Why Should I Pray? A Simple Sermon from Psalm 86
Introduction (Verses 1-2): Why pray? Psalm 86 is packed with answers to that question. The Psalmist begins with his primary thesis in verses 1-2: Hear me, Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy…. You are my God. It’s as simple as that. But the author of Psalm 86, King David, wasn’t ready to leave it at that. Having stated his thesis, he wanted to expound on it. He wanted to explain the various ways in which we are poor and needy and in which we need our God through prayer.
1. We Need Joy (verses 3-4). Verses 3-4: Have mercy on me, Lord, for I call to You all day long. Bring joy to Your servant, Lord. These words were penned by a man suffering discouragement. Before anything else, he needed God to help him emotionally. Later on, David will pray about the people trying to kill him. But here at the beginning he’s more concerned about his internal spirit than his external situation. If your joy is AWOL, deal with it ASAP. We can do anything if we have the joy of the Lord in our hearts.
2. We Need Forgiveness (verses 5-6). The Psalm continues: You, Lord, are forgiving and good… Listen to my cry for mercy. Over time, our feelings of guilt can weigh us down. Some people are tormented by their past. But when we confess our sins and failures to God, there is instant forgiveness, total forgiveness, and permanent forgiveness. No sin can withstand the cleansing power of the blood of Jesus Christ.
3. We Need Help (verses 7-10). David continued: When I am in distress, I call to You, because You answer me. This man needed help that only God could provide. How often we find ourselves in similar straits. Dr. Howard Hendricks told about a crisis in the early days of Dallas Theological Seminary. The school had no money to pay its bills, and that morning the founders met to pray. Harry Ironside prayed, “Lord we know that the cattle on a thousand hills are Thine. Please sell some of them and send us the money.” About that time, a tall Texan in boots strolled into the office. “I just sold two carloads of cattle over in Fort Worth,” he said. “I feel God wants me to give this money to the seminary.” The secretary took the check to Dr. Chafer, who, turning to Dr. Ironside, said, “Harry, God sold the cattle!” (Howard Hendricks in Stories for the Heart, compiled by Alice Gray (Portland: Multnomah, 1996), 27).
4. We Need Guidance (Verse 11). The Psalm continues: Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness…. When we earnestly seek God’s guidance in prayer, He knows how to lead us step by step. Here’s an example. When she was 16, someone gave Betty Greene a ride in an airplane and she fell in love with aviation. At 20, she offered a special prayer to the Lord, saying, “God, I’ve never heard of anyone who used flying to help spread the gospel message, but if you want me to fly for you, show me how to make it happen.” When World War II broke out, she joined a small group of women military pilots who flew support missions. After the war, she learned of a need to transport missionaries into the interiors of difficult nations. On February 23, 1946, she embarked on the first Missionary Aviation Flight in history, taking missionaries from Los Angeles to their station in Mexico. Arriving in Mexico, the head of Wycliffe Bible Translators, Cameron Townsend, asked Betty to take him into the interior to a jungle camp, and she did so. She almost singlehandedly began the historic ministry of missionary aviation and became the first missionary aviator in history (Taken from a variety of sources, including www.maf-uk.org/story/betty-greene-the-first-ever-maf-pilot, and William and Randy Petersen, 100 Amazing Answers to Prayer (Grand Rapids: Fleming H. Revell, 2003), 206-207). She asked the Lord to guide her life and to teach her the way to go, and, step by step, year by year, He did so. He has promised to do the same for you.
5. We Need Relief (Verses 12-15). The Psalm continues: Arrogant foes are attacking me, O God; ruthless people are trying to kill me—they have no regard for You. But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God. Not until verse 14 does David mention the distress that has prompted his prayer. He refers the situation to the Lord, then refocuses his attention of God. In my book, The Red Sea Rules, one of the principles is “Acknowledge your enemy but keep your eyes on the Lord.” We should pray about our problems, but it may not help to wallow in them, even during prayer times. We must pray about our problems, then turn our focus to the Lord who can solve them.
6. We Need Strength (Verse 16). Verse 16 says: Show your strength in behalf of your servant; save me, because I serve you just as my mother did. This verse tells us where David got his strength. It was from his mother. David’s mother showed him how to draw strength from God in prayer, and he followed that example all his life. What a legacy to leave to one’s children!
7. We Need Him (Verse 17). Verse 17: Give me a sign of your goodness, that my enemies may see it and be put to shame, for you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me. Someone said, “The chief purpose in prayer is drawing near to the heavenly Father.” I read about a little girl whose favorite story was “The Three Little Pigs.” Every night her father read it to her, and he became worn out with that story. One day he read the story into an extra cellphone on the recorder app and showed her how to use it so she could hear the story whenever she wanted. But she resisted the idea. When he asked why she said, “Because I can’t sit in its lap.”
Conclusion: Nothing replaces the experience of being with our heavenly Father, and when we pray we can imagine the Lord Himself coming down from heaven, descending in an elevator of light, sitting on the bench beside you, or beside your bed, or across the table from you, listening and communing with you. Imagine the joy of just being in His presence. We are poor and needy, but He is God. And that’s why we pray.