In a Book Three surprising twist, Psalm 86 claims to be a psalm of David, which, one many noticed, were declared to have ended in Book Two. Likely this is not a prayer composed by David himself, but rather Psalm 86 takes David’s words and repurposes them for a new age, and gives them a modern take for a post-David Israel.
This prayer is a plea for God to hear the psalmist’s prayer; it is an individual psalm that highlight what is common in most of our prayer lives: a cycle of petition and thanksgiving and back again to petition. For most of us, like Psalm 86 shows, our prayers are not solely a petition to God to change things or to be more present, but rather, they are a mix of thanksgiving for God’s grace and love and our requests for God’s presence.
Psalm 86 is not a prayer that is full of confident and sustaining trust in God, it is rather, something with which many more of us might identify: an ebb and flow of confidence and trust and fear and worry. The praise offered in this psalm is not praise or gratitude that is tied to a specific action of God, which is a powerful and subtle lesson: our praise for and to God should not and cannot only be tied to the good things in our lives. It is good for our prayers to have praise for God because it is good for us to remember God’s goodness and presence, even when it isn’t obvious, because it is always there.
This is a prayer of an individual, but it is a reminder that our individual prayers are not often far from our communal ones. Psalm 86 is a reminder that our individual life and our common life depends on God’s love and compassion, not on the actions of the people around us. It is a reminder to give rise to our prayers, even when they are mixed, and it is a reminder that God has indeed helped and comforted us.