1. Bow down Your ear, oh Lord, and hear my plea:
For I am poor, and I am needy.
    Preserve my soul from wrong;
For I am Yours, and You are my God.
    Save me, Your servant;
    I put my trust in You.

2. Lord, unto me show mercy, I cry to You.
Give me Your joy, for I am Your servant.
    I lift my soul to You:
For You are good, and quick to forgive;
    Plenteous in mercy
    To all who call to You,
    Who call to You.

  – Psalm 86:1-5


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It would be easy and natural to draw the wrong conclusion from the words of this Psalm, regarding the character and attitude of God.

Because of the darkness of our minds, and the experience of suffering in this world, humans tend to regard God as being high up and far away on His throne, heedless of what is happening here. We tend to think that He needs to be awakened and His sympathies need to be stirred by our cries and pleadings.

This is entirely wrong. We know it is wrong first because of the direct declarations God has made in His word:

1 Chronicles 16
9 For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him.

Isaiah 59
1 Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear.

And secondly, we know that God does not need to be “awakened” by our cries, because this is how the false prophets of Baal approached their God when Elijah proposed the test on Mount Carmel:

1 Kings 18
The Test
23 Let them therefore give us two bullocks; and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under:
24 And call on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord: and the God that answers by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken.
25 And Elijah said unto the prophets of Baal, Choose you one bullock for yourselves, and dress it first; for you are many; and call on the name of your gods, but put no fire under.
Their Prayer
26 And they took the bullock which was given them, and they dressed it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us. But there was no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped upon the altar which was made.
27 And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleeps, and must be awakened.
28 And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them.
29 And it came to pass, when midday was past, and they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded.
Elijah’s Prayer
36 And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that You are God in Israel, and that I am Your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your word.
37 Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that You are the Lord God, and that You have turned their heart back again.
38 Then the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.

The prayer of the prophets of Baal was long, frantic, and did not bring an answer. By contrast, Elijah’s prayer was short and simple.

Then why does the Psalmist cry out, “Bow down Your ear, oh Lord, and hear my plea,” or “Lord, unto me show mercy, I cry to You”? Isn’t this an attempt to “wake up” God?

To interpret this correctly, we need to understand the principles of God’s kingdom, as outlined in His Law. The Law of God shows complete respect for rights and property. One is not to take what belongs to another, nor intrude upon their property. This tells us about God’s character, for the Law defines “righteousness” (Deuteronomy 4:8) and God is “righteous” (Psalm 145:17). Therefore, God does not intrude upon man’s freedom; He does not force Himself where He is not wanted.

The other truth needed to establish a proper interpretation is that man, because of the deceitful nature of sin, does not feel his need of God. This was well expressed by Pharoah’s declaration, “who is the Lord that I should obey His voice?” (Exodus 5:2), or by the Jewish leaders attitude to Christ, “We will not have this man to reign over us.” (Luke 19:14)

This independent spirit blocks God from coming near to us. He therefore must wait, and in the meantime find ways of trying to awaken us to a sense of our need. This “awakening” often comes through a combination of an experience in the consequences of sin, in contrast to a revelation of God’s great and noble character. The prodigal son is a good example:

Luke 15
17 And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!
18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee,
19 And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.
20 And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.
21 And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.
22 But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet:

Like the prodigal son who remembered his father’s house and how much better it was there in contrast with the place that his sins had brought him to, we are awakened to our need of God and so cry out to Him.

Notice that the father of the prodigal was ever ready for the return of the son, and ran to meet him while he was still “a great way off”. All he wanted was that his son saw the need of a father again, and was willing to come back to his house. This represents the attitude of our heavenly Father.

The cries that we make in our prayers show that we are recovering our lost spiritual sense, and are opening the door to God again. These prayers do not “awaken” God, but they reveal that we are being changed by the wooing of His Spirit, and are being brought back into a right relationship with Him. Finally, we feel our need of God again, and are expressing it! Such prayers will surely be answered.

But if these kinds of prayers, as expressed in the Psalm, are imitated, without such a sense of need and longing for God, they are instead an expression of independence, as if we were saying,

“Where are you God? We are doing everything we can here, and You aren’t helping us! Wake up Lord, don’t You care?”

Such prayers express unbelief and murmuring against God, and He cannot answer them, for He cannot force Himself into a place where the door is not really open. If He were to answer such prayers, He would become just a power source, by which we would accomplish our own plans and desires.

This taking of the words of God, and putting a different meaning into them, is very common in false religion, and only those who take time to understand God, and learn of Him, will be able to distinguish the difference.

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