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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Preached At:Pilgrim Canadian Reformed Church
 London, Ontario
Title:Give Ear, O LORD, to My Prayer!
Text:LD 45 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 146:1,3                                                                                    

Reading – Psalm 86

Psalm 86:1,2,3

Sermon – Lord’s Day 45

Psalm 86:4,5,6

Hy 2

Hy 85:1,2,3
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ, among the many books of the Bible, the book of Psalms has a favoured place. The Psalms are a much-loved part of Scripture: turned to often, and read over and over. The reason for this isn’t hard to discern. The Psalms are very personal and direct. As we read them, the authors give a powerful account of their walk with the LORD. In the Psalms, there is great joy. There is deep thankfulness. There is quiet trust. But there is also sorrow, and fear, and uncertainty—even an empty despair.

We appreciate the Psalms because they’re so “true to life,” so vivid in their expression of what it means to be a child of God. And so we might use these ancient words to describe the ups and downs of our own relationship with the LORD. When our words fail us, we find ready help in the book of Psalms.

It’s certainly not by accident that this happens. For it was God who gave us this precious book—God who understands we don’t always have the words nor the presence of mind to approach Him in the proper way. He gave us the Psalms, many of which can also be described as prayers. For example, look at the heading over Psalm 86: it’s called “A prayer of David.” The Psalms are records of those holy conversations, shared between earth and heaven, sent from God’s people up to God Himself. These prayers reveal the heart of a true relationship with God.

            And so as we read the book of Psalms, we have so much more than an old collection of religious poetry. In these perfect prayers, we have an example of how it is to be done. During his ministry, you know that the disciples of Jesus asked the Lord about how they could pray. “Teach us,” they said, and Jesus did—He taught them the Lord’s Prayer. But He could just as well have pointed them back to the Psalms, to that “prayer book” of God’s Old Testament people. All the insight they needed was right there.

            Indeed, we should realize that the Lord’s Prayer doesn’t come out of nowhere. It wasn’t some new-fangled innovation, made up by Jesus. Rather, this prayer arises directly out of the prayers of the Old Testament. This prayer echoes the ways that God’s people for centuries have called upon Him. So we want to look at the Lord’s Prayer in the light of the Psalms. And we start today on a general note: What is prayer? What characterizes a true prayer? And what must we ask for in prayer? We find our answers in Lord’s Day 45 and Psalm 86,

             “Give ear, O LORD, to my prayer!”

1)     “You are my God”

2)     “I am poor and needy”

3)     “Preserve my life”

4)     “You will answer me”

1)     “You are my God:” Maybe you’ve sent an email before. If you have, you know the address has to be right. If you miss even one letter, your message won’t get where it’s supposed to go. No matter what you write in the email itself, the address makes all the difference! Call it a trivial comparison, but the same is true for prayer. Of great value is the address of our prayer. Where’s it going? This is an important point, for today there are many people who pray. Prayer isn’t unique to the Christian religion—it’s practiced by the followers of countless religions. But where are all these prayers going?

            Well, the Bible says plainly about the gods of the nations, “Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but they do not speak; eyes they have, but they do not see; they have ears, but they do not hear” (Ps 115:4-6). If we address our prayers to a false god, they just won’t get received.

            Surely none of us actually pray to the gods of wood or stone, gold or plastic. As Christians we know our God alone is living and true! Yet getting right the address for our prayers is still of chief importance. For what is this God like, this God whom we approach? Is He distant? Is He unpredictable? Is He at heart an unloving God?

            If the God we call upon is any of these things, then our prayers too, will be useless. If our God is distant, He won’t care to answer us little people on earth. If our God is unpredictable, He might reply this time, but not the next. If our God is unloving, He might even laugh at what we say. And even if our God is kind and gracious and ready to listen—and He is!—we must address him with reverence and awe.

The opening of our prayer then, says a lot. It reveals what we think of this God. It shows what our expectations are as we pray. The beginning of our daily prayers also hints at what kind of relationship we have with God: Are we casual in the presence of God? Are we indifferent towards Him? Or are we reverent, trusting, and loving?

            The proper address is the first element necessary to prayer, mentioned by the Catechism: “We must from the heart call upon the one true God only, who has revealed himself in his Word” (Q&A 117). We don’t throw up our prayers blindly, closing our eyes and hoping our words somehow land on target. No, we must set firmly before us the living God!

David’s prayer in Psalm 86 is full of this. We don’t know what the circumstances were that prompted David to offer this prayer. But clearly he was in trouble, surrounded by his enemies. He’s looking for help, and he’s looking directly to God! From the very first line, that’s his theme: “Bow down your ear, O LORD, and hear me” (v 1). And don’t read over that line too quickly. For it’s the crucial address, affixed to the top of his prayer: “Hear me, O LORD.”

Just who is “the LORD?” We know it from the rest of Scripture: the LORD is the faithful covenant God. He’s the one who made those precious promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—to believers and their children. The LORD is the one who never forsakes or abandons his people, because He’s bound Himself to us by a sacred oath, even in the blood of Christ.

That’s quite a God to call on! It makes a big difference for your prayers, if you know that you’re approaching a God who is, by his very definition, true and faithful. Now, some of us don’t like to talk to strangers. We don’t, because you never know how they’ll respond to you, or even how they’ll look at you. But the LORD God is no stranger! We have a relationship with Him—a covenant—which means we have every reason to say, “Bow down your ear, O LORD, and hear me.” We know that He’ll look at us with love.

            On that same basis, David can declare so fearlessly in verse 2, “You are my God.” Even that little word “my” speaks of a bond. There’s a connection. No, we didn’t choose God, He chose us. But because of that choice, we can say it, every time we pray, “You are my God. You’re the one I look to. You’re the one who’s promised to help me.”

            And David clearly knows what his God is like. For David prays: “Be merciful to me, O Lord” (v 3). By himself, David’s got no chance. He’s on the brink, and as he stands there, all he can see is the LORD of mercy. It’s all up to Him, and what God will do. Isn’t that always the heart of prayer? We pray, because we need God’s mercy. We pray, because we need his compassion. Not just in our times of trouble and distress, but even as we start a new day, we ought to pray: “Be merciful to me, my God. Help me through. I need you, all day long.”

            And God will show us mercy. For this is who God is: “You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in mercy to all those who call to you” (v 5). In awe of his God and LORD, David starts piling up the adverbs and the adjectives. He does it again a little later, in verse 15, where he prays, “You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth.”

            Why does David do this? Doesn’t God know how great He is? Does He really need to hear it from us in prayer? Well, God needs the praise of no man. But God wants our praise. And He is worthy of our praise! He wants to hear it from us, because He’s so deserving of that humble, awe-inspired worship.

That’s the whole point of how also the Lord’s Prayer begins: “Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be your Name.” Jesus teaches us to pray every day in this spirit, “Father, may your Name be sanctified, glorified and praised! In this day, in this world, and in all my life, may your almighty power, wisdom, goodness, righteousness, mercy and truth shine forth in glory!” (see Q&A 122). I wonder how much we do that. When we pray, how many of our words are about the LORD and who He is? Do we ever sit back a moment, and just reflect on the greatness of the God we’re approaching? Or do we skip over that, keep the address line as short as possible, and launch right into our long list of concerns and wishes and troubles?

            There’s great value in praying the way Jesus teaches. For not only is God worthy of this praise, this praise also brings us much encouragement! It’s a powerful reminder that we’re not praying to some run-of-the-mill God. We’re not just venting our frustrations and fears into a disconnected microphone. Rather, it reminds us that we’re in the presence of the true God. Because He’s so compassionate, He’ll take note of all our concerns. Because He’s so powerful, He’ll handle all our troubles. Because He’s so forgiving, He’ll pass over all our sins.

            How much more confidence would we have, if we began our prayers with the hallowing of God’s Name? How much more serenity of mind, if we often prayed with David, “Among the gods there is none like you, O Lord; nor are there any works like your works… For you are great and you do wondrous things; you alone are God (vv 8,10). No, God doesn’t need to hear that. But we do. Because…

2)     “I am poor and needy:” Many of us find it hard to ask for help. There’s a certain hesitation we have, even it’s just asking for directions. The problem is, no one likes acknowledging their shortcomings or failures. “If I ask for directions, I’ll be admitting I’m lost. If I ask for help moving my piano, I’ll be admitting that I’m weak.” And so on.

            Well, David has reached that point where he thinks nothing of it. He won’t hide his helplessness anymore. Rather, he puts it right up front: “Bow down your ear, O LORD, hear me, for I am poor and needy” (v 1). This is why David’s praying, because he can’t do it himself. He can’t turn back the enemy’s advance.

“I am poor and needy,” he says. And we all understand that this isn’t about money. David was a king of Israel, after all. He had his great wealth; he had his endless resources; he had his mighty armies. But he sees through it all: What is man, but dust in the wind? He’s utterly incapable. Without God, he’s nothing, his condition is hopelessly miserable. For this David is a mortal sinner: too weak to resist sin, too ignorant to find God’s truth, too rebellious to submit to God’s will, too frail to endure past tomorrow.

Someone who is poor and needy like this can only extend the hand to ask for a freebie, to

plead for charity. And in that spirit, we all must pray. The Catechism says, “We must thoroughly know our need and misery so that we may humble ourselves before God” (Q&A 117). We ought to confess to God, “I am poor and needy. Not only am I lost, but I’m also bankrupt, and I’m darkened in my understanding, and I’m deadly sick with disease, and I’m a convicted criminal, and by nature I hate you.”

It’s not easy to pray that. For it’s pride that has always afflicted us, a pride that deceives us into thinking we’re doing just fine. But for a prayer to be true, for it to be well-received by God, it needs to be offered in deep humility. After all, if we don’t really believe that we need help, why should God answer us? If we don’t really consider ourselves to be that sinful, why should God forgive us? No, whenever we pray, we ought to remind ourselves of this Biblical truth, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet 5:5).

Humility in prayer comes across in different ways. It first comes across in our praise, as we stand in awe of God. We say, “Who are we to call upon the LORD? We’re just earthly worms, but God is the heavenly King!” In that lowliness, we glorify the LORD.

Humility is also expressed through our confession of sin. That’s the point of a the fifth petition, “Forgive us our debts.” It means we don’t minimize our sin, and we don’t minimize how our sin angers the LORD. Rather, we come clean. We’re specific about our sins. We place ourselves fully in God’s hands, and we say, “For the sake of Christ’s blood, do not impute to me, wretched sinner, any of my transgressions, nor the evil which still clings to me” (Q&A 126).

And our humility is perhaps most plain to hear when we simply and truly ask for help. Says David, “In the day of my trouble I will call upon you” (v 7). Again, we hear he’s got no problem admitting that he’s in trouble: “Lord, you’re my only help. You’re my lifeline.”

Do we do the same? Is prayer our response of the first resort? Is it the first thing we do when we face any challenge, great or small? Is it the first thing we do, when we start our day? Or is it only later that we pray? Is it only later, perhaps when we’ve tried everything ourselves? Remember: “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” So we pray,

3)     “Preserve my life:” We don’t like it when people ask too much of us, when they’re demanding. We might say sarcastically, “Is that all? Anything else, your highness?” But once again, God shows how He’s different. He reveals his perfectly holy character. For when we pray, there’s nothing lacking in his response. He won’t deny us anything that we need.

            And it’s that knowledge that lends yet more boldness to our prayers. In God’s presence, we don’t have to make small and timid requests. No, we can ask for what we really need. We can ask for what no one else can give us. Hear what David says in verse 2, a plea that summarizes everything that he’ll ask for in this prayer; he says to God, “Preserve my life.”

            Doesn’t that say it all? “Preserve my life.” My life! “All that I am, and everything that I will be, and all those precious things that I have—take care of this. Where it is in danger, guard it. Where it is lacking, grant it. Where it is broken, restore it!” This isn’t a request for all sorts of fancy frills. David asks for his life. He asks that he would have everything important he needs to liveand to live as one who fears the LORD. That’s how the Catechism summarizes the contents of our petitions to God; we ought to ask for “all things we need for body and soul” (Q&A 118). Just what are these essentials? What has God promised us? 

Surely our daily bread is a part of this. For how can life endure without proper food and drink and shelter? We shouldn’t assume that we’ll get any of this, but in humility (there’s that key word again), we confess that we rely on God to provide—day by day. We ask Him, “Provide us with all our bodily needs so that we may acknowledge that you are the only fountain of all good” (Q&A 125).

            And what else is involved in guarding our life? Well, one of David’s chief concerns in this prayer is obviously protection from his enemies. “The proud have risen against me, and a mob of violent men have sought my life” (v 14). David had heard the rattling of the swords. He’d seen the evil glint in their eyes. And he knew his enemies would show him no mercy. “Preserve my life, O God!”

            Is this our prayer today? Christians in Canada aren’t under any violent assault. We don’t have bloodthirsty mobs chasing us down the street. Yet let’s be clear: we have our enemies. Not just personal enemies, but, as David complains to God, “[these men] have not set you before them” (v 14). That alerts us to the character of David’s foes, and our foes. They’re opposed to God, and for that reason, opposed to his people. It’s a spiritual battle that we fight.

And it means our very life is in danger! The devil drops off his warmest and friendliest invitations, trying to get us to come on over. This world keeps the pressure on, all the time. And our sinful flesh never stops pushing us: “Use your life for something better than stuffy, old-fashioned religion,” it tells us. “Devote yourself to the things that you really want, and to the fun that you deserve.” It all sounds so good, but it’s all so deadly.

            So let us pray, “Preserve my life, O LORD. Deliver me from the depths of the grave.” That’s the point of the sixth petition, “Lead me not into temptation. My God, uphold and strengthen me by the power of your Holy Spirit so that in this spiritual war I may not go down to defeat, but always firmly resist my enemies” (Q&A 127).

            And we can pray this with surety, because God doesn’t want us to waste our life. Rather, He wants our lives for his glory! So we pray with David, “Teach me your way, O LORD; I will walk in your truth” (v 11). We ask that our life would be guarded, that it might be preserved for its true purpose: the service of the LORD. “Teach me your way, O LORD. May I deny my own will and without any murmuring obey your will, for it alone is good” (Q&A 124). For the sake of our very life, we need instruction in the ways of God. And if we ask, God will surely answer.

4)     “You will answer me:” Running throughout David’s prayer in Psalm 86 is a strong current of confidence. He’s not even afraid to predict what God will do. No, for this is what David knows: God will hear his prayer, and He will do something about it! We see this, for example, in verse 7, “In the day of my trouble I will call upon you, for you will answer me.” David knows his prayer won’t bounce off the ceiling. It will ascend directly to the heavenly throne room of God Himself, where the LORD will take note of it, and reply.

            How can David be so sure? What gives him this incredible confidence in prayer? Just the same thing we’ve been saying: he knows the God he’s talking to! He understands—even if only in a small way—what this God is capable of. For David has experienced it before. And he’s read God’s promises in the Word. He knows for a fact that this God is faithful, that He’s merciful, compassionate, powerful, and ever-present.  

            And more than simply knowing those things in his head, David believesthis God within his heart: he prays, “Save your servant, who trusts in you” (v 2). Even if God doesn’t answer his prayer in the way David wants—even if David finds himself at the sharp end of an enemy’s sword—he trusts that God hasn’t ignored his prayer. No, even then, David trusts that God’s answer is good.

            That’s the kind of confidence that should be basic to all our prayers. Says the Catechism, “We must rest on this firm foundation that, although we do not deserve it, God will certainly hear our prayer for the sake of Christ our Lord, as He has promised in his Word” (Q&A 117). Beloved, He’ll never turn us away. He’ll never leave us forsaken and abandoned. But He’ll come near to us in his grace.

            Even if we are disappointed by God’s answer to our prayers; even if we wonder how this latest development fits into God’s plan for our life; even if the LORD has seemingly left us to fend for ourselves, let us remind ourselves, again and again: “This is a God I can trust. This is a God I can keep praying to, even in those hours of darkness. Even then, He will hear me for the sake of Christ my Lord, as He has promised in his Word.” 

Let us then pray with David, and let us pray with our Saviour, “Hear my prayer, O LORD! For you are my God. I am poor and needy, so preserve my life. And I trust that you will answer me.” Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2011, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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