prayer

Psalm 86

Hear me, LORD, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. – Psalm 86:1

I am poor and needy. I don’t know if I’ve ever spoken that phrase, to God or to others.

Sometimes I may have mentioned it as a past state: I was poor and needy, but then I found Christ and He filled me up. Or I may have talked about it as an abstract characteristic: I, like all people, am a sinner, so I have poor and needy tendencies.

But an outright and direct admission of my brokenness, my current state of sin and uncertainty and powerlessness? That raises all sorts of fears.

The fear of being rejected. The fear of unfulfilled dreams. The fear of being misunderstood. The fear of being passed over. The fear of being defined by my failures. The fear of not being good enough.

Guard my life, for I am faithful to you; save your servant who trusts in you. You are my God; have mercy on me, Lord, for I call to you all day long. Bring joy to your servant, Lord, for I put my trust in you. – Psalm 86:2-4

Yet, David doesn’t seem to have fear when he admits his brokenness. In fact, his next words are surprisingly self-assured. He is poor and needy, but he is also faithful to God. David confidently requests mercy and joy, while boldly asserting his trust in his God.

We don’t often put prayers like these in the same camp.

Yet, somehow it is possible to declare our need at the same time as our desires. We can admit our poverty at the same time as acknowledging the good things we bring to the table.

You, Lord, are forgiving and good, abounding in love to all who call to you. Hear my prayer, LORD; listen to my cry for mercy. When I am in distress, I call to you, because you answer me. – Psalm 86:5-7

All this is possible not because David is some sort of superhero of the faith, but because he deeply understands his God.

God is forgiving and good, abounding in love to all who call on Him.

That can and should change everything about how we pray, giving us confidence to admit our weaknesses, declare our desires, and express gratitude for our gifts all in the same messy upheaval of communication.

I don’t get the impression David tries to admit his brokenness, or works to conjure up those words about his faithfulness. He just brings himself, his whole self, his true self, before a God he knows will love him.

Among the gods there is none like you, Lord; no deeds can compare with yours. All the nations you have made will come and worship before you, Lord; they will bring glory to your name. For you are great and do marvelous deeds; you alone are God. –Psalm 86:8-10

Perhaps the deepest tributes spoken between lovers are the ones that occur in the middle of a conversation. The momentary breaks of unplanned utterances. When conversation pauses for compliments, “Wow, your eyes are so beautiful” or declarations of affection “I just love you so much.”

When David brings his true self before his true God, the love seems to compel him to break from his own agenda and declare the beauty of the One to whom he is speaking. He is wholly present, entirely engaged, and begins to authentically worship.

Teach me your way, LORD, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever. For great is your love toward me; you have delivered me from the depths, from the realm of the dead. –Psalm 86:11-13

An undivided heart seems to be what David has in this moment, and he asks for it to continue.

I want that too. Oh how deeply I want an undivided heart. One sewn together by unconditional love. One not caught in trying or performing, but simply in being whole.

Arrogant foes are attacking me, O God; ruthless people are trying to kill me— they have no regard for you. But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. Turn to me and have mercy on me; show your strength in behalf of your servant; save me, because I serve you just as my mother did. Give me a sign of your goodness, that my enemies may see it and be put to shame, for you, LORD, have helped me and comforted me. – Psalm 86:14-17

Yet even if God does grant me that whole heart, that confidence to declare myself needy and faithful at the same time, that desire to worship spontaneously out of my understanding of love, even then my life will not be easy.

David still has enemies. They are what drove him to this prayer in the first place.

Yet he reaffirms his faith in God’s compassion, grace, love, and faithfulness. And he boldly asks for Him to show up, here and now.

For when people truly understand their security as a beloved, they know their lover will never look down upon them for bringing forth what their heart has to say.

Our belovedness is not confirmed in the answers to our prayers, but in the room it gives us to pray in the first place. As beloveds of God, we show up to prayer wholly ourselves, entirely seen, and never rejected.

This was my reflection on Psalm 86. Please link up with your own post below. Then, come back next week to digest Psalm 87 together.