This article is much longer than our normal Lambchow Article. It is an edited transcript of the sermon Dale presented at Vineyard Church Peoria on June 11th, 2017. Thank you VCP and Pastor Ben Hoerr for the opportunity. The audio can be listened to on their iTunes podcast or from their website – http://www.thevineyardchurchpeoria.org/2017/06/11/davids-bad-day-prayer/
We’ve all had bad days. One of my bad days happened early in my career as a computer networking consultant. The office machine company I worked for had recently launched a division aimed at this new opportunity of making PC’s talk to one another. There were two of us dedicated to growing that business in Peoria.
One of our early calls was to a local Police Department. They had a particular kind of server, and we wanted to be the company that maintained it for them. While my co-worker shared about our expertise and abilities, I set out to demonstrate our knowledge of the complicated backup software they were using. I backed up a small area of unnecessary files, deleted them, and started a restore job. That’s when things got bad. The restore job put the files in the wrong place and made it impossible for anyone to log into the server. I had effectively “bricked” their server.
I was certain my short-lived career in networking was finished, back to copier repair for me. We did manage to get the server working again, but we didn’t win any business that day. I was inconsolable. Just ask Betty, we had a dinner date in Peoria that night.
You all have “war stories” like that. It could have been a gigantic mistake such as mine was. It could be a day when your life was shaken by unexpected news. Or the day a cherished relationship ended. Or perhaps a day when the high hopes of expectation were dashed on the boulders of disappointment. Or maybe something else that caused your bad day. In this article, we’re going to look at Psalms 86, what I call David’s Bad Day Prayer.
“Bend down, O Lord, and hear my prayer; answer me, for I need your help. Protect me, for I am devoted to you. Save me, for I serve you and trust you. You are my God.
Be merciful to me, O Lord, for I am calling on you constantly. Give me happiness, O Lord, for I give myself to you.
O Lord, you are so good, so ready to forgive, so full of unfailing love for all who ask for your help. Listen closely to my prayer, O Lord; hear my urgent cry. I will call to you whenever I’m in trouble, and you will answer me.
No pagan god is like you, O Lord. None can do what you do! All the nations you made will come and bow before you, Lord; they will praise your holy name. For you are great and perform wonderful deeds. You alone are God.
Teach me your ways, O Lord, that I may live according to your truth! Grant me purity of heart, so that I may honor you. With all my heart I will praise you, O Lord my God. I will give glory to your name forever, for your love for me is very great. You have rescued me from the depths of death.
O God, insolent people rise up against me; a violent gang is trying to kill me. You mean nothing to them. But you, O Lord, are a God of compassion and mercy, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. Look down and have mercy on me. Give your strength to your servant; save me, the son of your servant. Send me a sign of your favor. Then those who hate me will be put to shame, for you, O Lord, help and comfort me.” (Psalm 86, NLT)
The Psalm doesn’t provide any clues for when David wrote this. There were several times that David was hunted and could have prayed this prayer. What is important to us this morning is that Psalms 86 gives us a pattern of themes we can pray when we are having our own bad day.
Perhaps you’ve seen some of the cooking contests shows like Chopped, Iron Chef, or Cutthroat Kitchen. The contestants are given a short amount of time to either prepare a certain dish or to use unusual ingredients in their preparation. You never know what may come out of the Chopped basket. The goal is to get their creation on the plate before time expires and the judging begins. Occasionally someone will present a deconstructed dish where the pieces and parts are there but it’s not in the expected form. Sometimes that deconstruction is by creative design, often its because they ran out of time or burnt a key ingredient.
In a way, we’re going to look at Psalm 86 in a deconstructed manner by taking the time to examine the ingredients of David’s prayer. Then, having explored the ingredients, we’re going to apply those themes to our own bad day prayer.
Ingredient of Circumstance
In the Psalm, David laments about his bad day struggle. At first, he’s rather broad, “I need your help.” Another translation offers it as “I am afflicted and needy.” It’s as if David begins with the shortest prayer in the world – “God! Help!”
A little further on David prays, “here my urgent cry” adding a “now please” to the end of the world’s shortest prayer. There is an immediacy and urgency because of the closeness of the pain, trouble, threat, or struggle. David isn’t praying about some far off fear or a worry born of what might be. He’s praying about something going on right now.
Near the end of the Psalm, David provides more detail about his circumstance. “O God, insolent people rise up against me; a violent gang is trying to kill me. You mean nothing to them.” (Psalm 86:14, NLT) This is David’s circumstance and the reason for the prayer. Our circumstance will be different.
Our first ingredient is that of circumstance. Telling God what is going on right now. Laying out the struggle we’re facing and the pain we’re feeling. Telling God what is gnawing away at our soul and the fears that haunt us. It means moving things for the category of “I’ve got this” to the category of “It’s out of my control.”
Isn’t that feeling of being out of control what fuels most of our bad days? Feelings of failure, hopelessness, and helplessness? Feelings of being overwhelmed, lost, and alone. The circumstances will vary greatly, but the feelings are all too common.
There’s something humbling about expressing our circumstances and feelings to God. Peter taught in his 1st letter, ““God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” (1 Peter 5:5–7, NLT) You see, this ingredient of David’s prayer calls us to recognize and release our circumstances, our feelings, and our fears to Jesus.
But what if we don’t know why we feel the way we do? What if we’re just blue or depressed for no apparent reason? That too is a bad day. Not being able to put our finger on the cause is not a show stopper. Simply and humbly say, “Lord, I need your help. I don’t know why, but I feel….” That recognition is just as powerful as David’s about the violent gang threatening his life.
The Ingredient of God’s Character
If we could weigh each word of Psalm 86 we would find that most of David’s prayer is about God and not about himself or his problems. You could liken it to the flour in bread. It gives structure, faith, and meaning to everything else.
Early on, David recognizes his relationship with God. It’s easy sometimes to blur the lines. Some folks come to God like a merchant, bartering for His favor. “If you do this Lord then I’ll do that.” Or we may abuse God’s grace and begin to demand that God answers us in a certain way. It’s one thing to ask, it’s another to demand. Remember what we just read? God gives grace to the humble.
In the first few verses, David recognizes that God is God and he is simply a servant who trusts God. David calls on God’s protection, salvation, mercy, and provision. In the same breath, David mentions his devotion to God, that he serves and trusts God, and that he has given himself to God. These “set the table” if you will. They confirm the relationship and expectation between God and David.
David goes on to remind God, and therefore himself, that God is ready to forgive, full of unfailing love, and that He answers prayers.
We also see that David connects God’s character and ultimate victory with the immediate conflict he is facing. David declares that there is no god like his Lord. That all the nations will come, bow, and praise God’s name. As Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9–11, NLT)
Praising God in our prayers and songs is not flattery, it is seeing God for who He is. David isn’t trying to butter God up to get what he wants. We don’t worship God to get something or to be heard. God doesn’t run a protection racket that only keeps us safe if we “pay up” in worship. We give a sacrifice of worship simply because we love Him and He loves us.
Recounting God’s greatness and character changes our focus and lets us see beyond today’s problem. Perhaps the problem, pain, struggle, stress, or conflict is so great that there’s nothing else we can see. It’s like a mountain filling our eyes. Praise and worship, recounting past blessings and victories, recounting the goodness of God, even simply thanking Him for what He’s done and who He is brings the mountain down to size. No matter the mountain, God is always greater.
We could simply summarize this ingredient as praise. And given the amount of time David spends worshiping God, we can conclude that it outweighs all the other ingredients
The Ingredient of self-examination
The final ingredient we’re going to consider could be called self-examination.
In the middle of the Psalm David’s prayer focus changes from the external circumstance to his own heart. Teach me your ways, O Lord, that I may live according to your truth! Grant me purity of heart, so that I may honor you. With all my heart I will praise you, O Lord my God. Another translation says, “Teach me Your way, O Lord; I will walk in Your truth; Unite my heart to fear Your name.” (Psalm 86:11, NASB95)
David recognizes that he doesn’t understand. One of our most common questions, and sometimes a most fearful trap, is trying to figure out why something happened or is happening. If we can only make sense of it, then we can deal with it and find a measure of peace. Perhaps it is a feature of getting older that for me the why has become less important in comparison to seeing God’s hand at work.
David recognized about himself that he didn’t know everything. He needed the Lord to teach him so that he could walk in it. So do we. We don’t know everything. Sometimes it’s better to understand how something can change us than to understand why it happened.
For example. I had a difficult co-worker. Arrogant, rude, manipulative, prone to bursts of anger, foul-mouthed. He was reprimanded several times, but because he continued to bring in business, the owners never pushed him too far. He got away with a lot. From my perspective, it was a hopeless situation that played itself out over several years. The breakthrough for me came one particular day. I don’t remember the conflict, but I remember being frustrated and angry. After storming out the parking lot I prayed in a hopeless whisper something along the lines of “what am I missing here God?” The answer came rushing in, “you’re seeking man’s approval.” The source of my frustration wasn’t the external circumstances or this co-worker, it was something in my own heart.
The second part of David’s inward examination asks God to give him a pure and undivided heart. Especially in this day and age, we tend to compartmentalize our lives. We act one way here, another way at work, a different way with our friends. It’s what our world often expects of us. That we would act and make choices according to who we’re with rather than from our reverent fear and honor of God.
Now there are variations of this. Some of us have very compartmental lives. If our lives were like a cupboard, it would make Tupperware proud with its neat organization. Or perhaps you’re more like me that kept the messiest room possible growing up and still like a little clutter just to make things feel lived in. But all of us are faced with the world’s demands that we act, behave, and talk situationally instead of with integrity and wholeness.
It’s interesting and enlightening that David links having an undivided heart with the reverent fear of God. So often it’s our fears that divides our heart. We fear what someone will think. We worry about what the future may hold. We stress out about our finances. Perhaps we fear failure. I think that we often have our math reversed. We fear many and try to love one when instead we are to fear one and love all.
Learning to Pray
Before we assemble the broad themes of David’s prayer, let’s talk about prayer for a moment. Some of you are very comfortable talking with God, for others prayer may still be a scary thing filled with uncertainty. Let me tell you about one step in my own journey.
I grew up going to church and listened to the effortless prayers of men and women of faith. Prayer seemed to come so easy and poetic for them. But it wasn’t just at church. I listened to the prayers of my great-uncle Tic when he prayed for the meal at family gatherings. I also wished at the same time that he would hurry up because the fried chicken was getting cold and I was hungry. So as a teenager the kinds of prayer I heard from others seemed like an unobtainable goal. I think it was the summer of my junior or senior year that I went to a barn gathering. At that time here in Central Illinois older high-school and college age folks met in local barns and cabins to worship with the emerging new songs, open our lives up to God, and learn from the Word and each other. Even there folks seemed to pray with more ease and grace than I could muster. Heading home one night I asked God out of frustration to teach me to pray. The answer was something along the lines of “you already know how. Real prayer is just talking to me like you are doing right now.”
Prayer is as natural and necessary as breathing. At its very core prayer is simply talking with God in all honesty and candor. God doesn’t care about our style, the length of our prayers, the words we use, whether we stammer around or speak poetically. God doesn’t judge or respond to our prayers based on style points. What God does care about is that we are open and honest with him and that our prayers are heartfelt.
It’s good to set aside quiet time for prayer, but I also advocate what I call “on the go prayer.” Short prayers of praise, thanksgiving, intercession, petition, confession, and forgiveness as the day unfolds. The purpose of these “on the go prayers” is to decompartmentalize life and to get to know God more and more each day. (There’s a Bible Study in our resources section that goes into greater detail https://lambchow.com/prayer/ ).
Making it our own
We’ve seen the broad themes of identifying our feelings or mountain, worshipping God’s character, and looking inside. Now, you could memorize Psalm 86 and have it ready for when a bad day comes your way. I’m all for that. But I also want to take a cue from the worship team. You see one of the goals of us on the worship team is to learn new songs and make them our own. Internalize a song or set of songs to the point where they are offered as something alive and relevant for that moment.
So let’s take Psalms 86 and make it our own. Our bad day prayer could sound something like this – Lord I need your help, right now. I’m struggling and worried. But I know Lord that you love me, that you forgive me, that you are greater than what I’m facing right now. Lord Jesus teach me your ways and help me to focus my heart on you instead of this mountain I see in front of me. Show me the way through and let the answer tell others about your unfailing love, mercy, and grace. Thank you, Jesus, for your love – amen.
Could you hear Psalms 86 in that prayer? You see my goal today is to give and equip you with a new tool. You may not be having a bad day right now. If you are we’d love to pray with you about it <add May We Pray for You link> Here are three ideas that you can choose from so that when a bad day happens you have something ready to turn to. The first is to remember “Psalms 86” and tuck that address away in your memory. The second is to take the time and discipline to memorize David’s prayer so that it is with you in season and out of season. Or, lastly, remember the ingredients of recounting the circumstance, worshipping and thanking God, and self-examination to remake Psalms 86 in your own words from your own heart on your own bad day.