- September 25, 2018
- Jared Odenbeck
“Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.” (Psalms 86:4)
The Psalmist, here, David, cries in his old age for the LORD to anoint him again with the gladdening oil that only heaven can provide. Yet, that is only the beginning of our adventure into the multiplicity of Psalm 86:4 today. “Gladden the soul,” he cries, from a soul full of sorrow and need. Why gladden the soul? “Gladden the soul” because joy tastes of the goodness of God. “Taste and see that the LORD is good,” and we will surely see that one of the many tastes of goodness is joy. “Gladden the soul,” because the runner who runs with joy feels the wind at his back and a spring in his every step. But there will not be a gladdening of the soul unless the servant lifts the soul to God. What gifts then, are disappointment, sadness, and isolation, for they mandate that we seek a gladness of soul, and, in our search, recognize that we must lift our soul to the One who quickens the heart and increases the affections of his servants. And yet, we are hardly servants. If servants in any sense, we are unworthy, for truly it is God who stoops low to feed us the feast of his presence – where we will find gladness of the soul and pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11) – at his table. The Psalmist seems to ensure himself, and the reader, that the lifting of the soul will mandate gladness. For what soul ever mingled with God in his grandeur, glory, and greatness and escaped joyless and unaffected? Yes, when we lift ourselves, though we are poor and needy, though we are tempted to despair, though we are surrounded, we will experience gladness of the soul to sustain us for the journey.
“Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.”
How much we miss in the Christian life due to our lack of understanding! Truly, we, like the Pharisees, are oft blind guides – to the world, yes, but perhaps more often to ourselves. Until we throw off the guise of self-sufficiency and unwrap ourselves from the reassuring cloak of self-confidence and thereby expose our lack, wherein lies a cornerstone of the Gospel – “I am poor and needy,” we will find it impossible to plead for the ear of the LORD. Why plead for that which you already believe you have? The poor shake the coins in their cups to cry out in the streets. The seek the ear of the rich, “the LORD, rich in mercy.” The rich man may not suffer worldly lack, but the poor man will enjoy the ear of the LORD. Yet, here we see the Psalmist’s utmost superior and noble request spring from the driest of lands, the land of lack. It is a miracle that we, like the Psalmist, would awake and escape the grip of ignorance’s deep slumber. Truly, until we drink only from the cup of lack, we will not possess sufficient reason to request. And when we cry aloud, we do not cry aloud to empty and worthless idols, for “there is none like you among the gods.” No, we cry to the LORD, the supreme ruler over all the heavens and the earth, the LORD, who inhabits the praise of his people, the LORD, who said “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” What wonder in the answer of the LORD enthroned, “what do you want me to do for you?” The ear to the poor. The answer to the needy.
“For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God. Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.”
Many of us set our faces towards the stark and towering peaks of obedience and the fear of the LORD determined to scale them in our own virtue. Such a task is akin to the greatest and most daring feats of exploration in history, yet without supplies, without a companion, and without direction. Impossible, certainly. And yet we push on, therein convinced entirely that we “do wondrous things.” Immediately the Psalmist draws us away from our pathetic quest and releases us into the grandeur of God. He evinces his greatness and his wonder in that, through his teaching, through his discipline, through his graciousness, he teaches us how to walk. As a father teaches the wobbly-legged toddler to begin to stride and become all it was made to be as a human, so God will unite our heart to fear his name, and thus, walk in his truth. And such a quest will demand much in the way of patience. The toddler never transitioned with immediacy from a feeble crawl to an Olympic-level sprint. “Teach me your way”, and lessons and schooling continue on for years and years. “Teach me your way,” for our sake, that we “may walk in your name.” And as we walk, yes, we walk alongside our teacher, or, rather, our Teacher walks alongside us. Supplying us with necessary provision, sustenance, and strength. As we grow, as we walk more and more without stumbling, we will indeed realize that “to walk in your truth” is what it means to have a heart united to the fear of his name. The fear of his name births obedience. And obedience grown to maturity walks in his truth.
“But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”
The Psalmist flings open the windows and invites us to gaze upon the never-ending meadows of the goodness of the LORD. There, we are caught up into the breathtaking beauty of his character. “The LORD, a God merciful and gracious.” But what of this mercy and this grace? What will his mercy and his grace tell us about him and about us? The Psalmist does not leave us to wonder. “A God merciful” relents from the wrath we are due. Rather than strike us dead in the dust upon every sin, rather than command the seas to swallow us with each iniquity, rather than condemn us to eternal isolation and destruction, “a God merciful” is “slow to anger.” Not only “slow to anger” when there is no cause for anger, but “slow to anger” when the fury of his wrath should consume us. He withholds the punishment we deserve. And what does he give us in exchange? He is “a God…gracious…abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” What love have we on this earth that could ever come close to this, a love that the heart of grace pumps feverishly to give life to the body? And his supply is sure. We need not abound – if we do, it will alone come from him – for he abounds in steadfast love, among all other things we need that he stores up within his ready arsenal. His steadfast love marks him faithful; it is one of the towering pines in his forest of faithfulness that shade us from the sweltering sun of the world. Not only, then, does the LORD, “a God merciful and gracious” withhold what we deserve in mercy, but he also gives us what we do not deserve in grace. These are our comforts. These are our security. Oh, that you would overwhelm us with your mercy and satisfy us with your grace.