Focal Passage: Psalm 86:1-13
Last October I was part of a mission project in the small community of Elim in St. Elizabeth parish of Jamaica. The main objective of the project was to provide health education and blood pressure analysis for one of the most poverty-stricken areas on an otherwise Caribbean island paradise. With a healthcare focus the team also provided preaching, counseling and Bible teaching.
One of the images that stand out most vividly is the experience of worship. At each service the congregation would sit quietly until “the moment” at which time the worship leader began to sing and they would join in (unaccompanied by musical instruments). The songs would express heartfelt burdens and prayers to the Lord rejoicing in assured answers and hope. The team witnessed a people deprived of all physical and material resource confident in the spiritual (and physical) resources that only Creator and Covenant God could provide. Like their songs, their prayers continued that intimate conversation of confident trust and humble conviction.
Psalm 86 reminds me of the Jamaican believers. Unlike many psalms in the Psalter, 86 is a unique statement of confident faith in the face of doubt and immediate threat. According to George A.F. Knight, almost every line of this psalm is a quotation from the other psalms or from the Torah (there are around 40 quotations). Yet, the true purpose of the poem is to deliberately praise the Lord. It is a medley of remembered songs and promises that come to mind “in the day of trouble” even when there is no sign of an answer, “You are my God.”
David is alone and seemingly helpless — “poor and needy.” Though consciously aware of his own failings, he still knows and asserts that “You are good and forgiving, abounding in love to all who call on you.” “Overwhelmed with his trouble” (Knight) he clings to the very hem of God’s presence because he knows that God answers and comforts.
How does one respond when God manifests His presence and grace? “Teach me your way, O Lord” in order that I may manifest fidelity even as you are faithful. He prayerfully asks, “Unify my heart, though disintegrated by sin and doubts, to fear your name!” David is asking (like our Jamaican family) for a God-given and God-bathed beginning to his (and their) crumbling world. “Show me a sign … because you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.”
“Direct, control, suggest, this day,
All I design, or do, or say,
That all my powers, with all their might,
In Thy sole glory may unite” (Thomas Ken).