When I Am Afflicted and Needy

This morning I was reading Psalm 86, “A Prayer of David.” David was afflicted and needy. The combination of these two words creates a powerful picture of someone in distress. The first word (ʿānî) means “weak or afflicted from some kind of disability or distress.” In other words, it can be either physical or emotional. The second word (ʾebyôn) could poor in a material sense, but can also describe one who is in desperate need of help or deliverance.

David petitions Yahweh, his covenant God, as he does so often in the Psalms, to “incline Your ear and answer me.” His desperation is clear, “Be gracious to me, O Lord, For to You I cry all day long” (3).

Here is what struck me as I read this Psalm: The first thing is the vividness of David’s emotional state. He knew his weakness, he felt his distress, he was desperate.

The second thing is that he prays. “Well of course he prays.” No, don’t skip over this as if we all pray in times of deep distress. David prays and oh how he prays. What does he ask for? He asks God to “Make glad the soul of Your servant” (4a). His joy is gone, affliction and desperation have overwhelmed him, and now he prays and he prays for a glad soul. This echoes Psalm 51, “Restore to me the joy of my salvation.”

The next thing is that he prays with utter confidence in God’s goodness and God’s willingness to answer. God is “good, ready to forgive, abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon you” (5). You can see other affirmations throughout of the Psalm of David’s confidence, but here is the lesson. When darkness overtakes us, we must pray, but we must pray remembering who our God is and what He is like and we must infuse those prayers with declarations of God’s goodness, even when it doesn’t feel like He is good.

The power of Psalm 86 is that David appears to have every reason to be depressed. Depression often causes us to withdraw and turn inward. But David will not turn inward, he turned upward. And he doesn’t simply turn upward so that he merely complains of his circumstances, he turns upward with bedrock truth about God. In his darkness his prayers are God-centered, read the whole Psalm, highlight everything David says is true about God. He petitions God towards the end, “Turn to me, and be gracious to me, Oh grant strength to Your servant, and save the son of your handmaid” (16). David’s confidence is so strong, “Because You, O LORD, have helped me and comforted me.” Maybe David is reflecting on times past, which is a good thing. Maybe he is so sure that God will come through that he can state it as if it has already happened. The bottom line is that David is honest about his state and condition, but he knows where to turn and how to turn.

Maybe today you need Psalm 86 because you are afflicted and needy. Cry out to the LORD, fill your prayers with His praise and glorious truth about Him. Remind yourself of who He is for you. He is the God who delivers the afflicted and needy.