“Incline your ear, O Lord; answer me, for I am afflicted and poor” (Psalm 86:1). This is the opening verse of this beautiful and powerful prayer. It is a prayer lifted up in a time of distress. It is born out of the anxieties and legitimate fears that accompany real trials and troubles in this life. We all have known this kind of need for God’s aid and comfort. This prayer is one that we can go to when we are in our own times of trouble.

The most fundamental power of this prayer is the faith in which it is prayed by the psalmist. That faith is the impetus behind the prayer itself. This prayer is lifted up to the Lord in response to real difficulties, and expresses overwhelming feelings of both deep need and profound faith. Though the fear is real and the anxieties profound, the faith of the psalmist remains strong, strong enough to put his fears and anxieties into the hands of the only One who can bring him true peace and real comfort.

The moral virtue that gives real force to this prayer is that of humility. The spiritual virtue that lifts the heart and mind to God in times of trouble is hope. Both of these are present in this prayer of petition. It is in humility that we recognize our need for God. It is in hope that we go to him, believing that his love is faithful and that he will respond to our cries for help, that he will gracefully, “gladden and lift up our soul” (verse 4). It is wisdom to fear the Lord, to recognize that he is the only One who has the power to save us in the times of our greatest stress.

We have all known the terrible weight of stress, both internal and exterior. We have all felt helpless in the face of such threats at one time or another. For those with the faith modeled here by the psalmist, even though those stresses might threaten to overwhelm them, the wisdom to turn to the Lord for help comes naturally. It is our faith that gives us the courage to cry out to him for help, knowing that our cries will not go unanswered. It is our humble recognition that God is God and the only true source of our comfort and salvation.

Lord, “Teach [us] your way that [we] may walk in truth, single-hearted and revering your name” (verse 11). May we never forget that you are “slow to anger and abounding in mercy” (verse 15). Continue to give us the grace of humility to always recognize that our hope is in you alone. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen!

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