Session 4 – The Undivided heart
Session 4 – The Undivided heart
A study on Psalm 86 from the team at St Ebbe's Oxford

Bible Passages

Psalm 86

Brief Notes

This prayer of David is a wonderful model for our prayer.  Many of the commentaries mention that the psalm seems to be a “mosaic of quotations”, drawing throughout on many different Scriptures, and surely there is an example to us in that of how the Scriptures should feed and shape our praying. David approaches God with a real sense of need (“I am poor and needy”, verse 1), but then his focus begins to shift from his felt need to the God to whom he calls. As he ponders who God is and what he is like, strikingly in the heart of the psalm he sees his need in a very different light. Only then, in the last bit of the psalm, does he actually specify the nature of the difficulty that prompted his prayer (v.14) but now he can bring this need before God with a renewed trust in the Lord’s compassion and goodness.  

Verses 1-7 

As David approaches the LORD, his covenant God, he looks for grace, making a series of requests which indicate his sense of need for help: “hear and answer me”, “guard my life”, “save your servant”, “have mercy”, “bring joy to your servant”, “hear my prayer”. But especially these verses are taken up with the grounds for his prayer (notice how again and again he gives the reason for his appeal – “…for…”). To begin with it is the very fact of his need that is the basis of his prayer, but there is a shift in these verses from that starting point to then appealing to the fact of his relationship with God, to finally basing his appeal on the character of the God to whom he lifts up his soul – one who is “forgiving and good … abounding in love”

Verses 8-13 

Verses 8-10 are a wonderful meditation on God’s universal sovereignty and saving purposes. A God like no other (v.8), indeed there is no other (v.10). This reflection on the character of God gives David  a new confidence in bringing his needs to Him, but also puts his needs in a new bigger perspective of God’s purposes for the world. The heart of the prayer is verses 11-13, and now his request is very different from the one he might have felt burdened to make at the start of the psalm. His prayer now is not “teach me how to get out of this trouble”, but “teach me how to live your way in the midst of trouble”. And notice the lovely prayer for an undivided heart – if He alone is God, with none like Him, then He must have our undivided love and allegiance, a heart wholly given over to His praise. Whereas before he felt a lack of joy (v.4) now his heart is moved to praise. 

Verses 14-17 

Only now does David explain the nature of the trouble he is facing. He is mindful of his foes (who are God’s foes too – “men with no regard for you”), but now he is more mindful of his covenant God. Verse 15 is a quotation of Exodus 34:6, God’s great declaration of his character to Moses, which gives him renewed confidence now as he lays his need before God, the God who has delivered him in the past (v.13b) and, perhaps even as he has been praying, has “helped and comforted” him (v.17).   

Discussion Questions