“Turn to me and be gracious to me; give your strength to your servant, and save the son of your maidservant. Show me a sign of your favor, that those who hate me may see and be put to shame because you, LORD, have helped me and comforted me.” (Psalm 86:16–17, ESV)
Psalm 86 is a Psalm of individual lament. The Psalms of lament follow a distinct pattern. They begin by petitioning YHWH. Psalm 86 begins this way. “Incline your ear O LORD and answer me” (vs. 1).
In subsequent verses, the requests and problems are laid out. “Preserve my life” and “save your servant” are just two of the petitions of this Psalm. In the last two verses we see some more requests: “Be gracious”; “Save the son of your maidservant”; and “show me a sign of favor.”
The problems in this Psalm are the enemies of the Psalmist and the emotional struggles and doubts that arise from the problem. “O God, insolent men have risen up against me; a band of ruthless men seeks my life, and they do not set you before them” (Psalm 86:14). David, the author, has also become depressed over the situation. He has lost his joy. “Be gracious to me, O Lord, for to you do I cry all the day. Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.” (Psalm 86:3–4, ESV)
So we see that in a Psalm of lament the writer feels free to bring problems and requests to God. He is allowed to complain. But there is more to it than just complaining and whining. All lament Psalms also praise God, who loves us and cares for us in all of the difficulties of life. Worship is a key element of the Psalm of lament. Exalting God and speaking the truth about His character are always part of a lament Psalm.
The last two verses of Psalm 86 are a little lament Psalm all on their own. They actually sum up the rest of Psalm 86. Let’s take a quick look. David addresses his prayer to YHWH as we see in verse 17. He is petitioning the LORD to notice him and to be gracious. He asks to be given strength, favor, and salvation. He shares his problems. He needs salvation, presumably from those that hate him. Then David acknowledges the truth about God’s character, you help and you comfort.
After studying this Psalm, I was convinced that I could go boldly before the throne (Psalm 86 intro). But I also learned that I shouldn’t go boldly before the throne just to whine! I need to make sure that I include the elements of a good lament Psalm.
I need to remember who I am speaking to, YHWH, the One who exists. I can freely spew my problems and emotions. As I openly share the difficulties, I need to reflect on the character of the Almighty and give Him praise and glory for all He has done and all He will do. I need to look truthfully at His character and know that I can trust Him for He, the “LORD, has helped me and comforted me.”